RSPCA Assured probes Hoads Farm after 'shocking' video
A free-range egg farm's welfare accreditation has been suspended after activists claimed to have exposed unsanitary conditions.
Ethical food label RSPCA Assured said it was "appalled" by a video allegedly showing ill birds and rotting bodies at Hoads Farm, near Hastings, East Sussex.
About 150 activists from Direct Action Everywhere occupied the farm, demanding the release of 100 hens.
Hoads Farm said activists had caused "significant distress" to the birds.
About nine hours after they entered the farm, activists were filmed leaving cradling 50 "liberated" chickens in their arms.
Hoads Farm, which provides eggs to major UK supermarkets, said police had been called to "assist with the removal of the trespassers".
The RSPCA said it had "very serious concerns about some of the hens and the conditions shown" in secret filming, which was released online by the Brighton branch of Direct Action Everywhere.
"On any farm, it's important that any sick or injured animal receives attention quickly and that if any birds die their bodies are removed promptly," the charity said.
RSPCA Assured, a membership organisation for farmers who commit to meet the RSPCA's welfare standards, said it had suspended Hoads Farm while it "urgently investigates".
It said: "We are shocked and appalled by this footage and we understand why people are upset."
'Animals as individuals'
Direct Action Everywhere said activists visited the farm several times over six months and found hens that were "visibly infected", with decomposing dead birds left lying in the barns.
It said it was not seeking better conditions for hens, but was instead "demanding that animals be recognised as individuals with the right to bodily autonomy".
"Other animals are not on this Earth for us to use," it added.
Hoads Farm said its standards met both EU law and those set by RSPCA Assured and BEIC Lion standard.
A spokesman said it had invited the RSPCA to visit and to confirm "all necessary" free range standards were being met, and 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".
Sussex Police said it was "working with farm and protesters to bring this to a peaceful resolution".