Contented hens, pecking at the ground and enjoying a dust bathe in the sun - that's free-range egg production if you believe the TV adverts.
A major Viva! investigation into the egg industry has shown a very different story claims the campaigning group - one of disease, incarceration, mutilation, short lives and electric shocks. In one of the most ambitious undercover operations Viva! has ever undertaken, the group says it has laid bare the awful truth of what could be one of the biggest UK consumer deceits.
Noble Foods own the Happy Egg farms accredited to the RSPCA Freedom Food scheme, designed to offer particularly high standards of welfare for farm animals. But footage obtained by Viva! from two farms in Fife, Scotland during the summer of 2010, suggests the guidelines are being breached.
An employee was covertly filmed revealing electric wires are used to control the hens, who are also encouraged to remain indoors until 80 per cent of them are laying. Another worker admitted at least one barn was infested with red mite, a parasite that causes skin irritations. On a second visit to the farm, investigators filmed dozens of birds which had lost feathers and been pecked by other hens.
Viva! campaigns director, Justin Kerswell, said: "Contented hens pecking at the ground and enjoying a dust bathe in the sun - that's most people's view of free range egg production. “The Happy Egg Company's TV advert feeds that belief, showing hens in sunshine, exploring verdant vegetation and even taking a ride on a farmer's quad bike. They paint a picture akin to a holiday camp for hens. If the plants we visited are typical, they are more of a death camp. “If consumers are really concerned about animal welfare and want to ensure they play no part in this cruelty - the best thing they can do is say no to eggs - of any origin - and go vegan.
To view the footage, please visit our Cracked campaign pages. For more information about the Cracked Campaign and to watch our investigation footage, please visit our website.