The animals were also handled roughly, with one being hit in the udder and others being slapped or having their heads pushed, footage suggested.
Some had their legs shackled and others were filmed hobbling and showing signs of pain, activists said. Dead calves were photographed in wheelie bins and a dead cow was left outdoors “with the potential to spread disease”.
The video was shot undercover by vegan organisation Viva! at a Red Tractor-approved dairy farm in Kent that supplies Freshways, one of the UK’s largest independent dairy suppliers, whose customers include Costa Coffee, as well as convenience stores Londis and Budgens.
In February, Freshways was at the centre of fury after cows were beaten with spades by workers at a Welsh farm, revealed in footage shown by a BBC Panorama programme. The company suspended its contract with the farm.
A letter to trading standards chiefs by lawyers at Advocates for Animals, seen by The Independent, says: “Following a tip-off about violence and neglect at the farm from a credible informant, our client launched an undercover investigation.”
It claims that during four periods of filming in east Kent, “a host of potential violations of law were witnessed and recorded”.
The activists said the cameras filmed cows that were “emaciated and struggling to walk” and some had ulcerated udders. One cow “suffered a burst teat, causing immense pain and distress”.
“The farm itself is filthy, with dead calves in wheelie bins and a dead cow that had been shot in the head left outdoors,” a spokesperson said. That posed a biohazard as wildlife could have got at the carcase, they said.
Cows were twice filmed in shackles, according to the lawyers’ letter.
“This may be a potential treatment for lameness; however, the use of shackles on cows further bolsters the other parts of the footage capturing lame cows, supporting the view that lameness and injury is systemic on the farm,” it says, also suggesting shackles were used instead of veterinary treatment.
The farm, which has a milking herd of just over 500 cows, had left a barn floor soaked with faeces and urine, and passageways with slurry on them, risking becoming slippery, Viva! claims.
Welfare codes were also breached in other ways, the lawyers say, including cows left with over-full udders; some cubicles having bare boards, leading to animals suffering sores; and calves tube-fed incorrectly.
Viva!’s founder and director Juliet Gellatley said: “Hours-old calves were isolated in metal pens, desperately trying to suckle my fingers and calling for their mothers.
“What I found particularly harrowing was witnessing a lame cow who was struggling to walk get slapped and kicked, when she was clearly in need of medical attention. This type of treatment is part-and-parcel of factory farming.”
Two of British Airways’ suppliers have had links with Freshways. A BA spokesman said: “We do not have a direct relationship with Freshways.”
The owner of the farm, told The Independent it was “unlikely” conditions seen by Viva! were filthy and denied cows would be emaciated as that would make no sense.
He said he could not comment on animals being roughly handled as he had not seen that but his workers did take care.
Shackles were used to prevent a cow taking too large a step if it had had a bad calving and hurt its pelvis or if had fallen and hurt its hip.
On wheelie bins, he said dead calves had to be put somewhere pending collection by a specialist, and the carcass left outdoors would have been there only a day or two beforehand.
On the issue of uncomfortably full and wounded udders, he said: “I saw a still picture of one that looked like a teat had been stood on but that’s very rare.” Cows were milked twice a day, he said.
Most floors were slatted to allow slurry to fall through; the one not slatted was scraped away.
The calf would have been fed incorrectly – lying down – if that was the only possible way to keep it alive, he said.
A Costa Coffee spokesperson said: “Animal welfare is a key priority for us and our consumers, and we only work with suppliers that share our commitment to best practice in animal welfare management.
“As soon as we were made aware of the footage, we carried out an investigation with our supplier.
“Following an independent audit, we have received assurance that the farm has demonstrated that it complies with Red Tractor standards and has a long-term record of compliance.”
Red Tractor confirmed that the farm complied with its animal-welfare standards, saying: “The farm also has a strong and long-standing record of compliance with Red Tractor standards, and consistently demonstrates best practice in British dairy farming.
“We are therefore satisfied that the Viva! claims against the Red Tractor member are unfounded.”
A Freshways spokesman said: “Our response mirrors the response made by Red Tractor and we are confident of their investigation.”
Neither Iceland nor Booker group, which owns Londis and Budgens, offered any comment. P&O Cruises dropped Freshways as a supplier nearly a year ago.
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