Hens' suffering at megafarm exposed

Tories fail to ban hen cages as new investigation reveals cruelty at farm supplying eggs to Lidl supermarket.

The distressing scenes underscore the urgent need for immediate legislative action.

Dying, deceased, and decomposing hens litter the cages and shed floor. The surviving birds are deprived of sunlight and confined to wire mesh floors, showing severe feather loss, incapacitated and apparently overwhelmed by panic.

These are the birds laying millions of eggs for British consumers, sold by the supermarket chain Lidl, with some certified by the Red Lion Code of Practice as being raised in humane conditions.

Animal Justice Project, a prominent animal protection organisation, has this week released footage from an investigation at Bird Bros Ltd at Sunny Farm, a megafarm producing eggs in East Anglia, spanning the five months to early 2023. Lidl confirmed today after being contacted by The Ecologist that it had immediately stopped all supplies from Sunny Farm while an investigation is undertaken. 


The farm, which supplies Lidl, has 15 sheds which are estimated to house over half a million hens in colony cages - sometimes referred to as enriched cages - inside sheds with space for 52,000 birds each.

Tayana Simons, a campaigner for Animal Justice Project, said: “Hens are social, intelligent and sensitive animals who don’t deserve to suffer like this. It is essential that consumers see the grim reality of the suffering that they’re funding when they buy animal products. 

"Laying hens are tragically exploited as 'egg machines' within the egg industry. Confined to 'enriched cages’, their existence is anything but enriched. These hens endure deplorable conditions - crowded spaces, filth, mites, noise, limited light, panic and abuse. Our footage unveils scenes of unrelenting distress, agony, and death.

“The footage from Bird Bros exposes yet another example of how supermarkets' welfare claims translate to nothing for farmed animals. When animals are exploited for their ‘products’, their wellbeing will always come last, that‘s why we implore consumers to consider adopting a plant-based diet.”

A worker was filmed wringing a large chicken’s neck with his bare hands. The chicken subsequently flaps and moves her head. Dr Andrew Knight, a veterinarian, said: “Studies indicate that potential consciousness, and therefore suffering, may persist for a significant number of seconds after cervical dislocation has been performed. Accordingly, its use without prior stunning to induce unconsciousness is not recommended for the routine slaughter of poultry.”


The Animal Justice Project launched the investigation as the inaugural instalment in a series scheduled to unfold over the coming months. The investigation employed concealed cameras and placed an undercover worker within the facility to expose the harsh conditions experienced by the hens. 

An undercover investigator found trapped hens, with some dying and others being trampled upon; neglect causing hens to die from thirst and starvation; hens exposed to harsh weather conditions outside and rough and abusive treatment of hens by workers.

The distressing scenes underscore the urgent need for immediate legislative action.

The video footage from the investigation shows significant numbers of eggs smashed on the floor, and eggs awaiting collection that were being touched by decomposing chicken carcasses. Salmonella bacteria, potentially from carcasses, can pass through egg shells, posing a food poisoning risk to consumers.

Large numbers of dead birds were also visible in garbage bags. The tops were open. This is likely to attract rodents, who could in turn spread disease. 

The UK egg industry supplies approximately 12 billion eggs annually to consumers and 28 per cent are from caged hens. Estimates suggest that between 4.2 and 8.4 million hens might still endure similar caged conditions. Birds in metal colony cages are allotted an area roughly equivalent to an A4 sheet and a postcard. The hens are deprived of the opportunity to engage in their natural behaviours.


(c) Animal Justice Project

The European Union plans to eliminate all cages by 2025. The UK Government has yet to make a decisive move towards such a ban. The government stated in June this year that it does “not consider the time is right to consult on cage reforms, being mindful of the challenges the sectors are facing. The market is already driving the move away from using cages for laying hen production”.

(c) Animal Justice Project

Most UK supermarkets, including Lidl, have committed to transitioning to cage-free eggs and products containing eggs by 2025 but the implementation of these bans is left to retailers. Lidl has already committed to the ‘five freedoms of animal welfare’ established by the government’s Farmed Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC) to promote 'a life worth living.' 

Hen in distress
(c) Animal Justice Project

The evidence from the investigation also casts a shadow over the credibility of the Lion Code of Practice, which asserts adherence to over 700 'auditable criteria' and touts heightened hygiene measures that surpass the stipulations of both UK and EU regulations.

Dead hens
(c) Animal Justice Project

Animal Justice Project insists that the UK government must align with the European Commission's intentions to ban cages for all farmed animals and consider imposing restrictions on imports from caged systems. Ms Simons concluded: “The distressing scenes underscore the urgent need for immediate legislative action.”

A spokesperson for Lidl told The Ecologist: “We take animal welfare incredibly seriously and we expect our suppliers to meet all recognised farm assurance standards, including the British Lion Code of Practice. 

"On receiving this information we immediately launched an investigation into Sunny Farm and will be working with third parties to undertake urgent audits to ensure the welfare standards expected are being met. We will not be taking any more product from this farm until the investigation has been concluded to our satisfaction.”

A spokesperson for Bird Bros has said: "The footage of the dead hens and rough handling is far below the standards we expect. The matter has been taken up with the staff concerned to ensure our standards do not fall below our expectations."

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist.

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