Poultry firm fined for chicken cruelty
THOUSANDS of chickens perished amid soaring summer temperatures when they were packed into a transporter lorry for a 13-mile trip.Grampian Country Chickens (Fresh) Ltd, admitted causing unnecessary suffering to 2,486 animals at Bury St Edmunds magistrates court yesterday.
THOUSANDS of chickens perished amid soaring summer temperatures when they were packed into a transporter lorry for a 13-mile trip.
Grampian Country Chickens (Fresh) Ltd, admitted causing unnecessary suffering to 2,486 animals at Bury St Edmunds magistrates court yesterday.
The birds, which were on a truck containing 5,500, died while on a 13-mile journey on July 10 last year when temperatures soared to 28C. The animals were being transported from the Wild Rose Farm in Long Stratton, where they were being caught by workers, to the Grampian processing plant in Eye.
Kate Miller, prosecuting for Suffolk County Council, said four earlier journeys that same afternoon had seen around 1,370 chickens perish in the heat. She argued bosses at the poultry firm should have cancelled any further trips as a result.
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Although post mortem examinations were not carried out on the dead animals, Miss Miller said the likely cause of death was heat stress.
"Evidence shows the company had sufficient information available to indicate the birds were likely to suffer before they were loaded onto the lorry," she said. "We say there was the opportunity between the loads, had a phone call been made, that the chicken catch could have been stopped.
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"There was no credible veterinary explanation for the number of dead birds, other than heat stress.
"The high temperatures of that day and the high number of chickens which were dead on arrival should have led Grampian to stop all catching on the farm. The fifth load led to unnecessary suffering and death. If the animals had been left where they were, they would not have died in the numbers which they did."
Bosses from the firm said three or four animals would normally die in transit.
Describing the incident as a "one off", Rebecca Carriage, defending Grampian, said four animal welfare officers were employed at the company, adding that steps had been introduced since the incident to ensure it did not happen again.
"Long and short-range weather forecasts are submitted to the company so there is the flexibility to change catching systems," she said. "It was a relatively short distance between the farm and the factory, so there was not a lot of time for airflow to get moving as transportation occurred.
"Catching patterns have been altered as a whole so there is no catching in the hottest part of the day in the summer.
"This was a one-off, isolated incident which had not happened before and has not happened since. The company has taken this very seriously. The chickens are its raw material and are precious to it. A loss of this size is bitterly regretted on all sorts of levels."
Ordering the company, based in Bucksburn, Aberdeen, to pay costs of £11,196 and a fine of £4,000, Muriel Lawrence, chairman of the bench, said the fine would have been £5,000 was it not for the early guilty plea.
Following the hearing, Peter Monk, who holds responsibility for public protection with the council, said: "When around half of the birds being transported die before arrival it indicates a serious disregard for their welfare and law."
Grampian also released a statement, saying: "Grampian Country Food Group takes the welfare of its chicken flocks very seriously at all times, ensuring they are kept in a controlled environment to ensure it meets the birds physiological needs.
"Following the incident which occurred on the 10 July last year, due to the exceptionally high temperatures experienced, the company has carried out its own thorough internal investigation."
A spokesman for the RSPCA said the charity opposed any transport of live animals.
n The EADT has been prevented from publishing the names of Grampian's general manager and his assistant, although they were present at the hearing, after the court ruled such detail could leave them open to threats from animal rights' groups.