Sick and dying animals, overcrowding, mites and dirty water were some of the things found during an investigation into a free-range farm run by Noble Foods - Britain’s largest egg producer.
The RSPCA announced that the farm, in Fife, was suspended from the Freedom Food scheme, pending the results of an investigation, and that a visit by the Scottish Food Quality Certification (SFQC) was arranged.
Freedom Food is designed to ensure animals receive high standards of welfare.
Noble Foods supply about 60 million eggs a week under stores’ own labels or their own Happy Egg label.
Viva (Vegetarian International Voice for Animals), the animal welfare organisation which conducted the investigation (which was aired on Channel 5), said that while the Happy Egg Company’s TV advert make the farms look like a holiday camp, the reality is more like a death camp for the birds.
They recorded hens crowded into huge buildings with small openings along the sides for them to go in and out. Many of the hens do not use them because they have been kept indoors for their first 18-21 weeks, which conditions them to remain inside.
A worker confirmed that there were problems in one shed where hens “peck and kill each other.”
One shed was infested with red mite, which can cause health problems and even death.
Electric wire, which is not allowed for Freedom Food hens, was seen.
Channel 5 reported that “An employee for Noble Foods was covertly filmed revealing that electric wires are used to control the hens’ and that they are encouraged to remain indoors until 80 per cent of them are laying.”
The outdoor conditions were not like those pictured in commercials.
“In a world removed from the TV ads, at one site birds had to paddle across stretches of dirty standing water simply to get outside,” said an article on the Viva web site. “Some of the so-called ‘enrichment’ elements, which supposedly make life better for the birds, were useless. Dust-bathing pits, for example, were submerged in inches of water in mid-summer.”
Once the hens reach the age of 72 weeks, sometimes sooner, entire sheds of them are sent to Jolly’s slaughterhouse in Lincolnshire.
Noble Foods released a statement saying they take the treatment of their hens extremely seriously.
“As soon as we were made aware of the video footage yesterday the company instigated an internal enquiry.
“Last night (5th October 2010), at our request, both farms involved were audited by RSPCA Freedom Food inspectors and both were given very positive reports.”
They said the electric wires over feeders and drinkers was part of the installation in the mid 1990s, and they are “checking to ensure any remaining sources of electrical current are permanently disabled with immediate effect.”
Channel 5 reported that over the past two years they have exposed five farms keeping their birds in poor conditions.