Chicken farmer who supplies the well-known AIA brand convicted after our complaint
Our complaint led to the issuing of a criminal conviction and a fine of 3000 euros for the owner of several chicken farms linked to the AIA brand.
In June 2020, we disseminated an undercover investigation into several chicken farms belonging to a livestock farming company that at the time of the events was a supplier of the AIA brand, the leading Italian producer of chicken meat and one of the most important brands in the Italian agri-food sector. The investigation was very prominent, was also broadcast in a programme on TG1 and led to a conviction of the owner of the farm.
Our undercover investigator actually documented various illegalities within the farms, including:
- episodes of gratuitous violence against chicks who had just arrived from the hatchery, who were violently thrown to the ground from a height of more than one metre
- the killing of injured and/or sick animals carried out causing them avoidable acute and prolonged suffering, and therefore in violation of the provisions of the law
- the abandonment of injured animals, which instead of being treated are kept alive among corpses or slaughtered after hours of suffering
- generalised neglect and dirtiness, in conditions below minimum animal welfare standards
In the face of all this, we decided to file a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Cuneo, which led to the issuance of a criminal conviction decree and a 3,000 euro fine against the owner of the farm.
The owner was held responsible for the violence on the basis of a failure to exercise control — i.e. he did not prevent his collaborators from committing the offences even though he was required by law to ensure the welfare of the animals — and was therefore convicted for the crime of the mistreatment of animals (544 ter of the Italian Criminal Code), committed continuously and aggravated by the death of the animals, as documented by our investigator. On the other hand, the workers accused of the violence against the animals have not been identified.
The sad life of chickens on factory farms
In 2021, over 533 million chickens destined to become meat were slaughtered in Italy. According to the latest data available, there are only about 2 million organically reared chickens, amounting to just 3% of the total, while the remaining 97% live on factory farms similar to the one we visited. These places house animals who have been genetically selected to grow as fast as possible, at the expense of their well-being.
Genetic selection makes them subject to a high incidence of muscular, skeletal, respiratory and cardiovascular disorders. As the images of our investigation show, some chickens are even unable to stand and collapse on the ground.
Every day, on every single intensive broiler (meat) chicken farm, hundreds of chickens fail to survive the consequences of genetic selection and the intensive farming conditions. According to data from the Open Cages organisation in the UK, 64 million chickens die every year before reaching the slaughterhouse due to their living conditions, including the high density.Other problems related to chicken farms include the absence of environmental enrichment, the excessive use of antibiotics and the spread of viruses that are also potentially dangerous to humans.
More needs to be done
We are pleased that our efforts have brought results and that the judiciary confirmed that our investigation revealed mistreatment, as we had indicated in our initial complaint. But it is clear that although the effects of a criminal conviction decree are the same as those of a final conviction — it counts as a precedent on the criminal record and in the event of recidivism the penalty is increased — in practice this translates into a fine which, moreover, is not even particularly steep.
For this reason, we are calling for a reform that will lead to the tightening of penalties for the mistreatment of animals and for other violations of protection regulations, providing in the most serious cases for the revocation of authorisations and the prohibition of the activity, also with a view to deterring other farmers from committing violence against animals.
Nevertheless, our investigative work demonstrates the importance of investigations to document and shed light on what happens in these otherwise ignored places, as well as our legal actions. In this case, after our complaint, the investigations conducted by the police had initially led to a request for the dismissal of the case. However, we did not lose heart and indeed we submitted an objection to the dismissal of the case, our request was accepted and consequently the investigations continued and were extended, until the final outcome: the issuance of the criminal decree of conviction. This work took a lot of energy, but we believed in it deeply and in the end our efforts paid off.