The pressure group Animal Justice Project (AJP) has released shocking findings from a three-month undercover investigation at two Suffolk poultry farms - Trees Farm and Brome Grange. Trees Farm is RSPA Assured.
The footage and images obtained between February and May shows the suffering of 'high welfare' and so-called 'slow growing' meat or 'broiler' chickens, which are often touted by NGOs as leading better lives.
A spokesperson for AJP said: "These harrowing scenes show free-range chickens at Trees Farm being subjected to abuse by 'catching teams ' who yell at, kick, curse and throw chickens into crates so hard that the impact forces them out the top. These are RSPCA-Assured birds."
The RSPCA has suspended Trees Farm but Animal Justice Project is pushing for the the charity to prosecute the individuals involved, claiming that their actions not only breach the RSPCA's standards, but also breach key requirements in the "Broilers Directive" (Council Directive 2007/43/CE) and Council Regulation 1/2005 on the Protection of Animals during Transport and Related Operations.
The Animal Justice Project has also submitted its findings to Red Tractor and Animal Health and Protection Agency (APHA) but no response has been received.
Tesco has also now suspended Brome Grange as a supplier. The investigation findings include the fact that almost 500 chicks died in their first week at one of the farms - a dilapidated, sparse and largely concrete 'range' for 'free-range' birds on the RSPCA-certified farm breached guidelines.
The investigation also found lame and dying birds left to suffer for days at the RSPCA-certified farm, and workers carrying out inadequate daily 'welfare checks' in sheds. Workers broke the necks of adult birds, throwing them convulsing on the ground to die or flap off.
A worker urinated into a bucket then threw live but seriously injured birds into it eight hours later. Added to this, food and water sources were contaminated by sodden bedding.
Animal Justice Project will take its findings to the Annual National Poultry and Egg Awards, backed by the British Poultry Council in central London on Thursday 4 July, and will be campaigning on high streets and university campuses across Britain to promote a vegan diet as part of their new campaign, The Foul Truth.
The group's founder, Claire Palmer, said: "This extensive investigation into the lives of 'slow growing' and supposedly high welfare chickens - from the placing of chicks to the catching of young birds at nine weeks old for slaughter – reveals that 'meat' chickens are subjected to cruel abuse, pain and suffering regardless of labels.
"We have recorded the routine breaching of welfare guidelines and the potential breaking of European law, workers failing at biosecurity, a negligence by workers to check on the birds' welfare which resulted in lame, sick and dying chickens being left to suffer for days, and a free range, RSPCA-Assured range that is mainly concrete.
"The public is being fed a lie by the industry, The RSPCA, and other animal welfare organisations. Slow growing birds still suffer. They are still subjected to horrendous abuse at the hands of catching teams holding RSPCA certificates. Animal Justice Project advocates a vegan diet for consumers as the only solution to truly protect animals".
A Tesco spokesperson said: "We expect all our suppliers to meet the recognised farm assurance standards, including Red Tractor certification, as well as our own stringent, industry leading requirements on animal welfare. We have immediately suspended this farm while we fully investigate and we will continue to engage with the appropriate authorities on welfare standards at the farm."
Marianne Brooker is The Ecologist's content editor. This article is based on a press release from Animal Justice Project. AJP is a law-abiding organisation seeking to raise awareness on the rearing and slaughter of animals for 'food', so that people can make informed choices.