Concerns raised about welfare of caged hens at South Wales farm

An investigation by ITV Cymru Wales has exposed conditions at a poultry farm which supplies eggs to well-known brands and supermarkets across South Wales.

S4C’s current affairs programme Y Byd ar Bedwar was tipped off about concerns relating to animal welfare at the Kittle Hill Poultry Farm production site by vegan charity Viva!

When Y Byd ar Bedwar visited the the so-called ‘enriched cage’ egg-production site, they found some chickens almost completely featherless and several dead birds lying on the wire mesh. Some had seemingly been there for some time with carcasses covered in faeces.

When footage from the facility was presented to animal welfare expert, Professor Andrew Knight, he stated his concern, "You would be hard-pressed to find any birds anywhere with feathers in a worse condition than these ones. It would be painful when they’re being pecked at, when the skin is exposed as well."

According to regulations governing the egg industry, hens should be inspected at least once a day and the company who own the farm said they inspect the cages three times daily.

But Professor Knight felt the programme’s footage demonstrated there were failings at the facility, with some of the carcasses filmed seemingly decomposing. He was concerned this could endanger the welfare of other hens but could also potentially contaminate some eggs laid at the facility.

The problem with dead chickens just lying around in the cages or in the corridor is a couple: one is the bacteria - this is obviously very unhygienic, this is a great environment for salmonella, for e. Coli and other bacteria to be colonizing these animals and spreading to the surrounding chickens and that’s not only a welfare concern for them, it’s a public health issue for anyone eating those eggs.

Professor Andrew Knight

To meet the British Lion Egg standard all hens need to be vaccinated against salmonella. The Foods Standards Agency say that although there is a risk that bacteria could be transferred to eggshells and even into the eggs themselves, “the level of contamination would be expected to be low”. They recommend cooking eggs at 70 degrees celsius for at least two minutes to ensure bacteria is killed and the eggs are safe to eat.

All grade A eggs produced for sale in shops and catering outlets in the UK must be stamped with a unique code which enables the customer to trace them to the farm where they’ve been laid. Using this unique code eggs from Kittle Hill Poultry Farm were found for sale at Tesco and Asda stores across south Wales.

In Asda, the eggs were packaged under the Smart Price brand, where 15 eggs could be purchased for £1.19. At Tesco stores, the eggs were for sale under the ‘Big & Fresh’ brand where 10 eggs cost £1.50.

Both supermarket giants already had plans to stop selling eggs produced in cages by 2025.

In a statement to programme-makers, Asda said:

We take any complaints about animal welfare seriously and are deeply concerned with the footage provided by ITV, which does not reflect the standards we expect from farms that supply Asda. We would like to reassure our customers that we have launched a full investigation with our supplier Noble Foods, including instructing a number of independent audits to be carried out at the farm to identify where any improvements are required. Whilst they have satisfied these initial requirements, we are continuing to monitor very closely to ensure required standards are maintained.

Asda statement
Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Since the investigation, Noble Foods Ltd, the UK’s biggest egg producer, who own brands such as Big & Fresh and supply the Asda ‘Smart Price’ eggs from Kittle Hill Poultry Farm say:

“We take animal welfare very seriously and we insist on high standards from all our suppliers and closely monitor them on an ongoing basis. We also rely on external bodies to confirm our suppliers fully meet the UK and European legislation for animal welfare and food safety. Having been alerted to the footage, The British Egg Information Council, responsible for the Lion Code of Practice, immediately re-audited Kittle Hill Farm and reported ‘no significant issues were found either in terms of animal welfare or hygiene standards’ and that it ‘is confident that there is no food safety risk from this farm’. We strongly disagree with the assumptions made based on the film footage of conditions at Kittle Farm. We are confident in the standards at the site and will continue to audit it to ensure the highest standards are maintained.”

The investigation by Y Byd ar Bedwar will be broadcast on S4C at 9:30pm Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

The Kittle Hill Poultry Farm is owned by Ridgeway Foods Ltd and in a statement, they said:

As a major supplier to retailers, we are regularly audited by the Government, industry bodies and retailers themselves and all of our farms are fully compliant with UK Government and European regulations on the welfare of birds. Last month this farm received a routine visit from a number of senior Government vets and officials and no issues were found. Due to the alleged contents of the footage, we have also been subject to recent investigations by independent auditing organisations and the farm has been fully checked by an independent vet – our birds and the farm have been given a clean bill of health on all counts. We believe the footage we have seen is misleading.

Ridgeway Foods Ltd.

In light of the investigation, The British Egg Industry Council has confirmed it will increase its auditing for the farm in response to the programme’s investigation, stating the standards shown were “below those required on a Lion-accredited farm”.

The investigation by Y Byd ar Bedwar, will be broadcast on S4C tonight at 9.30pm. English subtitles are available.