Home > Campaigns > Turkeys > Undercover investigations: Norfolk
The Terrible Truth About Turkeys
Read about our 2008 investigation into a turkey farm that supplied Freedom Foods.
A Viva! Campaigner describes
her experience visiting turkey farms in Norfolk.
Late one night in November 2002, I drove to Norfolk
with Louise Port of GMTV, who was joining our
investigation into Christmas turkeys. The quiet
country roads around Bernard Matthews’ complex
at Weston Longville, were deserted. We parked
and made our way through a thicket of trees to
a long, windlowless barn that stretched away into
the darkness. I could only see the one but was
aware that this huge site contains somewhere between
40 and 80 sheds.
We slid back the unlocked door, stepped inside
and were hit by a fetid stench of stale, warm
air, turkey excreta and ammonia. Covering our
mouths and noses did little to help. In the dim
lighting we could see that all the windows were
boarded up. Our camera lights improved visibility
and we were faced by a sea of uncomprehending
little faces looking at us in what seemed like
a parallel world, which few people ever see.
It is a world of cost efficiency where nothing
is natural and everything is unreal – no
daylight, no fresh air, the constant hum of ventilators,
artificial light and perhaps 20,000 miserable
lives who have never known it any other way. We
stepped inside and the floor squelched beneath
our feet – litter, sodden with excreta which
would probably not been changed during the birds’
From one end of the shed to the other we could
see nothing but a sea of dirty, bedraggled birds,
so crammed in there was barely room for them to
move. Directly in front of us, a bird was on her
back, legs in the air, her head flopped to one
side, convulsing and gasping for breath. She was
For factory farmed turkeys, life consists of
shuffling from one foot to the other, pecking
at dry pellets in the automatic feeders, taking
water from the drinking bells and trying to exist
in an area barely bigger than the roasting tin
in which they will eventually
Louise and I walked carefully through the packed
birds, looking for tiny spaces between them where
we could place our feet. Many had swollen, bulging
eyes, caused either by infection or constant dust
in the air. We found turkey after turkey who had
collapsed and couldn’t get up – forced
to grow so quickly that their legs could no longer
sustain the weight of their own bodies.
We saw birds with broken or deformed legs, pathetically
trying to drag themselves along the floor using
their outstretched wings as paddles. Many had
raw breasts where their feathers had been burnt
away by the ammonia in the litter on which they
were forced to lie. Throughout the industry, hundreds
of thousands of birds – starve outs –
die each year of thirst and starvation because
they are unable to reach the automated feeders
and drinkers. We saw one feeder so clogged with
dust no bird could feed from it. The resulting
losses are built into the economics of the business.
It is hard to describe the feeling when you stand
among thousands of sick, dying and frustrated
animals – knowing that their short, miserable
lives will end violently in the slaughterhouse
– but it isn’t a pleasant one.
We moved on to our next destination, Friars Farm
at Morningthorpe – a breeding unit supplying
Bernard Matthews with turkey eggs. Breeding stags
and laying hens are kept in separate barns and
never meet as breeding is carried out by artificial
insemination. The birds’ obesity prevents
them mating naturally.
We came across a small shed attached to a barn
which was divided into several pens, each containing
eight or so male turkeys. The shed contained nothing
but a chair with an attached vice, a weird arrangement
of tubes and, next to it, several boxes full of
plastic funnels, pumps and phials. We realised
that this was where the masturbation took place.
Every few days, the stags are masturbated by
being held in the rack while a worker stimulates
their sex glands in order to ‘milk’
them. The semen is sucked into a tube and injected
into the females. It is hard to imagine a job
more humiliating than being a turkey-masturbator!
|What the RSPCA
is a true picture of intensive turkey production.
Having said that, the management of this
farm seemed to be really quite disgraceful.
We shouldn’t be seeing dead and really
sick birds just lying around… it is
a disgraceful scene.
I don’t think those birds have
been inspected, possibly for days. A lot
of our modern breeds of turkeys grow so
fast their legs have problems supporting
them. We grow these massive birds in a very
short space of time so that in itself creates
very serious welfare problems…
What we are seeing here is the price
of cheap food. We would never hesitate to
consider a prosecution if we had evidence.
That may not be possible in this case because
now that the conditions have been exposed
no doubt they have had a rapid clean up
at the farm. I am not that impressed by
Bernard Matthews’ comments. It doesn’t
seem to show a great deal of compassion
for the birds and I don’t think that
he can get away with saying it was people
going in with flashlights which disturbed
the birds. That didn’t cause the problems
we saw on that farm. That was appalling.”
The RSPCA spent some time examining whether
a prosecution might be called for on the
basis of our evidence but unfortunately
decided that, because it was filmed covertly
and the investigators entered the properties
without permission, the video evidence would
be inadmissable. They also acknowledged
that legislation protecting farmed animals
– and especially poultry - is so flimsy
it’s extremely difficult to secure
The irony, of course, is that the only
way of recording a true picture of what
goes on inside factory farms is to enter
uninvited. If Viva! were to ask to go in
and film and take photos, we’d be
refused. And if we were given permission
to go in, a huge clean-up session would
take place and we would be shown a sanitised,
thinned out farm with ‘happy’
animals in ‘clean’ and ‘comfortable’
surroundings. But we go in under cover and
capture the conditions as they really are
and our evidence is deemed unacceptable.
It’s a Catch 22 situation. Fortunately,
by securing media coverage for our investigations
we are able to bring the truth to consumers
directly – and give them the opportunity
to take action themselves by refusing to
support this industry and turning vegetarian.
The turkeys themselves were huge and in an appalling
state, particularly the stags. They had big bald
patches and wing feathers were spiny and bare
with the ends clipped off – perhaps from
being repeatedly held in the clamp for masturbation.
They moved slowly and laboriously, every step
so difficult that they almost wobbled over and
lying in the walkway was a dead turkey with a
vicious open wound on his chest.
All had beak mutilations – almost half
the upper portion of their beaks had
been chopped off. Debeaking is allegedly undertaken
to prevent them pecking each other, a result of
boredom and frustration. Rather than address these
issues, it is cheaper to mutilate.
Despite this, we saw birds with gaping, bloody
wounds and one who had collapsed and struggled
to stand. On examining him we found beneath his
filthy feathers a hole – a raw wound the
size of a hand. There was nothing we could do
to end his suffering.
These conditions are replicated on countless
other turkey farms up and down the country. This
is the grim reality of factory farming.
Subjecting yourself to this type of mass, institutionalised
cruelty is extremely distressing but it is made
worthwhile if you can publicise your findings.
Often the media are just not interested. But that
wasn’t the case this time. The Daily Mail
was the first to bite, with a magnificent double-page
spread headlined ‘Crippled, Burnt and Dying
– Your Christmas Turkey’. The next
day, GMTV transmitted our footage three times
over the course of the morning’s programme,
which has a peak viewing audience of eight million.
They also interviewed the RSPCA’s head
of farm animals, Martin Potter, live on air (see
box). He strongly criticised Bernard Matthews
for the animals’ living conditions and the
shocking state of the animals themselves. This
exposé was followed by articles in the
The Mirror and The Observer Food Monthly magazine.
Extraordinarily, ITN followed the news on Friday,
December 20, with a long special report slot,
again using our footage. Viva! was interviewed
on many regional radio stations, while Viva! campaigners
appeared on The Late Debate for Granada TV.
The postscript to this extremely successful investigation
is that this was the second year running we had
exposed Bernard Matthews. Conditions had improved
not one jot in the intervening year.
footage of Kerry Foods Turkeys
Click here to
watch Viva!'s video
Viva! filmed at a Kerry Foods unit in Bawburgh,
Norfolk in November 2001. The turkeys are premium
priced, bronze-feathered. Because they have access
to a paddock they are labelled free range.
The conditions in the sheds were appalling. Our
investigators found dead and injured birds everywhere.
In the short time we were inside the shed, we saw
at least 40 birds that should have been put out
of their misery. For example, a bird with bones
exposed through the gaping holes in his flesh. Another
with pus dripping from a hole in her body. Many
birds had blood on them. The birds were overcrowded.
Conditions were a world away from what most of us
would imagine as free range.
Kerry Foods-the company
Kerry Foods is the consumer food division of the
Kerry Group. The company started in Co. Kerry,
Ireland 27 years ago and is now headquartered
in Tralee, Ireland. The Group employs 17,000 people
throughout its operations across Europe, North
America, South America, Australia, New Zealand
and Asia Pacific.
Kerry supplies over 10,000 food and food ingredients
products to customers in more than 80 countries
worldwide. The Group has manufacturing facilities
in 15 different countries and international sales
offices in 20 countries.
Launched as a public company in 1986, Kerry Group
plc has a current market capitalisation of E2.6
billion (IR£2 billion) with current annualised
sales of E3.4billion (IR£2.7 billion).
Kerry Groups web site boasts: In ingredient
markets Kerry has grown to become one of the largest
and most technologically advanced manufacturers
of speciality ingredients in the world.
Considering the terribly sad state of the birds
in both turkey and duck units owned by Kerry Foods
that Viva! has filmed, it is laughable that Kerry
Group further states it has a commitment
to excellence and total quality. (1)
And that: a pre-requisite for the production
of superior quality food and ingredients is the
assurance of high quality raw materials produced
from efficient, natural, environmentally
friendly farming systems. (1)
Currently the Kerry Foods division spans six categories;
savoury, pig meat, dairy, poultry, home baking
and convenience/snack products.
Kerry Foods Investments and Acquisitions (1)
Commisioning of Dairy Products facility in Listowel,
Dairy Disposal Company, IRL.
1974 - 1982
Independent dairies in Killarnry, Limerick, Cork
and Galway, IRL.
Denny, Duffy Meats, IRL.
Convenience Foods, IRL. Snowcream Dairies. Moate,
Denny, N. IRL
Grove & Ballyfree Turkeys, IRL SWM
AE Button, UK Miller-Robirch, UK.
Buxted Duckling, UK Kantoher Food Products,
Kerry Spring Water, IRL.
Commisioning of Porkmeat Products facility in
Shillelagh, IRL. Mattessons Walls, UK.
Acquisition of Green's and Homepride
home baking business, UK. Commissioning of ready
meals production facility in Durham, UK.
Commissioning of recipe dish production and development
facilities at Burton-on-Trent, UK.
Platter Foods, Irl
Golden Vale plc, Irl and UK
Kerry Foods web site states that they are the
only producer in the UK or Irish markets offering
the complete range of "speciality" poultry
products (including peking/barbary duck, turkey,
chicken, goose and guinea fowl). It is also the
largest turkey producer in Ireland. It is the
biggest supplier of all turkey products to the
Irish market - under own-brand and the Ballyfree
brand. Kerry's Irish poultry killing facilities
are based in Monaghan and Limerick and they have
export outlets, in particular to the UK market.
Kerry Foods also have slaughterhouses at the Redgrave
and Attleborough sites in Norfolk. Kerry Foods
claim that their speciality meats
are in all major retailer outlets,
and that the division's leading position
in the production of retailer own brand duck products
in the UK is complemented by the Watermeadow and
Note: Viva! stopped Kerry Foods debeaking
ducks in 2000 as part of its ongoing campaign
against the factory farming of ducks. We filmed
at a unit in Suffolk that showed filthy, injured,
bleeding, dying ducks in a packed shed in 1999
(shown on GMTV). Hillside also filmed ducks at
Grange Farm, Redgrave, UK in 2001 - again ducks
that are blind, filthy, have diffulty walking
(shown on Anglia TV).
Denis Brosnan, Managing Director
Frank Hayes, Director of Corporate Affairs, Kerry
Princes Street, Tralee, Co.Kerry, Ireland.
T: 00 353 66 7182304 F: 00 353 66 7182972
E: email@example.com W: www.kerrygroup.com
Kerry Foods, Thorpe Lea Manor, Thorpe Lea Road,
Egham, Surrey TW20 8HY
T: 01784 430777 F: 01784 470529