RSPCA hits back at Viva Happy Eggs ‘exposé’

The RSPCA and Freedom Food are considering legal action against animal welfare group Viva, following the organisation’s recent report with Channel Five News on two Scottish farms supplying the Happy Egg company.

In the programme, filmed last July, an undercover Viva investigator found irregularities including an electric wire used to keep young birds off the feed lines, and birds reluctant to range due to the mud outside the popholes.

A TV news presenter also broke into one of the farms in late September to report on the situation with regards feather loss and mortality, suggesting that to call the birds “happy hens” was illusory.

But the RSPCA has hit back, accusing Viva and Channel Five of reporting out of context and of withholding important information about animal welfare.

“We take any breaches of RSPCA welfare standards very seriously indeed,” said the statement. “Within hours of receiving visual evidence from Channel Five of apparent non-compliances on the farms in question, they were suspended pending further investigation.”

Subsequent inspections revealed that there were some non-compliance issues – the wire and the mud outside the popholes. But the RSPCA says the programme focused, in the main, on other issues that were presented “without proper context”.

“While disease was mentioned in the introduction to the piece, no expert opinion was included from a poultry vet. In fact, our investigation found that the birds in question were under veterinary supervision for an outbreak of erysipelas. This disease can unfortunately cause high levels of mortality as well as feather loss.

“The correct action had been taken by the farm… but the broadcast made no attempt to provide the full context of the situation.”

The statement also counters the suggestions in the broadcast that dead birds were not removed, the unit was not checked often enough and the birds were not encouraged to range. Taken out of context, this had misled viewers.

But the RSPCA is seemingly most angered by the fact that Viva had sat on its findings for three months, only releasing them in early October – to conincide with British Egg Week.

“If Viva had footage that demonstrated a problem as far back as July, then it should have been reported immediately so that the appropriate action could have been taken,” said the statement. “It is disturbing that this information was withheld when there was potential for on-going suffering.

“As a result of the issues raised above and the manner in which Channel Five provided evidence, we are seeking legal advice.”

A separate statement from the Happy Egg Co said it regarded the happiness of its hens as its top priority and it had immediately put in place an audit of all its farms.

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