We were contacted by someone from Hillside Animal Sanctuary who had seen the shed of a farm in Norfolk, part of the RSPCA’s Freedom Food scheme, and saw the chickens weren’t in a very good state.
You need to know you’re not being stitched up and be aware that there will be lots of counter-arguments as to why the animals will be in a certain condition. The work begins with trying to find more evidence.
A few days after we got the tip off, we went to the farm during the day and had a look around. The farm-hand sold us some eggs and some chickens for £15. He also admitted he didn’t let the birds out and sometimes didn’t feed them and we got that recorded on a secret camera.
I was very much assisted by a member of staff from Hillside Animal Sanctuary. He looked like a Norfolk farmer and was able to put the guy at ease so that he would open up.
We returned there at night in a small team to avoid drawing attention to ourselves. Although we were on the farm without the farmer’s consent, we didn’t want to have to break in and fortunately we didn’t have to – we were able to go through an unlocked door into the scratching area and then climb head first through the holes that the chickens use to get in and out of the barn.
Once I came up into the barn, I was faced with about 6,000 chickens, and as soon as I saw them I knew I had a story.
I could see straight away that they were in bad condition, but I also knew there could be some kind of explanation and one was eventually put up by the farmer who said that they had a disease. That’s why when we did our filming I felt that we still had to do more.
We brought the chickens we had bought previously to a vet, and he said they were undernourished and had traumatic feather loss. We later learned that the symptoms the birds were showing didn’t explain the disease that the farmer said they had.
With an organisation like the RSPCA, people assume that they can trust it, and consumers have faith in it. The truth is that thanks to the report, the flaws in the
Freedom Food scheme are being reassessed, so, far from doing damage, it has done a lot of good.
As well as the animal rights issues, I was coming at it from a consumer angle – people have a right to know if they are not getting what they pay for.