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‘Carnage’: Millions of factory farm chickens die in sweltering sheds during record heat wave

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Shed workers described the operations as a 'carnage': 'The birds just suddenly started crying and shaking,... they were simply left to die in the heat and written off as a cost'.

ANNA ISAAC: Millions of factory farm chickens died during the record-breaking heatwave as industry whistle-blowers claimed little was done to protect them from the lethal temperatures, The Independent has learnt. The birds – confined to industrial farm sheds – suffered in temperatures of up to 45C and died slowly of heat exhaustion… Some large producers made little or no effort to ease the pressure of the heat on the animals, the insiders said on condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it was “deeply concerned” about the issue and that the sheer scale of the mortalities had prompted an investigation by officials. The temperature in some industrial chicken sheds left birds flapping and panting as they died, according to witnesses. The birds’ excrement, of which there was more than usual due to diarrhoea – a warning sign of heat distress – made the sheds even hotter, they said.

One shed worker told The Independent that the birds were simply “left to die in the heat” and “written off” as a cost rather than invest in mitigation measures such as better ventilation. A second, who works at a different major producer, described the operations there as “carnage” and said that, in their view, the business could have taken greater steps to help improve animal welfare. They said they were experiencing flashbacks from the “sheer scale and stink of the dead bodies” of the chickens that died during the heatwave. “I often find that I just suddenly start crying and shaking,” they said…

Animal-rights organisations said they were aware of the mass deaths among birds that in their final weeks have on average less space than an A4 sheet of paper to live in… Abigail Penny, executive director of the Animal Equality organisation, said the latest cases were far from unique, and that the industrial farm giants failed to prepare to prevent the mass deaths. “As the rest of the UK ground to a halt, avoiding public transport and the scorching sun, the meat industry failed to act. This ‘business as usual’ approach in a national emergency caused hundreds of thousands of chickens to quite literally cook to death,” she said.

Each chicken suffered a painful, prolonged and totally preventable death, she said, adding: “The sad irony is that animal agriculture is a driving force behind these heatwaves and other deadly effects of climate change. The meat industry is a leading cause of land and water overuse, pollution, deforestation, species extinction and antibiotic resistance. “More heatwaves are on the cards. How many animals have to boil alive?”

An RSPCA spokesperson said that anyone who fails to meet the needs of animals in their care could face criminal action in court following an investigation by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). The spokesperson added that it was “incredibly upsetting to hear about the deaths of these birds – all animals are sentient beings who deserve to be protected from pain and suffering”. Such mass mortality events are much more likely in intensive farming sheds used for broiler chickens, according to the charity, as the designs are older and ventilation may be poorer…

Connor Jackson, chief executive of the Open Cages animal-rights organisation, said he had heard of the heatwave “carnage”. “These farms are supposed to have ventilation systems, but clearly they are not enough,” he said. “Even with better technology, these weak birds will continue to be crammed into hot metal boxes in the countryside every summer. “On a typical chicken farm, birds have less space on average than an A4 sheet of paper in their final weeks. Intensive farming practices like this exist so supermarkets can keep meat as cheap as possible, but customers aren’t told even these most basic facts”. SOURCE…

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