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Undercover investigations - behind the scenes

News Section Icon Published 04/01/2008

Our recent investigation into intensive poultry production made front page news in The Independent newspaper. Here our investigator gives a behind the scenes account of the investigation and what we uncovered.

Only when you go into a shed full of thousands of 'broiler' or meat chickens - and experience the ammonia stench of their faeces which will be left in the shed for the duration of their short lives, and the noise and confusion of those animals in that kind of environment, do you fully realise the intensive methods used to create cheap chicken meat.

Of the millions of chickens grown, reared and killed intensively in the UK, it is likely that each one of those birds has been 'evolved', bred and grown from 'parent stock' originating from one of just three multinational companies.

And it is the link between those companies and a typical UK intensive broiler chicken farm that we wanted to expose.

The first part of this investigation was to establish a link between the primary breeding company Aviagen - in the case of Uphampton Farm.

We were able to establish through Aviagen company promotional materials that this farm had in the past won a Flock Award in the "Small Bird" category.

To think that the birds seen there that had difficulty even walking are considered award-winning by the industry is beyond comprehension.

To get footage at the locations in question it was necessary to observe full bio-security measures. Disposable overalls and boot covers were used for each farm visit, and we used any foot dips on site.

On our first visit to Uphampton Farm the birds were between seven to ten days old. Chicks really, yellow in colour and just starting to show proper feather growth on their wings. Cute to look at, but shocking to see. As is typical, many of the young birds do not even make it to a few days old.

Outside the unit we were able to take footage of dustbins full of dead chicks, kept next to an incinerator, presumably to be burnt and destroyed in the near future.

Returning to the site 22 days later it was obvious how much quick growth the birds have endured. The chickens are now white in colour with full feather coverage. The unit looks crowded, and the shed is a mass of white.

Many of the birds seem to have developed walking and leg disorders. Many of the birds 'rear-ends' are now bald. We saw dead birds in the shed, which will presumably be picked up when staff conduct inspections of the sheds.

For the millions of chickens farmed in the UK - there is a 'production process' - a 'growing cycle' in which the birds are treated as 'units'.

The individual birds - the life of 'that chicken' - its natural behaviour and quality of life, has been sacrificed. The reality of chicken production is so far from the image of birds wandering around a farmyard. It's now just about creating the optimum amount of cheap meat in the quickest amount of time.

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