Kerry Foods in duck cruelty charge
Sunday Times, 9/10/2005
British animal rights activists are targeting the Kerry Group, Ireland's largest food company, over the alleged mistreatment of ducks at a farm in Norfolk.

British animal rights activists are targeting the Kerry Group, Ireland's largest food company, over the alleged mistreatment of ducks at a farm in Norfolk. Vegetarians International Voice for Animals (Viva) claims that conditions at the farm, which supplies supermarket chains Sainsbury's, Tesco, Co-op and Morrisons, are squalid, cramped and filthy. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) brought a case against Kerry Group's subsidiary Kerry Foods last year, following reports of mistreatment made by Viva and Hillside Animal Sanctuary, another animal rights group. The case failed, partly because allegedly incriminating video footage was obtained by trespassing. The company denies that it mistreats animals but activists say they will not let up in their campaign to expose the "prison-like conditions" of ducks at Kerry Foods' UK farms. The claims were aired in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme in August in which footage of dying, dirty and sick birds in overcrowded sheds was shown. The activists claim that they made the film on farms run by Kerry Foods. Frank Hayes, director of corporate affairs at the company, denied last week that conditions at its duck farms were substandard. "We operate to the highest industry standards. This matter was the subject of court proceedings which were not upheld," he said Kerry Foods produces about three-quarters of the ducks sold in British supermarkets each year. The Norfolk farm was accredited by the RSPCA with the Freedom Food standard, a stamp of approval for animal-friendly operators. The standard was removed after officials at the society viewed the footage which was taken in 2003 and 2004. The RSPCA subsequently carried out inspections and brought a prosecution last year against the farm for cruelty to animals. The case failed and the company was exonerated, partly because the judge ruled that the footage had been obtained illegally by activists trespassing on the farms. The company has since said that it has improved conditions and is reapplying to the RSPCA for the accreditation. Last week Justin Kerswell, a campaigner at Viva, said that Kerry Foods had made claims about improving standards in the past but repeated filming had found little change. "They say improvements have been made but, time and time again, we find the same situation. The problems in duck farming are endemic," he said. "We found ducks crammed into dirty, stinking sheds in their thousands, many incapable of walking, dragging themselves along by their wings, unable to right themselves, with filthy feathers, infections and sores, and dying and dejected birds surrounded by corpses." Sir Paul McCartney, the pop star and a supporter of Viva, wrote to the Co-op, the supermarket chain, to express his "profound concern" after seeing the footage: "I call on you to give your ethical claims meaning by immediately ending the sale of all factory-farmed duck meat." Hillside Animal Sanctuary, which provided the footage, says that its activists filmed for five weeks before going to the RSPCA. Wendy Valentine, who runs the group, said: "There were the same ducks sat there dying for three or four days in a row, sitting in the same position unable to move, there were hundreds like it. "We went to the RSPCA because it's an RSPCA Freedom Food farm, but the day before they went to raid it we watched them killing lots of the ducks." She said they filmed the bodies of "about 300 ducks" which had been culled and dumped in skips. RSPCA inspectors found 33 ducks dead of septicaemia and a further 100 dying which were culled. Farms are required under law to carry out daily inspections for septicaemia, a bacterial infection common to birds which are reared in intensive farm conditions. Professor Don Broom at the department of veterinary medicine in the University of Cambridge, after watching the footage, told the Dispatches programme: "Septicaemia can come on over a few days but clearly some of those birds were at an extreme stage where they would have been suffering a lot from the disease." Hayes said: "This footage was never acknowledged by us. It was never proven that it was taken in our sheds in the first instance. "What allegedly is shown, what allegedly these films prove, is that birds were all in one corner of a shed. Of course they behave that way when they're disturbed in the middle of the night. We don't comment on footage which is allegedly obtained in this way."

The RSPCA spokeswoman said that Kerry Foods' application for accreditation was being considered but that it would take time for assessors to inspect every farm. "At the moment there are no legally enforceable standards for rearing ducks in the UK. The duck industry does not have its own assurance scheme or symbols or certifications that products can get for their baseline requirements," she said.