A Viva! investigation
into Faccenda Chicken Producers
Viva! has investigated the UK's second biggest chicken
Viva! filmed at a Faccenda intensive broiler unit near
Sutton Benger several times over a three year period, most
recently in late 2007. The windowless sheds were crammed with thousands of broiler (meat) chickens
kept under artificial light - we estimated that there could
have been up to quarter of a million chickens on that one farm
alone at any one time. Bio-security was so lax that we were
able to legally enter through the same unlocked door on each
visit. About a mile away from the sheds is Faccenda's factory,
which processes 720,000 chickens a week (4).
Up to 30,000 chickens spent their short,
miserable 6 week lives in this Faccenda shed
Our investigator describes the investigation:
"We knew we were close to the farm when
we picked up the usual cloying, fetid stench that emanates
from all broiler chicken units. Making our way through a hedge
of brambles and nettles, we came into a deserted clearing from
where we could see rows of windowless sheds stretching away
into the darkness. Above the muffled sound chickens clucking
was the mechanical clatter of automatic grain feeders,
grinding away remorselessly.
We walked around the
huge complex, which covered the space of several football
pitches, and eventually saw an open door. After dipping our
boots in antiseptic solution, we went through it.
Through a haze of dust
particles, we could make out the cavernous interior of the
shed and were met with the babbling of 30,000 voices - three
to four week-old chicks who literally carpeted the floor.
Dotted around on the spongy litter were the little corpses of
birds that hadn't managed to live even this long. Most of the
living chicks looked dejected and dedraggled, with patches of
bare skin showing through their feathers, a product of
moulting caused by the oppressive heat. I watched as three
chicks gathered around a shiny piece of red metal, fascinated
by it - the only thing of interest in this barren space.
Painful leg problems are common for
chickens in intensive production
We returned to the
same shed a few weeks later when birds were nearly six weeks
old, and conditions had deteriorated. What little spare space
there had been was now almost entirely gone. The birds were
adult in size but their high pitched cheeps and blue eyes were
unmistakeably those of chicks.
Moving around was like
walking on a mattress - spongy excrement underfoot and the
smell was now overpowering. We had only to spend a short time
in here but it was home to the chickens. Everywhere we looked,
birds with filthy, wet feathers huddled together seemingly
seeking comfort from one another. Dotted around were lame,
deformed and dying chicks who had no chance of escaping
painful burns from the ammonia-soaked floor. Sadly, there was
nothing extraordinary about this scene as it is repeated over
and over again in identical windowless sheds the length and
breadth of the UK.
As I crouched amongst
them, the chicks eyed us with curiosity. Even in that short
space of time, individual personalities shone through. Some
circled me whilst others boldly pecked at my camera. As we
left, the horribly sobering thought struck me that by the time
the pictures were developed, all 30,000 birds be dead - their
numbers contributing to the 860 million chickens killed for
meat in the UK every year."
Faccenda - the Company
Surprised that you have never heard of Faccenda? This
company are so publicity shy they don't even have a website,
and they sell onto supermarkets and other outlets but not
under their own name. However, they
are second largest chicken processor in the UK after the
Grampian Country Food Group, and kill and process around 2
million birds a week from six facilities across the UK (1).
Established over 40 years ago by Robin Faccenda and
family, Faccenda has grown through a series of acquisitions
including Hinton Poultry, Perry Poultry and Webbs Country
Foods, and now employs in excess of 2,500 staff and turns over
around £300m annually.
Intensive agriculture produces a huge amount of waste, and
in 2002 Faccenda were fined £75,000 for polluting the River
Avon from its factory in Sutton Benger. During a four-month
period in 2001 pollution levels in effluent from the factory
were found to be well above the legal limit. During one
investigation environmental officers recorded levels of
suspended solids in the water at 50 times the maximum legal
limit. These solids can be disastrous for aquatic life as they
tend to have a smothering effect (2).
Low paid agricultural jobs often attract migrant workers. In 2003, 20
illegal immigrants were arrested at the Faccenda's Sutton
Benger factory (2).
The residents of the small village of Sutton Benger have
suffered the smell and noise created by the factory for 30
years, and have set up a community action group to tackle the
issue. In September 2007, local residents complained that the
smell of rotting carcasses was affecting their health. Also, a
chemical called Tri Sodium Phosphate (used when plucking
chickens) caused irritation to the nose and throats of
residents. Despite this the factory has been allowed to
increase production from 600,000 to 720,000 chickens a week
after the closure of their site in Dorset (4).
One thing is clear: intensive production is a disaster for us and for
chickens. As government and councils seem to bow to big
business, the most effective thing that individuals can do is
to wash their hands of this dirty business - and the best way
to do that is to go veggie.
4. 'Village kicks up a stink', Gazette & Herald, September 20