Game bird hatcheries throw newborn chicks into grinders

16th August 2019

Workers at two game bird hatcheries have been filmed throwing live chicks into a meat grinder.

Covert cameras set up in the Heart of England Game Farm hatchery in Warwickshire also show chicks being injured as they fall off a production line used to box up day-old game birds destined for shooting estates.

In a film released by the campaign group Animal Aid chicks can be seen hatching out of eggs just before they are thrown into a macerator with empty hatched eggs. The footage also shows other hatched chicks, presumed to be unsuitable for selling, being thrown by hand into the high-speed grinder.

The chicks are treated “as if they were inanimate objects”, Animal Aid says.

At a second game farm, Bettws Hall in Wales, trays of eggs were caught on film being loaded into a macerator with newly hatched chicks chirping inside. Close-ups of the trays show birds moving about and flapping their wings before being tipped into the grinder.

By law farmers are allowed to kill live birds in this way during the first 72 hours of their life.

Instantaneous mechanical destruction (maceration) is listed as an approved method of culling chicks and ducklings by the RSPCA under its welfare standards. Under its requirements, the birds should be killed within 15 minutes of hatching. They can also be gassed to death.

The cameras at the Heart of England Game Farm also filmed trays of chicks being taken out of the incubators and sorted on to a production line, with several day-old chicks seemingly injured after falling on to the concrete floor from a conveyor belt.

The footage shows chicks being dropped on the ground, getting stuck in the machinery and being kicked out from under the belt. Eggs that are not yet hatched are tossed into the macerator with some newly hatched chicks.

At the end of the conveyor belt, the chicks are loaded into boxes to be sold to game farms or shoots.

Fiona Pereira, the campaign manager for Animal Aid, said: “Our investigations over the last 15 years have shown the birds used for breeding being confined to inhumane metal boxes, often without enrichment and with no chance of freedom.

“Our latest film reveals the mass production and misery of the offspring of those birds, who are hatched, thrown on to a conveyor belt and boxed up as if they were inanimate objects. Some individual chicks even faced an unthinkably violent death in the macerator. It is a disgraceful, hidden part of the shooting industry.These tiny chicks have no chance of escaping their fates.

“Our ultimate goal is an end to the killing of animals for sport but in the interim we call for a ban on the production of birds for the shooting industry. Such a ban already exists in the Netherlands.”

A YouGov poll last year of more than 2,000 people across the UK, on behalf of Animal Aid and the League Against Cruel Sports, found that 69 per cent of people thought that shooting birds for sport should be illegal, while 18 per cent thought it should be legal and 13 per cent did not have an opinion.

The Heart of England Game Farm and Bettws Hall were asked to comment but declined.

Most shoots in Britain are family-run affairs aiming only to break even but several large commercial estates now promise up to 2,000 birds to be shot over two days for as much as £50,000. It is believed that more than half of the estimated 35 million game birds in the UK are imported from Europe.

Chris Packham began a legal challenge last month against the annual release of 35 million pheasants and partridges for shooting. The wildlife presenter, who received death threats in April after forcing the government to withdraw licences to shoot crows, pigeons and other birds, has now turned to the game-bird industry.

His campaign group, Wild Justice, sent a legal letter to the environment secretary accusing him of failing to assess the impact on wildlife of releasing tens of millions of non-native pheasants and red-legged partridges into the countryside.

Tim Bonner, of the Countryside Alliance, said that Packham’s legal challenge “confirms that for all the attempts to dress Wild Justice as something with a serious purpose it is simply an anti-shooting organisation. Its list of grievances is a cobbled-together selection of inflated and unproven claims.”

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