THE wellbeing of hens laying eggs for one of the north’s largest suppliers has been assured by the RSPCA after allegations were made by an undercover animal rights group.
Sunny Hill, based at Detchant Farm, near Belford, was targeted by Animal Aid, who took photographs of their hens as they were cooped up for the night.
The group claimed that the animal care they found was “shocking” and not up to the standard of a farm that recently won an NFU Best Practice award.
But two independent audits on the farm have refuted those claims completely.
In the RSPCA’s report, carried out on the day immediately after Animal Aid’s claims were made public, the investigator summed up: “I can see no concerns with this unit.
“It’s very well managed and the birds are performing well. On the day of the visit there were no non-conformities.”
Another independent audit, carried out by CMi on behalf of Lion, Sunny Hill’s distributor, also found nothing lacking in the animals’ care.
SunnyHill was also praised by Jack Wight, a local farmer who undertook work experience at Detchant Farm.
In a letter to ‘The Advertiser’, he wrote: “I found the living conditions of the birds to be first class. The farm’s free range status means the birds are allowed access to outdoor conditions during the day, something that many hens never experience.
“Also the technology within the interior of the barn, with regards to temperature and air flow regulation, certainly maintains a comfortable environment for when the birds are indoors.
“The hens’ expertly formulated diet is not only highly palatable but is specifically designed to contain all of their nutritional requirements. Needless to say the birds’ welfare conditions are far from “shocking” as Animal Aid described them.”
Barney Kay, NFU regional director, who has been handling the case on behalf of Sunny Hill commented: “In the last five years Animal Aid has become an increasingly vocal group and undertaken in increasing numbers these illegal entries onto farms.”
He went on top say that he was yet to discover an instance of actual welfare concern, despite dealing with groups such as this for the past five years. “If these individuals are genuinely concerned about welfare, then why do they never make a report the instant they’ve been onto a farm, to the experts such as RSPCA?
“They always wait to collate their ‘evidence’, which suggests they are more interested in self-publicity, rather than improving animal welfare.
“Organisations like these make continued unfounded allegations against perfectly well-run, law abiding businesses and it seems impossible to get fair play in taking action against them. Laws of trespass are extremely weak and as you can’t tell the individuals involved it’s hard to prosecute.
“However allegations of this type can be devastating on these family-run businesses. I’ve seen retailers drop contracts for fear of bad publicity from being associated with a farm that’s had one of these ‘exposes’.
“I’m not saying all farms are perfect, but we have a really comprehensive independent farm assurance auditing system that’s the best in the world and yet we let these guys put good people out of business.”