‘Carnage’ as millions of chickens on factory farms die in muggy coops during record heatwave

‘Carnage’ as millions of chickens on factory farms die in muggy coops during record heatwave

Chicken coop workers say they experienced flashbacks as they watched the birds die in extreme heat (The Independent)

Chicken coop workers say they experienced flashbacks as they watched the birds die in extreme heat (The Independent)

Millions of factory farmed chickens died during the record-breaking heatwave, as industry whistleblowers claimed little was being done to protect them from the deadly temperatures. The Independent has learned.

The birds – caged in industrial farm pens – suffered in temperatures of up to 45C and slowly died of heat exhaustion, sources said.

Some big producers made little or no effort to ease the pressure of the heat on the animals, the insiders said on condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it was “deeply concerned” by the problem and that the sheer scale of the deaths had prompted an investigation by officials.

According to witnesses, the temperature in some industrial chicken coops made birds flap and gasp as they died.

The birds’ excrement, which was more than usual due to diarrhea – a warning sign of heat stress – was making the pens even hotter, they said.

A shed worker told The Independent that the birds were simply “dying in the heat” and “written off” as a cost rather than investing in mitigation measures such as better ventilation.

A second, who works at another major producer, described the facility there as “carnage” and said he felt the company could have taken bigger steps to help improve animal welfare.

They said they experienced flashbacks of the “sheer size and the stench of the corpses” of the chickens that died during the heatwave.

“I often find that I suddenly start crying and shaking,” they said.

Those affected by the industry-wide problem include Moy Park and Hook 2 Sisters Ltd manufacturing plants. Both companies declined to comment and referred The Independent to their industry body, the British Poultry Council (BPC).

Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the BPC, said in a written statement: “Unfortunately, extreme temperatures have resulted in very high mortality events in some poultry flocks.

“The industry has been working closely with Defra and other government agencies to support farmers during this devastating time and to figure out how to clear farms quickly and dispose of birds safely.”

He added: “There are mitigating measures in place to maintain the health and welfare of the birds. As in other industries, we urge all poultry farmers to move forward with these measures to deal with exceptional weather conditions in the longer term.”

It’s not the first time, however, that hot weather has caused mass deaths among British poultry producers.

In 2019, workers at a Moy Park farm in Kettlethorpe, Lincolnshire, reported thousands of bird deaths during a heatwave.

At the time, Moy Park said in a statement that it had “implemented procedures to protect our birds from the extreme heat.”

The extent of the recent bird deaths has prompted a joint investigation by an independent body, the Animal and Plant Health Agency, and the local government.

A Defra spokesman said in a statement: “It is vital that the health and welfare of animals is protected and we are deeply concerned by the recent deaths in chickens.

“The Veterinary and Phytosanitary Agency is working to assist local authorities in investigating the incidents and taking appropriate further action.”

Animal rights organizations said they are aware of mass deaths among birds, which have on average less living space than an A4 sheet of paper in their final weeks.

The extreme weather put pressure on livestock across Britain, several farmers said The Independent.

Two said that while some farmers spent big bucks to try to reduce damage to animals from extreme heat, others – in some cases larger growers with deeper pockets – did not.

James Mottershead, National Farmers’ Union Poultry Chairman, said: “As poultry producers, our number one priority is always the health and welfare of our birds.

“Like other sectors and industries, we too have faced extraordinary record-breaking weather. While we have systems on the farm to regulate the temperature in poultry houses, recent extreme weather has overwhelmed some of them.

“It is truly devastating to witness bird deaths and farmers continue to do everything they can to care for their birds during these unprecedented and extreme temperatures.”

Abigail Penny, executive director of Animal Equality, said the recent cases are far from unique and the industrial farming giants have not prepared to prevent the mass death.

“As the rest of the UK ground to a halt, eschewing public transport and the scorching sun, the meat industry failed to act. This business-as-usual approach to a national emergency resulted in hundreds of thousands of chickens being literally cooked to death,” she said.

Each chicken suffered a painful, protracted and entirely preventable death, she said, adding: “The sad irony is that animal husbandry is a driving force behind these heat waves and other deadly effects of climate change. The meat industry is a major cause of land and water overexploitation, pollution, deforestation, species extinction and antibiotic resistance.

“More heat waves are to be expected. How many animals must cook alive?”

An RSPCA spokesman said anyone who fails to meet the needs of animals in their care could be prosecuted in court, following an investigation by the Animal and Plant Health Administration (APHA).

The spokesman added it was “incredibly upsetting to hear of the deaths of these birds – all animals are sentient beings who deserve to be protected from pain and suffering.”

Such mass mortality events are much more likely in intensive rearing houses used for broilers, as the designs are older and ventilation may be poorer, according to the charity.

“Factory farming operates at such a speed and with such little tolerance for error that any change, such as rising temperatures, can have devastating effects on animal welfare. This is another reason why we are very keen to see a shift away from intensive farming practices,” the RSPCA spokesman said.

Connor Jackson, executive director of animal rights group Open Cages, said he had heard about the “carnage” of the heat wave.

“These farms should have ventilation systems, but that’s clearly not enough,” he said.

“Even with better technology, these weak birds continue to be crammed into hot metal boxes in the countryside every summer.

“On a typical chicken farm, birds have on average less space than an A4 sheet of paper in their final weeks. Intensive farming practices like these exist to enable supermarkets to keep meat as cheap as possible, but customers are not even told these most basic facts.

“Until the major UK retailers sign the Better Chicken Commitment and move away from intensive farming practices, millions of animals will continue to suffer from the heat and the myriad other welfare issues forced upon them for cheap meat.”

Hook is 2 sisters fractional ownership by 2 Sisters Food Group Ltd according to Companies’ House. 2 Sisters Food Group website lists a variety of major supermarkets as customers on its website, including Aldi, Asda, Co-op, KFC, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s and Tesco. Several did not respond to a request for comment, while Co-op, Ocado and Sainsbury’s declined to comment and referred The Independent to the British Poultry Council (BPC).

A Waitrose spokesman said it was not supplied by Hook 2 Sisters and while Moy Park processes some of its chicken, its oversight procedures for farms in its supply chains showed no evidence of animal welfare concerns.

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