19 December 2003
Bernard Matthews' turkey suffering exposed
for third year in a row
Welfare group condemns "pathetic" legal standards
which prevent prosecution
Campaigning animal group Viva! has secretly filmed inside
Bernard Matthews' turkey sheds for the third Christmas in
a row and found the worst conditions of overcrowding yet documented
there. Footage obtained by Viva! over the last three weeks
also shows lame and injured birds as well as piles of dead
birds, apparently suffering from skin and foot damage caused
by conditions within the sheds. The group claimed that these
consistently poor standards are due to a combination of corporate
avarice and the almost total absence of legal protection for
turkeys in the UK.
Bernard Matthews' sites at Langham, Breckles, Hockering,
Swannington and Felthorpe were filmed between 23rd November
and 8th December. Footage shows dense overcrowding, with thousands
of birds packed together as far as the camera light can reveal.
Birds are shown pecking one another and one has a bleeding
wound on its neck. Litter is, in most sheds, sodden and the
investigator - who is experienced with poultry - can be heard
commenting on the powerful stench of ammonia within the sheds.
In previous years, Viva! has found dead birds within the sheds
- this year the clean-up operation appears more efficient
and open bins full of dead birds were filmed outside the sheds.
The dead birds show evidence of feathers burnt by ammonia-sodden
litter and foot injuries. Some corpses in the (illegally)
open bins appear to have been eaten by rats or foxes. The
footage also includes a visitor log recording a visit from
Virtually no legal welfare regulations apply specifically
to turkeys, their welfare supposedly being assured by a Government
code which has no direct legal force. The poultry industry
routinely overstocks turkeys by double the recommended amount.
Previous Viva! investigations have led to no legal action
despite clear evidence of suffering and verbal condemnation
by the RSPCA. The RSPCA have described current legislation
covering factory-farmed poultry as "woefully inadequate".
Viva! campaigner Alistair Currie says "Every year we
go into Bernard Matthews and every year we find the same images
of suffering, death, and ruthless exploitation: we have established
now that this is the tragic reality of turkey farming in the
21st Century. This year's are the worst scenes of overcrowding
we have ever filmed, the birds jam-packed together in their
thousands. It looks like Bernard Matthews' are making an effort
to clean out the dead more efficiently than in previous years
but that's little more than a cosmetic change. The real tragedy
is that they know they can get away with this because the
legal protection for turkey welfare is abysmal. The Government,
the producers and the retailers are all washing their hands:
only consumers have the power to stop this abuse - by boycotting
this business entirely and having a vegetarian Christmas."
Contact Alistair Currie or Juliet Gellatley on 0117 944
Notes for Editors
Mini DV and VHS footage and jpeg images are available from
Viva! of this investigation. Images and video from previous
years are also available.
GPS readings and video of company notices and paperwork are
used throughout the video to prove location. All units were
entered without causing criminal damage and biosecurity precautions
Correspondence with the RSPCA on the subject of turkey legislation
is available from Viva!. The conditions exposed by Viva!'s
investigation in 2002 were described on GMTV by Martin Potter,
the head of the RSPCA's Farmed Animals Division, as "disgraceful"