ITV News Anglia's Rob Setchell reports on what the charity discovered when its activists went undercover
The RSPCA has launched an investigation after undercover footage filmed by animal rights activists revealed poultry workers joking as they kick and throw chickens around a farm shed.
The abuse was filmed by the Animal Justice Project and shows workers from an RSPCA-approved firm holding chickens four to a hand and grabbing them by one leg.
The organisation said it was appalled by the footage, while the Norfolk-based contractors AD Harvey - which on its website claims to have "an unwavering dedication to the highest quality standards in animal welfare" - said two staff members no longer worked for the firm.
The footage was filmed over several months and shows staff in so-called "catching gangs" mistreating and abusing some of the chickens they have been employed to round up.
ITV News Anglia has been unable to independently verify the footage, which activists say was filmed at a farm in Leicestershire.
The teams are employed to gather chickens up at the end of their egg-laying life so that they can be culled and used for meat.
The Animal Justice Project said one of the incidents filmed occurred during a night's catching of hens at a free-range farm which supplies eggs to major national retailers.
The campaign group claimed around 30,000 hens were caught by hand in one night, with around 26 put into each crate by the catchers.
Claire Palmer, from Animal Justice Project, said she had been "absolutely horrified by the abuse and the violence".
"It made me feel very shocked," she told ITV News Anglia.
"We knew that there was going to be abuse and violence because we'd had reports from whistleblowers but we weren't expecting it to be on this scale.
"It's definitely some of the worst footage that we've ever filmed. There is no humane way of catching 30,000 hens in a shed at break-neck speeds."
AD Harvey has had its "RSPCA Assured" animal welfare status suspended, pending an investigation by the charity.
A spokesman for AD Harvey, which is based at Bunwell in Norfolk, said: "The owners of AD Harvey were shocked when they were made aware of the covert filming undertaken by Animal Justice Project.
"We take every incidence of wrong-doing seriously and on reviewing the footage two members of staff are now no longer in our employment.
"We are currently working with RSPCA Assured investigations team and believe it would be inappropriate to comments on the specifics of this matter until they have concluded their investigations."
The company said that the release of the footage on social media had led to threats being made against its staff, and that it had referred them to police.
"We take any threats by anyone against the families of our staff seriously and for that reason we are now working closely with the police," added the spokesman.
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