An undercover investigation has revealed what activists describe as 'horrifying conditions and extreme animal suffering' on three Red Tractor-certified chicken farms in Lincolnshire.
The footage, released by leading international animal protection organization Animal Equality, was filmed at Saltbox, Ladywath, and Mount farms all rear chickens for Moy Park, the UK's second biggest chicken company. Moy Park supplies major retailers including Tesco and Sainsbury's.
According to Animal Equality, Ladywath Farm has is comprised of three double-decker sheds housing 63,000 animals, meaning birds are stacked on two floors within the same building. It is one of the first farms of its type in Britain. The farm has recently applied for permission to build a fourth double-decker shed.
Investigators visited each of the three farms multiple times between February and April 2019. They reported seeing 'gigantic double-decker chicken sheds, with over 30,000 birds crowded on each floor'.
They said many of the chickens were suffering from severe leg injuries, with some unable to stand as a result.
There were carcasses left to rot for days amongst the flocks of living birds, and chicks struggling to breathe at just two days old, many already dead.
GRAPHIC: footage from the farms
'A lifetime of misery'
"As our appetite for chicken meat has grown, so has the size of Britain's chicken farms. Images of distressed birds in giant double-decker sheds will be a shock to many consumers who buy British, Red Tractor-certified meat thinking they can trust its animal welfare standards," Animal Equality's UK Director, Dr Toni Vernelli, said in a statement sent to Plant Based News.
"Yet the truth is, the unnatural conditions chickens are forced to endure in these vast sheds are utterly dismal. One meal for us equals a lifetime of misery for them.
"While labels and certificates can't protect animals in the meat industry, consumers can. It's easy to make the compassionate choice of leaving chickens off your plate and opting for delicious meat-free alternatives, which are now widely available in supermarkets and restaurants across the UK!"
"We have a zero-tolerance attitude toward anything that jeopardizes the health and welfare of our birds and we are fully investigating these allegations," A spokesperson for Moy Park said in a statement.
"We have robust processes in place to carefully monitor the welfare conditions for our birds and we have regular independent audits, taking corrective action with our farming partners if required."
"All our suppliers are expected to meet our high welfare standards and we are investigating this footage," Sainsbury's said in a statement.
"We have strong procedures in place to ensure the welfare of the animals in our supply chain," a Tesco spokesperson added.
A Red Tractor spokesman told the BBC: "Our own routine auditing of these farms had identified some breaches to our high standards, and we have been working with them to ensure they put the necessary processes in place for them to remain Red Tractor-certified."
It added that breaches found at one of the farms 'have already been resolved', while the other two are still within their 28 days to fully comply.