Easter Chick Misery At RSPCA Assured Hatchery

For many, Easter conjures images of adorable, fluffy yellow chicks, but a damning investigation undertaken by pressure group Animal Justice Project [1] published in today’s Independent [2] sheds light on a dark reality within the chicken industry, seldom considered by consumers.

Dubbed the “hidden hatcheries,” newly-obtained footage captured over several days in 2023 inside an RSPCA Assured [3] hatchery, Annyalla Chicks Ltd in Lincolnshire, [4] exposes the grim fate of tens of thousands of chicks entering the meat industry.

RSPCA Assured is approaching its 30th anniversary this year [5], amidst a string of controversies already this month surrounding its accredited free-range egg farms [e.g. 6 – 8]. This latest investigation couldn’t have come at a worse time for the charity.

Despite being labeled as ‘slow-growing, higher welfare’ broiler chickens [9], many chicks at Annyalla Chicks Ltd face a method of disposal largely phased out by the egg industry [10] – maceration. This gruesome process, involving the use of high-speed grinders that shred chicks alive with sharp metal blades [10], remains a legal method of killing in the UK, predominantly used on over 100 million broiler chicks each year.

While maceration is currently permitted by law, a 2019 study by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) highlighted serious welfare concerns, including machine failures leading to prolonged suffering and distress among the chicks [11].

Key Findings:

Routine Mishandling and Neglect: Chicks endured various abuses, including falls from damaged crates, trapping in gaps, and being crushed under moving trolleys. Staff were observed flinging chicks between crates and neglecting injured birds.

Inhumane Disposal Methods: The footage captured the maceration of chicks deemed unfit for sale, despite regulations mandating swift euthanasia for suffering birds. Injured chicks were left unattended for extended periods, contravening welfare guidelines.

Systemic Failures and Regulatory Disregard: Instances of non-compliance with welfare regulations were rampant, including mishandling of injured chicks, prolonged suffering, and failure to adhere to RSPCA guidelines for humane culling.

Deformities and Cannibalism: Deformed chicks and instances of cannibalism reflected the distress and neglect endured within the hatchery.

The investigation documents distressing scenes of chicks panting, gasping for air, and exhibiting signs of cannibalism amidst hazardous conditions. Despite Annyalla Chicks Ltd’s accolades, including the ‘Hatchery of the Year’ award in 2022 [12], the hatchery’s operations are marred by egregious violations of animal welfare standards, including RSPCA Assured’s Welfare Standards for Hatcheries 2017, which states that chicks much be handled in a ‘compassionate manner’ [13], Animal Welfare Act 2006, which prohibits leaving an animal to suffer [14], and Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007, which states that any animals which appear to be ill or injured must be cared for appropriately and without delay [15].

Ayrton Cooper, Campaigns Manager for Animal Justice Project, states: “We are releasing this investigation at Easter – a time when many people think of cute, fluffy yellow chicks being born in nests with their mothers – because sadly, for the over hundred thousand chicks born into the meat industry each year inside windowless factory-style hatcheries, the reality is very different. From the moment they are born, chicks have everything natural stripped away from them and are treated as commodities by the meat and egg industries. Those who don’t make the grade – whether sick or injured – are simply thrown into the macerator to be minced alive without any veterinary care. Animal Justice Project is issuing an urgent call for greater accountability, much stricter enforcement of welfare standards, and an unwavering commitment to ending the systemic cruelty ingrained within our food production systems. The harrowing footage serves as a stark reminder of the dire need to recognise and respect the inherent rights of all sentient beings. It’s time for a fundamental shift towards a plant-based agricultural model that prioritises animal rights and compassion over exploitation and suffering.”

Animal Justice Project is an animal rights organisation based in the UK with over 154,000 followers on social media and an 8-year history of campaigning to end animal agriculture and exploitation. www.animaljusticeproject.com

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