Shocking footage which activists claim exposes the squalid conditions on a UK turkey farm has appeared just days before tables are laid for Christmas dinner.
Animal welfare group Viva! provided a video to The Independent which it claims was taken at a turkey egg-laying farm on the site of a well-known poultry company.
According to Viva!, the footage shows young birds pecking at turkey carcasses festering on the floor of tents at Greenbury Poultry Ltd in Essex, on farmland rented from the founder of acclaimed poultry firm Kelly Turkeys.
The activist group said the “heartbreaking” footage, which appears to show chicks with ragged, pecked feathers in a dirty tent littered with dead birds, uncovers “some of the worst conditions we have ever seen on a turkey farm in the UK”.
Greenbury, run and owned by Stuart Beaumont, a former employee of Kelly Turkeys who left the firm in 2015 and still works for them as a freelance consultant, has denied any wrongdoing.
Beyond the rental agreement, Kelly Turkeys does not appear to have any other current relationship with Greenbury. Both companies believe the video has been rigged.
The footage was taken in the early hours of 19 November inside one of nine tents at Springate Farm in Danbury, Essex, where Greenbury rears around 750 turkeys.
The land is owned by Derek Alfred Kelly, who in 1971 started the family business now known as Kelly Turkeys and run by his son Paul Kelly.
Paul Kelly told The Independent Kelly Turkeys does not rear any of their birds on Stonegate farm, and Greenbury was set up last year as a new business venture by Mr Beaumont and his son.
“My father has rented [Mr Beaumont] a bit of land at the back of his farm on which Stuart with his son is rearing some turkeys with the plan to sell eggs in the spring and Easter market next year,” said Mr Kelly.
“There are no other turkeys on this farm or land except these few hundred owned by Greenbury.
“Stuart still does work for us as a self-employed consultant and this small turkey venture is not connected to our business.”
Kelly Turkeys has been endorsed by Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith for its award-winning premium turkeys and high welfare standards.
The company’s motto is “bred to be wild” and Derek Kelly received an MBE in 1998 for his services to the farm fresh poultry industry.
Mr Beaumont said the video was “in no way representing the true facts about the farm” and claimed the dead birds had been placed in the tent on purpose by the investigator.
“The video clip looks really bad, I don’t deny that, but it doesn’t reflect how the birds are actually looked after,” he said.
“I have one dedicated person who checks and feeds the birds every morning and then goes back before dusk and checks round them again.
“On the night in question he went back at 10pm to drop some of the shutters down as it was very cold that night.”
The farmer said bird mortality on the farm was “nothing more than normal” and claimed the dead turkeys, which Viva! say appear in the footage, were moved from the designated place for storing dead birds.
“The dead birds were placed in the building from the container that holds the mortality for all the turkeys on the site and collected weekly. This is evident as some of the turkeys are decomposing and others are in rigour not consistent with how the turkeys are positioned,” he said.
In correspondence seen by The Independent, Viva! contacted a local branch of the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) the morning after the independent investigator took the footage.
While APHA has refused to comment on individual cases, Mr Beaumont confirmed a visit had taken place the next day.
“Animal health with trading standards has made one visit and is not pursuing this any further,” he said.
“Animal health interviewed the person looking after the birds and he said birds were definitely checked the night before.
“I entered all nine sheds in the morning with the vet and in one of the sheds there were some dead in the bottom of a feeder. It looked as though they had been placed there.
“I agreed with the vets to change the feeding system so that it would not be possible for this to occur again for whatever reason.
“There had been minimal mortality before that day and almost none after, which doesn’t make sense.”
In response to these claims, Viva! obtained a sworn affidavit from their independent investigator, seen by The Independent, declaring that the video footage is an accurate representation of what was seen and filmed at Springate Farm on 19 November.
The investigator said strict biosecurity measures were undertaken before entering and they did not remove any of the dead birds from a container to place them on the floor of the tents used to house the turkeys.
The campaign group also obtained a statement from vet Andrew Knight stating “the frantic nature of turkeys in the footage just outside the feeders suggests that the birds were hungry and highly motivated to reach the feed inside.
“The position and compression of the dead birds in the feeders could suggest that they have been there for some time,” said Mr Knight.
Mr Beaumont said: “Some of the white turkeys on the clip have little feather cover on their wings which is due to the age of the birds (they are young) and that we do not remove the beaks so they are free to feather peck.
“The video also shows the birds are all huddled together which is totally natural as a flock of turkeys will come together to sleep at night.
“The birds also look startled which they would be as they are not used to bright lights shining at them when they are asleep.”
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