M&S, Tesco and Waitrose drop goat-milk company after violent attacks left animals crippled

Exclusive: ‘We want our customers to be confident that our food has been produced to the highest standards of animal welfare,’ says M&S

Jane Dalton
Wednesday 29 July 2020 20:54 BST
Goats cry out in pain on dairy farm

Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s have withdrawn sales of goat milk from the UK’s biggest producer after The Independent revealed animals had been violently attacked at one of its supply farms.

The supermarkets — along with Co-op and northern chain Booths — said they were dropping products by St Helen’s Farm, after footage showed goats being punched, kicked and painfully slammed onto conveyor belts.

Hidden camera evidence also showed the animals – described by experts as “gentle and sensitive” – being shoved and handled so roughly that they were left crippled and in pain.

One worker was seen hitting a goat with a rod; in another case, a worker dragged a struggling animal by one leg across the ground.

Goats were also seen being pulled along by their ears, having their tails twisted and being held by their necks. Many were recorded crying out in pain as they were thrown down or had ear tags attached, causing them to thrash about.

St Helen’s has enjoyed a rise in demand for its goats’ milk, yoghurts and cheese in recent years.

The investigators handed the video footage to the Surge animal-rights group, which reported it to the RSPCA, which has prosecution powers for animal cruelty.

Lawyers at Advocates for Animals said the findings “highlighted many serious issues”.

A promotional video by St Helen’s Farms says: “Our happy goats provide great-tasting milk”.

The goat milk – and in some cases yoghurts, cheese, ice cream and butter – were stocked in the main UK supermarkets until The Independent revealed the shocking scenes of cruelty.

The cameras also captured farm workers slinging dead animals over fences in view of living goats, and corpses were seen around the farm.

Ed Winters, co-founder and director of Surge, said: “These sentient beings are reduced to milk machines whose worth is solely dependent on how much money they can make for the farmer.”

A goat is held up by its neck
A goat is held up by its neck (Surge)

East Yorkshire-based St Helen’s buys milk from a number of other farms in Yorkshire and the midlands. A spokesperson confirmed the footage was taken at one of its supply farms, and as soon as the company was alerted by The Independent to the treatment of the animals, it cut off the supplier.

A spokesperson for M&S, which stocked the mature cheese, said: “We want our customers to be confident that M&S food has been produced to the highest standards of animal welfare. As soon as we were made aware of these allegations, we removed from sale the one branded product that contained milk from this farm.”

A Tesco spokesperson said: “We require high animal-welfare standards from all brands sold at Tesco, so these claims are deeply concerning. We have immediately suspended supply whilst we investigate the matter further.”

A Waitrose spokesperson said the chain was suspending St Helen’s after reading The Independent’s article.

A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “All our suppliers are expected to meet our high welfare and ethical sourcing standards, and we have suspended supply whilst we urgently investigate.”

The investigation findings caused an outpouring of fury from readers, with many calling for prosecutions or calling on the other supermarkets to suspend St Helen’s.

Goat farming in the UK is not covered by the Red Tractor scheme that aims to guarantee standards of animal welfare.

The RSPCA said it could investigate if the government agency responsible did not.

“We were shocked and saddened to see what was happening to the goats in these videos and it is deeply concerning to think that these poor animals were being subjected to this kind of treatment on a daily basis,” a spokeswoman said.

“We pass information on complaints about farm animals to the Government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency to investigate. However, if they decline to take the matter up we reserve the right to proceed with an investigation. We urge anyone with concerns about animal welfare to contact us on 0300 123 4999 as soon as possible.”

St Helen’s Farm said it was supplied by other farms that were expected to comply with a rigorous code of conduct and that had several animal-welfare accreditations, adding: “Today we have been made aware of allegations that one farm has infringed animal welfare standards, which we would find totally unacceptable if true.

“We have immediately ceased all milk supply from this farm and launched a full investigation to determine the facts of this matter.”

A spokesperson for the Co-op said: “Co-op prides itself on high animal-welfare standards, both from our own-label products and the brands we stock in store. We have suspended the supply from St Helen’s Farm, whilst we investigate the matter further.”

A spokeswoman for Booths supermarkets, which has stores around the north of England, said: “At Booths we expect all of our suppliers to operate to the highest standards of animal welfare and food safety. Booths will immediately withdraw all St Helen’s products from sale and cease any further orders until we have fully investigated and reviewed the matter with the supplier.”

The Independent has also asked Ocado and Morrisons to respond.

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