Two poultry companies have defended their health and welfare standards after they were targeted by animal rights activists Viva!.

Viva! shot videos on the two enriched cage units – one near Wolverhampton and the other near the Welsh border in Shropshire.

The videos were taken in the late summer but only came to light after they were handed to an online news website on 23 October. 

See also: BBC Countryfile’s caged hen debate sparks farmer anger

Footage taken at Ridgeway Foods’ Seisdon Poultry Unit, Wolverhampton, appeared to show hens with feather loss and a dead bird on the floor in one of the buildings.

Screenshot from a Viva! video

Activists from Viva! filmed on two poultry farms © Viva!

And, images from the Oaklands Farm Eggs near Shrewsbury, included stills of maggots in a bin containing carcasses.

Audit

But a spokesman for Ridgeway Foods insisted their unit met regulations and had passed a recent veterinary audit.

The spokesman attributed the feather loss to a “minor health challenge”, which had been treated quickly under veterinary supervision.

“Our farms are fully compliant with UK government and European regulations on the welfare of birds and we are closely audited in everything we do,” the spokesman told Poultry World.

“Our sites and our birds are checked regularly throughout the day and no issues were found following a recent routine visit from a government agency.

“The farm has been fully checked by an independent vet this week who found the flocks to be in good health,” the spokesman added.

Screenshot of Viva! video

Management from two poultry farms have spoken out after Viva! filmed conditions on their sites © Viva!

Oakland’s Farm Eggs owner Elwyn Griffiths also spoke out in an interview with The Independent’s website, which ran the Viva! story.

Mr Griffiths underlined the attention given to health and welfare issues saying the company took them “very seriously”.

He said the footage had been filmed on a rearing unit which was not involved in the supply of eggs to customers.

A screenshot from a Viva! video

Activists used footage to attack welfare standards on two farms © Viva!

Heatwave

And Mr Griffiths said the video was shot on 26 August during a heatwave, accounting for the high number of maggots in the bin.

Any dead birds were also removed quickly from the housing, he added.

Mr Griffiths also questioned the methods used by the activists to gather the night-time footage claiming the raid distressed the birds.

A Viva! spokesman said: “We think the photos speak for themselves. The question has to be asked exactly how bad do things have to be before any action is taken?”

Are activists acting illegally?

The activists are generally well versed in the law and they know what’s criminal and what’s not, writes NFU chief legal adviser Nina Winter. 

It’s very frustrating and also very stressful for farmers and their livestock.

Trespass is a “tort” – a civil wrong generating a legal liability – but it is not a criminal offence on its own. 

In short, although we don’t like activists trespassing on farm and filming, they are not usually committing a criminal offence, unless they’re doing something else, like damaging property, or causing alarm and distress or obstructing people. 

That means the only real form of redress is for the landowner to sue for damages for trespass.

The owner of the land doesn’t have to prove any damage – he can sue for trespass even if he has not suffered any damage. 

However, it’s likely to be expensive to sue, and the landowner is unlikely to get anything other than nominal damages back. If the landowner wins the case, he might get some costs awarded against the activists. 

Any landowner could also apply for an injunction to prevent trespass, if it could be proved that a particular person was about to trespass on the land. But that’s not always much use because it’s rare for farmers to know in advance that activists are going to trespass.

One of the criminal offences that may be relevant, however, is “aggravated trespass”.

This is committed when trespass disrupts or obstructs people from doing something on the land (it’s the offence most relevant to hunt saboteurs who trespass to disrupt a hunt).

But it wouldn’t apply to covert filming at night, because there’s no person there that the activist is obstructing/disrupting.

Another relevant offence is “harassment”, which is a course of conduct which amounts to harassment and which the person committing the offence knew would amount to harassment.

Either way, if activists have trespassed and filmed on your farm, you should report this to the police.