Tesco has suspended a Red Tractor-certified chicken farm from its supply chain after an undercover investigation revealed ‘shocking’ standards of animal welfare there.
Footage obtained by the Animal Justice Project showed workers abusing chickens at Brome Grange Farm near Eye, Suffolk. Their cameras captured a worker urinating in close proximity to chickens as well as young chicks being thrown onto the ground.
The animal rights group also uncovered abuse at a separate facility - Trees Farm - which is owned by the same company, Free Range Chicken Ltd, and is certified by RSPCA Assured.
Both farms have been suspended from their respective certification schemes.
The footage, which was filmed from February to May this year, showed many abusive practices at both farms.
At Brome Grange Farm, adult chickens had their necks broken and were thrown to the floor convulsing, with no checks to see if they had died.
A worker ‘frequently’ urinated close to chickens and used a bucket he had urinated in ‘hours earlier’ to collect dead birds.
Chicks were thrown to the ground with some being kicked and killed by workers. One chick lay injured for eight hours before dying. Animal Justice Project claims 500 chicks died in their first week at the farm.
At Trees Farm, a catching team shouted abuse at chickens as they slammed them into crates ahead of transportation for slaughter. One chicken was left on its own for ‘more than a day without food or water’ before being sent to the slaughterhouse.
The actions contravened RSPCA Assured guidelines, which say ‘no bird must be deprived of food for more than 10 hours prior to slaughter’ and that ‘the catching process must be managed sympathetically’.
The certification scheme said it was “shocked and disgusted” by the film footage. It suspended Trees Farm on 21 June.
An RSPCA Assured spokeswoman said: “It is completely unacceptable for animals to be treated this way and we understand why people are upset.
“It deeply saddens us that one of the farms in the footage is RSPCA Assured certified and we have suspended it, along with the catching team, from the scheme for breaching our standards.
“One case of poor farm animal welfare is one too many but thankfully welfare concerns on RSPCA Assured certified farms are extremely rare, and many millions more farm animals are having a better life thanks to the work of the charity.”
Red Tractor suspended both farms after carrying out an “unannounced audit” within a day of being alerted to breaches of its standards.
“Ensuring Red Tractor-accredited farms have high animal welfare standards is a top priority, and we take any allegations of breaches to these very seriously,” said a spokeswoman for the scheme.
Tesco would “fully investigate” the footage, said a spokesman for the retailer.
“We expect all our suppliers to meet the recognised farm assurance standards, including Red Tractor certification, as well as our own stringent, industry leading requirements on animal welfare,” he added.
“We have immediately suspended [Brome Grange] farm and we will continue to engage with the appropriate authorities on welfare standards at the farm.”
Free Range Chicken Ltd, which owns Brome Grange Farm and Trees Farm, has suspended supply from both locations.
“Our number one priority is the highest possible animal welfare standards and we pride ourselves on the quality of our birds and the duty of care we demand,” said the firm’s director, Harry Irwin.
“Once alerted, we launched an urgent investigation to determine all the facts. Members of the catching team involved have been dismissed. We have also launched a retraining programme for the farm staff and contractors involved on these farms, and across the wider business, to ensure unacceptable instances, such as this, never happen again.
“In addition, there has since been multiple independent farm audits from Red Tractor, Freedom Foods, the APHA and our customers in the past few days. All have given clean bills of health in relation to bird welfare.
“We were shocked and distressed by the footage we have seen and take all these allegations extremely seriously.”