A Viva! investigation into Faccenda Chicken Producers
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.
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).
The sheds we saw were literally carpeted with chickens
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 2007