Dead and injured turkeys were found among living ones at a farm shed housing thousands destined for Christmas dinners, according to a vegan pressure group.
Footage taken in mid-October showed the birds crowded into a shed with no natural light at the Lincolnshire barn owned by the giant Hook 2 Sisters group, which supplies supermarkets including Sainsbury’s.
And photographs secretly taken by vegan organisation Viva! showed turkey carcasses on the ground amid the straw and at least one with a bloody wound to its head.
However, Red Tractor inspectors reported there were no welfare problems when they visited the farm early this week.
The activists claimed that in addition, the industrial-sized sheds robbed the birds of the freedom to express their natural behaviour and basic instincts such as foraging, pecking and digging.
Trimming turkeys’ beaks is standard practice to reduce injuries when birds peck one another from frustration.
Viva! shot the undercover footage at the farm at Wyberton, near Boston, before the government ordered all poultry be kept indoors because of the UK’s largest ever outbreak of bird flu.
Vet Marc Abraham said: “I was appalled to see dead birds left rotting on the farm floor, which not only presents an obvious risk to hygiene, but also poses a potential disease risk to the whole flock, particularly now with avian flu cases worryingly on the rise.
“Like most birds, turkeys are normally playful and inquisitive creatures, who enjoy exploring their natural environment, and foraging for food.”
Guidelines of the Red Tractor scheme require farms to distribute “environmental enrichment” throughout sheds, with one pecking object per 500 birds. Viva! said that although the farm met this requirement, it believed that hanging plastic tubes and surplus litter bales provided only “meagre stimulation for such inquisitive and intelligent animals”.
The Independent has seen audits of the farm that show inspectors found no welfare problems when they visited the farm this week.
A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: "We care deeply about the welfare of animals entering our supply chain and expect all suppliers to uphold the highest animal-welfare standards. None of the birds in the footage have entered Sainsbury’s supply."
A Hook 2 Sisters spokesman said: “We are always committed to upholding the highest welfare standards at our farms. However, these allegations are a gross distortion of the facts. This farm was independently audited twice as recently as December 14 and 15 and no issues of concern about bird health or welfare were raised at any point.
“It was already accredited and the true position is that it has good animal husbandry standards with healthy, well-cared for birds.
“A proper independent evaluation of standards can never be made by viewing a 50-second, selectively-edited piece of footage provided by a vegan group. Focusing on isolated examples is misleading and does not reveal the truth or an accurate bigger picture, and it is very disappointing for farmers that their hard work is routinely misrepresented in this way.”
A spokesperson for Red Tractor said: “Protecting animal health and welfare is a top priority and we take any allegations of breaches to our standards very seriously.
“We launched an immediate investigation as soon as we were made aware of the footage, to substantiate the claims and to review the behaviours seen. Corrective action will be taken where necessary.”
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