One of the UK’s biggest chicken producers has been keeping chickens in cramped conditions on three farms in Lincolnshire, including in enormous “double-decker” multi-storey buildings, where secretly filmed footage shows chickens that are lame, struggling to breathe and surrounded by dead birds.
From across their sites in Northern Ireland and England, Moy Park supplies 30% of the British poultry market, including Tesco, Ocado and Sainsbury’s. The supermarkets have told the Guardian they they are now investigating their supply chains after the footage was sent to them.
Undercover footage obtained by the charity Animal Equality earlier this year on Saltbox, Ladywath and Mount farms, all owned by Moy Park, shows chicks dead at what appears to be only a few days old, chickens suffering from leg injuries so bad they are unable to stand and carcasses left to rot for days among the flocks of living birds. There is, however, no suggestion that Moy Park has broken the law.
One of the investigated farms, Ladywath, holds a recently built double-decker chicken shed, one of the first in the UK, with more than 30,000 birds on each floor. The site can hold up to 189,000 birds.
The Guardian has discovered that independently, before the campaigners released the footage, the industry assurance scheme Red Tractor visited the same farms and found them to be failing to meet its minimum standards for animal welfare.
The three farms were inspected over April, May and June and given 28 days to comply with regulations or be suspended from the Red Tractor scheme. One has since been passed as having improved sufficiently while two are still within the 28-day period.
A spokesperson for Red Tractor told the Guardian: “High animal welfare is one of our top priorities. Our own routine auditing of these farms had identified some breaches to our high standards, and we have been working with them to ensure they put the necessary processes in place for them to remain Red Tractor certified.”
Animal Equality’s UK director, Toni Vernelli, said the video showed “horrifying conditions” and added that despite guidelines and industry audits, the intensive nature of farming makes it inherently cruel.
“On every visit made to these overcrowded sheds, our investigators discovered severely lame birds collapsing under the weight of their abnormally large bodies. Unnatural conditions are standard on British chicken farms.”
Earlier this year Moy Park launched a line of chicken products inspired by superhero comics. The “Pow!” and “Zap!” branded range are on sale in Ocado and Sainsbury’s.
After being sent the footage by Animal Equality, Sainsbury’s said: “All our suppliers are expected to meet our high welfare standards and we are investigating this footage.”
Ocado told the Guardian: “Our own brand Ocado products do not come from these three farms.” And a spokesperson for Tesco said: “We have strong procedures in place to ensure the welfare of the animals in our supply chain. We are working closely with our supplier to fully investigate this.”
McDonald’s said: “Moy Park is a supplier, but [these] farms do not supply us.”
The Moy Park website said the company “[considers] it a moral duty to prevent the unnecessary suffering of animals”. It promises a commitment to higher welfare animal production, promising that “with more windowed housing and using lower density stocking rates, our birds can behave more naturally and move about more freely”.
In a statement responding to the allegations of cruelty and poor conditions, the company said:
“We have a zero-tolerance attitude toward anything that jeopardises the health and welfare of our birds and we are fully investigating these allegations. We have robust processes in place to carefully monitor the welfare conditions for our birds and we have regular independent audits, taking corrective action with our farming partners if required.”
Both Red Tractor and Moy Park refused to give any details about the breaches of standards.
Moy Park, which is owned by Brazilian-owned company Pilgrim’s, operates on an enormous scale within Britain’s growing chicken industry. It is the largest private sector employer in Northern Ireland and in June last year announced it was producing 6m birds a week for the first time.
The company’s expansion is part of wider growth in the egg and chicken sector. Last year 7.2bn eggs were sold in the UK – a 4% rise on the previous year – according to recent figures from the British Egg Industry Council.
Britain’s poultry sector is among the largest in Europe, contributing more than £3bn to the economy annually. It is also becoming more intensive. Between 2011 and 2017 the chicken sector saw a 27% jump in the number of poultry farms holding 40,000 or more birds.
Vernelli said the sight of double-decker sheds is in itself a worrying trend.
“Double-decker chicken houses are quite a new trend in the UK. This is taking industrial farming to a new level, farming animals in multi-storey buildings.”
Footage reveals chickens in ‘horrifying conditions’ at big UK producer – The Guardian