Two Scottish farms supplying eggs to the Happy Egg Co have been suspended from the RSPCA’s Freedom Foods scheme, following an undercover investigation by animal rights group Viva and Channel 5 News.
Footage from the investigation, filmed by a reporter pretending to be a vet student on work experience, was broadcast on Wednesday night (6 October).
It showed electric wires running above the feed hoppers, which a poultry worker admitted were turned on for five days to discourage the birds from defecating into the feed – in contravention of Freedom Food standards.
The worker also described how many birds were reluctant to use the popholes and range properly, while a severe infestation of red mites affected another shed.
The footage also included shots of waterlogged sand baths, muddy areas directly outside the sheds, birds with significant feather loss and dead birds lying on the shed floor.
“‘Freedom Foods’, ‘free range’, ‘happy’ are not words I’d use to describe these birds,” said TV presenter Jason Farrell.
A statement from Viva (Vegetarian International Voice for Animals) went on to describe “happy eggs” as “one of the biggest UK consumer deceits”. It suggested the farms visited were more like a death camp than the holiday camp portrayed in the Happy Egg Co’s TV adverts.
In response, Noble Foods, which owns the Happy Egg Co, said it had conducted an internal inquiry as soon as it was made aware of the video footage. “Last night, at our request, both farms involved were audited by RSPCA Freedom Food inspectors and both were given very positive reports.” The electric wire was being dismantled.
But the RSPCA said there were some potential causes for concern and had arranged for an immediate visit by the Scottish Food Quality Certification (SFQC) to both farms.
“As a precautionary measure, Freedom Food has suspended both farms from the Freedom Food scheme pending the results of that investigation,” it said.
“We are concerned that, as some of the footage was taken as far back as July this year, many of the birds will have since been removed,” it added. “We always ask that people report any such concerns to us as soon as possible. To our knowledge, Viva has at no stage contacted us about their concerns prior to Channel 5 taking receipt of this footage.”
Meanwhile, Viva has warned that further exposés are in the pipeline, focusing on hatcheries and enriched cages.
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