Animal Aid

Held to Ransom by Factory Farmers

Posted 19 April 2007

Today’s announcement that Bernard Matthews’ farms will receive £600,000 in compensation – paid for by taxpayers – after an outbreak of bird flu at one of their Suffolk plants, has shocked politicians and animal campaigners.

While the government admits that it is uncomfortable with the huge payout, it has stated that offering large sums acts as an incentive for farmers to report outbreaks early on. This suggests that farmers are less likely to notify authorities of a disease outbreak if they think they might be out of pocket as a result.

The shockingly low welfare standards on intensive farms mean that disease outbreaks are inevitable. Undercover investigations at Bernard Matthews’ farms in 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2006 produced evidence of crowded, dirty conditions with severely injured, diseased and dead birds.

In 2000, turkeys at Beck Farm, Haveringland, Norfolk were found lying dead by undercover investigators, while others had festering wounds. Live turkeys were seen milling around carcasses and pecking at them.

In September last year, two of the company’s workers at the same Norfolk farm were convicted of battering turkeys with a broom handle, used like a baseball bat. The solicitor defending the men described the conditions in the unit as ‘appalling’ and said: ‘You can see why people move to an organic, more open type of farming.’

In February, more than 2,000 of the company’s birds died in one week inside the giant sheds from bird flu. One Hong Kong chicken farmer described the H5N1 symptoms: ‘Their bodies began shaking as if they were suffocating and thick saliva started coming out of their mouths … Their faces went dark green and black.’ (1) Pathologists described the birds’ organs as being reduced to a ‘bloody pulp’.

Despite the birds’ severe suffering, the first Bernard Matthews victims went unnoticed because the attrition rate in intensive turkey and chicken sheds is always so high. In the UK, more than one in 20 birds die before they can be slaughtered, with 130 million broiler chickens perishing every year from heart disease alone. (2)

And yet intensive farmers are free to continue to rear animals in dreadful conditions, safe in the knowledge that the taxpayer will bail them out should a disease outbreak occur on their farm.

Says Animal Aid Campaigner, Kate Fowler-Reeves:

‘We are, in effect, being held to ransom by farmers. If we don’t pay compensation, they won’t notify authorities when diseases emerge on their farms – diseases that, more often than not, could be avoided if they raised welfare standards and afforded animals a decent standard of living. Factory farming creates diseases that cause immense animal suffering and have the potential to harm humans. But far from being penalised for it, farmers are rewarded.’

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