The footage was captured by an undercover investigator working for animal rights organisation the Animal Justice Project at Kettleby Farm in Leicestershire.
It shows the work of a ‘catcher’ gang from AD Harvey, who were hired by the farm to carry out a depopulation process in which chickens are rounded up and taken to an abattoir when they reach the end of their natural egg-laying life.
Morrisons today confirmed the farm was a supplier to its supermarkets, while Asda also said it takes some branded and own label eggs from the farm.
AD Harvey and Kettleby Farm, which is owned by Sunrise Poultry, are both RSPCA Assured members. RSPCA Assured have since suspended AD Harvey whilst they investigate the alleged abuse.
This is the shocking moment RSPCA-approved workers stamped on hens that allegedly supplied eggs to Asda and Morrisons before they were taken to an abattoir
In the footage a group of workers from the company can be seen stamping on and kicking the animals
In the shocking footage a group of workers from the company can be seen stamping on and kicking the animals and later carrying at least nine chickens in one hand before loading them into crates.
The footage, the first from a UK farm, also shows the birds being swung around by their feet with some seen lying severely injured, dying and dead on the floor.
Catcher gangs are used at UK chicken farms to catch thousands of chickens when they come to the end of their natural egg-laying life at around 76 to 80 weeks old.
The birds are taken to an abattoir and are then usually used for cheap meat, soups, stock, or stews as a ‘by-product’ of the egg industry.
The Animal Justice Project claims that in one ‘shocking’ incident, around 30,000 hens at the end of their egg-laying life were caught in one night at Kettleby Farm.
It added that similar incidents have been reported at farms in Kent, Oxfordshire, and Bedfordshire.
AD Harvey said staff in the footage are no longer employed and their remaining staff are being retrained.
Andrew Knight, a veterinary professor of animal welfare, says the footage shows ‘harsh and inhumane’ treatment of the birds.
He said: ‘Workers engaged in incorrect and injurious handling techniques, including kicking and hitting hens, treading on them, and violently throwing them against shed walls.
‘Some hens were severely injured or dead, while others experienced extreme distress, being carried upside down or by one leg. Additionally, workers were observed slamming doors on to hens, causing potential harm.
‘These actions are not in line with humane or ethical treatment of these highly sentient birds and likely violate UK animal welfare legislation.’
Catcher gangs have faced criticism for their method of carrying birds by their legs inverted, allegedly compromising their welfare.
The gangs also breach Defra codes of practice in footage obtained at farms in Oxford and Bedfordshire by failing to handle the birds individually when they are removed from cages.
Catchers in the film appear to be aware of their inappropriate methods, with one saying that holding the birds by their legs weakens them so much that once placed on the ground, they suffocate within three minutes.
Catcher gangs have faced criticism for their method of carrying the birds by their legs inverted – allegedly compromising their welfare
In one incident a worker was caught carrying at least nine chickens in one hand before loading them into crates
The ‘catcher’ gang from AD Harvey, who are members of RSPCA Assured, were hired by Kettleby Farm to carry out a depopulation process
The workers round the chickens up and take them to an abattoir when they reach the end of their natural egg-laying life
Another catcher added: ‘It only takes one idiot to just come in here and film what we do… and all the animal rights lot will be down here.
‘They all think chickens walk around in fields, think 20 chickens in a field will feed the nation.’
Animal Justice Project are now calling on the RSPCA to cut all ties with AD Harvey.
Claire Palmer, spokesman for Animal Justice Project, said: ‘Today, we expose some of the most appalling acts ever captured on film.
‘Faced with indisputable violence against hens, the RSPCA must take decisive action, beginning with the permanent severing of ties with AD Harvey and the launch of criminal proceedings against potential law violators.
‘The distressing, breakneck speed at which hens, at the close of their productive lives, are nightly captured by gangs under the watch even of the RSPCA underscores the urgency for a shift away from animal agriculture.
‘It’s a compelling call for a transition to plant-based farming, prioritising compassion over cruelty in our food production systems.’
Morrisons, which is supplied by Kettleby Farm, claims to be the first supermarket to solely supply free-range eggs – but has no policy on the catching of egg-laying hens.
Robert Hofmann, a Morrisons egg buyer, said: ‘Improving animal welfare is very important to customers and it’s very important to us.’
In a statement issued by AD Harvey, the company said the behaviour of their staff had fallen ‘below standards’.
An AD Harvey spokesman said: ‘AD Harvey have been made aware of a film which was produced, covertly, by an activist working on behalf of an animal rights organisation.
‘The edited footage seeks to compare RSPCA Assured standards with what the activist actually witnessed whilst “working” as part of our team at a poultry farm.
‘As a result, RSPCA Assured have suspended AD Harvey Catching teams from their scheme.
‘They have also advised us that at present they “are not able to disclose the footage or any further information on this matter at this time”.
‘However, we are now aware that the film is in the public domain and as such have now viewed it.
‘The film clearly shows some members of the AD Harvey bird catching team acting in a manner which was completely at odds with the standards of animal welfare to which we require our staff to work to.
After they are rounded up the birds are taken to an abattoir and are then usually used for cheap meat, soups, stock, or stews as a ‘by-product’ of the egg industry
Catcher gangs are used at chicken farms across the UK to catch thousands of chickens when they come to the end of their natural egg-laying life at around 76 to 80 weeks old
‘Those staff members are no longer employed by AD Harvey, and all other members of our bird catching staff are being retrained in the correct procedures.
‘The partners of AD Harvey totally condemn any breaches of animal welfare legislation and our teams are trained to deliver a service which ensures that birds are treated with respect and care.
‘We will work closely with both RSPCA Assured and all of our customers to ensure that our teams act in a professional and caring manner at all times.’
The RSPCA runs the RSPCA Assured scheme, which is supposed to guarantee high standards on farms.
An RSPCA Assured spokesman said: ‘We are appalled by this footage.
‘It is totally unacceptable for any animal to be treated in this way and we have reported this incident to the Animal and Plant Health Agency – an official government body that is fully equipped and resourced to investigate and take action.
‘The behaviour in this footage goes against everything RSPCA Assured stands for and falls significantly below the high standards we demand of our members.
‘We have suspended the membership of the catching company involved, pending investigation.
‘This means that the workers in the footage, as well as all other employees of the catching company, cannot work with any animals being raised under the RSPCA Assured scheme.
‘To our knowledge the individuals shown in the footage are no longer employed by AD Harvey.
‘There are four farming sites featured in this footage, only one of which, Kettleby Farm, is RSPCA Assured certified.
‘We are urgently investigating this farm, as well as the associated transport company and abattoir, and are unable to comment further whilst our enquiries are ongoing.
‘We take complaints of poor animal welfare about any of our RSPCA Assured members very seriously and would always urge anyone with any concerns to contact us straight away, without delay.
‘This is so that we can immediately investigate, visit the premises and address any welfare issues as a priority.’
A Morrisons spokesman said: ‘We care deeply about animal welfare and we are taking this shocking footage very seriously.
‘Sunrise is a very small supplier to Morrisons and we have suspended our supply with immediate effect. We are liaising closely with the RSPCA on their investigation.’
An Asda spokesman said: ‘As soon as we were made aware of this distressing footage we sought an explanation from our supplier. They have since confirmed that the individuals shown in the footage are no longer employed by the third party that is the subject of this investigation.
‘Nevertheless we will be working with this independent supplier to ensure that our high expectations on animal welfare are being met.’
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