Investigation: Gravel Farm
Animal welfare group Viva! are celebrating their latest victory as food assurance scheme Red Tractor drops Gravel Farm – an intensive turkey farm which annually produces over 33,000 turkeys and is part of Avara Foods, which supplies Sainsbury’s.1https://data.food.gov.uk/catalog/datasets/1e61736a-2a1a-4c6a-b8b1-e45912ebc8e3 The farm was approved by Red Tractor until Viva! released their investigation and urged them to carry out an inspection. In direct response, Red Tractor terminated their membership in the scheme and have reported the farm to the Animal and Plant Health Agency, pending criminality charges.
- Viva! Campaigns have released footage from a three-month undercover investigation into an Avara Foods turkey farm.
- Hidden cameras filmed one worker brutally killing birds with an inhumane neck crushing device. Sick and injured birds were left to die in overcrowded sheds with festering open wounds.
- Red Tractor have dropped the farm in direct response to the investigation and have reported it to the APHA, pending criminality charges.
Caught on camera
Gravel Farm was investigated by Viva! Campaigns between September and November 2019, with hidden cameras filming around the clock for four straight days in November. The farm supplies turkeys to Avara Foods, one of Britain’s largest food manufacturers producing over 4.5 million turkeys, ducks and chickens a week.2https://www.avarafoods.co.uk/News Avara Foods supplies some of the UK’s largest retailers including Sainsbury’s.
Viva! Campaigns’ three-month investigation reveals shocking scenes of suffering and cruelty with a total disregard for animal welfare. The video footage was obtained from inside the farm’s two state-of-the-art turkey sheds – housing up to 5,500 birds each at any one time, which were built in 2010 to diversify the farmer’s existing 150-head beef herd and boost profits.
Turkeys inside the sheds never see the light of day and are mechanically fed, watered and continually weighed to ensure maximum growth and profit. The rate at which these birds grow is unnaturally fast and their small legs often struggle to bear their overweight bodies.
One of the most disturbing and serious malpractices discovered at the farm was turkeys being killed with a neck dislocation device – a plier like tool that crushes the bird’s spinal cord. According to the Humane Slaughter Association (HSA),3ttps://www.hsa.org.uk/neck-dislocation/neck-dislocation neck dislocation is not recommended for the routine slaughter of poultry and they identify the tool used by workers at Gravel Farm as an “unsuitable piece of neck crushing equipment”.
Although neck dislocation, without prior stunning, has been widely used as a method of killing poultry, research indicates that neck dislocation does not consistently concuss the brain and it is unlikely to cause immediate death.
In the footage obtained by Viva!, one worker dislocates the neck of two turkeys in a segregated pen for the sick and injured. Both birds suffer prolonged and visibly distressing deaths, struggling for several minutes after the initial crushing.
Despite the barbaric nature of the neck dislocation device, farming regulatory body Red Tractor continue to recommend its usage for turkeys weighing under five kilograms. However, records found on Gravel Farm indicate that at 13 weeks old, the birds weighed approximately 11kg at the time of death – more than twice the maximum weight permitted for the use of these inhumane killers according to Red Tractor guidelines.4https://assurance.redtractor.org.uk/contentfiles/Farmers-6829.pdf?_=636416710706720149
Viva! Campaigns also found a concerning number of birds at Gravel Farm suffering from disturbing injuries, likely due to a lack of appropriate environmental enrichment. Turkeys are naturally inquisitive and explore their environment and investigate new objects by pecking. Therefore, it is recommended that turkey farms should provide suitable forms of environmental enrichment, to reduce stress and pecking of other birds. However, dying birds at Gravel Farm were found with devastatingly bloody wounds caused by other birds pecking out their feathers, which went untreated for a considerable time.
Severe injuries, as a result of pecking, are widespread at Gravel Farm and have led to the use of segregation pens to keep sick or injured animals away from others. Inside Gravel Farm’s segregation pens investigators found two birds of particular concern – one with an infected and necrotic broken wing and another with severe respiratory distress. Both birds were identified on Sunday 24 November and both birds were still present on Friday 29 November, showing no visible signs of improvement.
This farm is blatantly ignoring Red Tractor standards, which state that sick or injured birds are to “receive prompt attention in order that suffering is not prolonged” and that the segregation pens are checked “a minimum of twice per day.”4https://assurance.redtractor.org.uk/contentfiles/Farmers-6829.pdf?_=636416710706720149
Dropped and disowned
In direct response to Viva! Campaigns’ investigation, Red Tractor immediately terminated the farm’s membership of its scheme. Red Tractor and Viva! have reported the farm to the Animal Plant and Health Agency on the basis of potential criminality. Following the termination, Red Tractor said:
“We were shocked to see the footage and the farm’s membership from our scheme has been terminated. High animal welfare standards are a top priority, and we take any breaches to these very seriously. We have reported Gravel Farm to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) to investigate whether any legal action should be taken.”
In response to the move by Red Tractor, Sainsbury’s said in a statement:
“The welfare of our animals is extremely important and we’re investigating this report with our supplier”
Avara Foods stated:
“We have high standards for bird welfare and, on initial review of the footage, we believe there are aspects that fall short and are unacceptable. We will continue to conduct a thorough investigation into all practices on this farm and take appropriate action as necessary.”
Dr. Alice Brough, Veterinary Consultant discusses the investigation’s findings:
“We see extensive evidence of disease, pain and suffering on this unit. Feather pecking and cannibalism is widespread, and in some cases severe with raw open wounds, extreme swelling and bruising. This is despite the fact that the birds have been subjected to beak trimming mutilations in an attempt to curb this behaviour – a behaviour that stems from environmental conditions failing to meet the basic needs of the animal, indicative of poor welfare.
There is a failure by stockpeople to identify issues and deal with them appropriately. There is no evidence shown over the period of filming that any of the birds moved to segregation pens receive treatment for injuries or disease; the stockperson is not seen to apply topical treatment or administer injectable or oral medication. The feeders and drinkers are not separate from the lines supplying the rest of the sheds and therefore it is unlikely that feed or water medication is given.
The device used for euthanasia is inappropriate for the weight of bird and is not recommended by the Humane Slaughter Association under any circumstances. One attempt at euthanasia leaves a turkey conscious and sensible to pain with crushed vertebrae, and despite the stockperson kicking her to check, there is no attempt made to rectify his mistake before leaving the pen. What we see in this footage is incredibly disturbing and shows a categorical disregard for animal welfare.”
Lex Rigby, Viva! campaigns manager discusses the investigation:
“We are absolutely thrilled by Red Tractor’s decision to drop Gravel Farm as a result of Viva!’s investigation. Our team witnessed appalling conditions, documenting the systematic abuse of farmed turkeys, whose short lives are filled with nothing but misery and pain. While some birds were ruthlessly killed with barbaric neck crushing devices others were left to die slow, agonising deaths from their injuries – all for the sake of Christmas dinner.
Although we congratulate Red Tractor on taking action against animal cruelty, we are once again left wondering why it is down to organisations like Viva! to continually expose the abhorrent conditions on factory farms. Our investigation into Avara Foods reiterates the fact that regulatory bodies such as Red Tractor are nothing but a façade for the horrendous, brutal and cruel reality of intensive factory farming in this country. Red Tractor is a meaningless label, who will only terminate a farm’s membership when they are faced with yet another PR disaster, as Viva! Campaigns have shown time and time again.
Christmas is supposed to be a season of peace and goodwill, and we believe there is no better way to celebrate than to extend our compassion to all beings. This is why we are calling on consumers to choose an alternative to turkey this Christmas and choose vegan.”