Turkeys have been found apparently eating each other alive at an award-winning farm that supplied upmarket ready-meals shop Cook and high-end pub chain Young’s.
The apparent cannibalism was among a string of shocking scenes captured on footage claimed to have been at a site selling turkeys under the English Rose brand, marketed as “prestigious” and “high welfare”.
The farm, Grove Smith Turkeys, denied claims of poor welfare, saying the activists who filmed their birds had deliberately manipulated the situation to present an inaccurate picture of poor conditions, and that its focus was on the rearing of happy, healthy birds.
Young’s pubs said it had suspended the farm as a supplier after seeing the footage.
Secret cameras at the Essex farm, which also supplies butchers, filmed several birds that were unable to walk or seemed unable to defend themselves from being pecked and eaten alive, according to the activists involved.
Some turkeys appeared to have severely infected wounds on their heads and eyes, the group said.
At least one of the sheds seemed to be crowded and without adequate enrichment, which may have caused the birds to peck each other out of boredom, they claimed.
Toni Shephard, the head of Animal Equality UK which took the footage late last month and early this month, said it showed some birds were experiencing “extreme suffering”.
The footage appears to show a lame bird struggling to walk, and another one with blood on its face and neck.
Turkeys were filmed pecking and eating a carcass.
Experts say turkeys and chickens bred to grow too quickly often cannot support their own weight so have difficulty moving around.
Grove Smith, which rears 30,000 turkeys at any one time, selling more than £3m worth in December, has won awards, including the Best Christmas Premium category at the 2013 British Turkey Awards.
English Rose turkeys are promoted as “reared in spacious open barns, [with] low stocking densities and plenty of sunlight”.
The Cook company sells an English Rose turkey crown “wrapped in sweet-cure bacon with a handmade stuffing of sausage meat, cranberries and hazelnuts” for £45 online.
Other sites sell the birds for up to £49.
A spokesman for Cook shops said: “We’re proud to work with British farmers who are committed to high standards of animal welfare and visited Grove Smith in May to check conditions for ourselves.
“Everything we saw was as expected, as confirmed by the third-party accreditations they hold with Red Tractor and British Retail Consortium.
“We were therefore shocked to see this footage and have already contacted Grove Smith to investigate fully. We would of course stop working immediately with any supplier who’d been found to be mistreating birds or animals in their care.”
A spokesperson for Young’s pubs said: “We have extremely strict and robust standards when appointing suppliers.
“All our poultry farmers are British and Red Tractor-accredited, backed by a far-reaching quality assurance scheme which promotes the highest possible standards in food safety, traceability and bird welfare.
“Our system for supplier approval is also subject to an annual British Retail Consortium audit and at the last audit we achieved Grade A Approval.
“We are very concerned to learn of these allegations and as a consequence, we have suspended this relationship with immediate effect and have made alternative supply arrangements.”
Lawyers for Grove Smith said: “We note that it does appear that a small number of birds were shown to have injuries. Among a large flock of birds, it is inevitable that illness and injuries will occur.
“Our client’s policy is to check the flock morning and evening. Where birds are found to be injured or unwell, they are either treated, or where not viable, euthanised.
“Unfortunately, injuries and illnesses arising at or around midnight (when these photographs were taken) cannot be instantly picked up.
“However, our client’s policies and procedures in this regard have been reviewed by both Trading Standards and the Animal and Plant Health Agency, who were satisfied with the position.”
They said several selective photographs of a very small number of birds and showing a very selective image of the production facility had been provided by Animal Equality.
Entering the farm without permission breached biosecurity provisions, was illegal and was far more likely to cause distress and the spread of disease among the turkeys, which was not in the interests of animal welfare, they said.
“Our client is most concerned by the photographs showing alleged overstocking levels,” the statement said. “It appears, on review of the photographs, that the trespassers have closed off the brooding section of the barn to make it appear smaller than in fact it is.
“Those doors would not otherwise be shut at this time, as they are only kept shut when the birds are juvenile.
“It appears that Animal Equality has deliberately manipulated this situation to present a picture of poor conditions which is entirely inaccurate.”
They said the farm has policies that prioritise welfare at every stage of the birds’ growth.
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