Animal rights activists have exposed horrifying conditions at a chicken farm that supplies major supermarkets including Sainbury's, Tesco and Morrison's.
Members of Brighton-based group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) stormed Hoads Farm in East Sussex yesterday, revealing squalid and cramped conditions scattered with what appear to be rotting hen corpses.
Around 150 activists sporting protective gear marched on the chicken enclosures, demanding the release of 100 hens.
Some nine hours after they entered the farm, they were filmed leaving cradling 50 "liberated" chickens in their arms. The rescued birds have since been filmed recovering in the DxE members’ homes.
Ethical food label RSPCA Assured said it was suspending Hoads Farm’s welfare accreditation while it “urgently investigates” conditions at the previously certified farm.
It said in a statement to DxE, shared with the Standard: “We have very serious concerns about some of the hens and the conditions shown. Any allegations of poor welfare issues on RSPCA Assured certified farms are taken extremely seriously.”
The country’s top supermarkets have sold so-called “free range” eggs from the farm for years, at around £2 for a box of six.
However, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and ASDA have now pledged to pull thousands of the brand’s eggs from their shelves in light of DxE’s investigations.
Tesco said it was “deeply disturbed” by the images inside the farm and would not sell any of its eggs until an investigation was completed. Sainsbury's said it would also halt any new orders.
A spokesperson for ASDA told the Standard: "We take our commitment to animal welfare very seriously which is why, following on from today’s reports, we have temporarily suspended the sale of these eggs.
"As soon as we were made aware of the reports we launched a full investigation, and we are also awaiting a further update from the visits carried out by DEFRA, RSPCA and British Code of Practice for Lion Egg."
DxE said its members had visited the farm on numerous occasions over the past few months, each time finding hens that were "visibly infected", with decomposing dead birds left lying in the barns.”
An investigator said: “We visited Hoads Farm multiple times over 6 months. Many of the hens’ cloacae, from which their eggs are laid, were visibly infected, bleeding and swollen from forced overproduction.
“In the disease-ridden conditions, many piles of dead birds were found in the walkways among the living hens, and each time that we visited we found the same and new bodies decomposing.”
She added: “The dead will have died in pain, with many obviously trapped in the racks dying from starvation.
“One night we found a hen huddled in the corner, motionless and shaking. She had blood all over her head, suggesting she had been violently thumped or stamped on by someone. She was in clear pain and shock and hadn’t received any veterinary attention.”
Another spokeswoman from the group said: “We have taken action today that some may see as radical, but our actions must match the severity of what takes place behind those walls.
“These animals deserve to have their voices heard and by entering this exploitation facility, our goal is to shine light on their experiences and be allies in their struggle against speciesism.”
Hoads Farm claims on its website that its free range eggs have “have been produced to the very highest standards” and that its welfare and environmental conditions are “far higher than is required by law.”
“We are constantly striving to ensure that we supply the freshest and tastiest free range eggs to our customers,” it adds.
A spokesman for the group told the BBC it had invited the RSPCA to visit and to confirm "all necessary" free range standards were being met, and said a vet had been on site on Monday afternoon and "identified no issues".
He added the footage was "in no way reflective of our farms and/or the welfare of our hens" and that "all sites are routinely visited by independent bodies both announced and unannounced to ensure standards are maintained.''
The Standard has contacted Hoads Farm and Morrisons for comment.