Cruelty and illegalities on an egg farm

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An Essere Animali investigator worked undercover on an egg producing hen farm and, using a hidden camera, filmed:

  • Illegal slaughter of hundreds of hens without prior stunning;
  • Repeated violent behavior towards animals;
  • Images and testimonies of eggs produced by caged hens being marketed as free range eggs.

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Four people are under investigation for the crimes of covert slaughter, animal mistreatment, and commercial fraud and forgery, while sanctions have already been issued for over 50,000 euros for various violations relating to safety at work and other rules for the protection of workers.

For years, through investigations carried out in a random selection of farms and slaughterhouses, we have documented frequent violations which we have reported to the relevant authorities. But more needs to be done: what we are asking for is an urgent change in animal protection laws. We need more controls, guaranteed and severe sanctions for those who act in violation of these laws, and also a plan for a transition towards ending intensive farming.

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Documented illegalities

Graphic images Click to watch

Covert slaughter

On the farm it was typical to sell hens and let them be slaughtered on the spot by the buyers themselves, without stunning the animals first. The images show how, after having had their throats cut, animals remain conscious for several minutes before dying. By law they should be killed only after stunning, in order to cause immediate loss of sensitivity for the animal, in authorized facilities and by qualified personnel. These measures aim to prevent avoidable pain for the animals, and to avoid hygienic and sanitary risks on site.

Graphic images Click to watch

Cruel killing of sick hens

On the farm, sick hens were killed incorrectly, prolonging their suffering for several minutes. According to the law, sick animals can be killed on farms if there is no other way to alleviate their suffering. The procedure is called emergency killing. It must cause immediate death and be immediately repeated if the first operation is ineffective. The images show that the farm operator is completely unprepared to carry out such a delicate operation.

Loading operations using violent methods

At the time of loading the animals for transport to the slaughterhouse, the hens were thrown to the ground with the help of sticks so they could be gathered, grabbed by the legs, and finally thrown into the cages, which they were crammed into to the extent of the workers pushing them in with their feet. These violent behaviors violate the law and disregard all guidelines concerning best practices for loading animals for transportation. The hens are supposed to be taken by both legs and supported under the chest to avoid injury.

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The farm has already been sentenced for illegal work

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The investigation has already led to initial measures against the company, which has been charged with various violations of laws concerning workplace safety and other rules for the protection of workers. Sanctions have been applied for a total of 51,000 euros. Last November, with the undercover investigator still inside the farm, Essere Animali alerted the Unit of the Labour Inspectorate of Venice that most workers did not have an employment contract, as well as the failure to comply with safety protocols at work. These violations were subsequently confirmed by the carabinieri during a raid on the farm, which took place with the assistance of a helicopter.

The farm is also being investigated by the Public Prosecutor's Office for commercial fraud and falsification of invoices

Alleged commercial fraud

The farm under investigation consists of three sheds: two for cage breeding, and one for free-range breeding. About 20,000 hens are raised in each shed and the eggs are transported from the sheds to the collection center by conveyor belts, where they are selected and packaged.

As the images show, the eggs leaving the different sheds flow into a single boxing line, making it impossible to distinguish between the two farming methods. The footage also shows a worker claiming that most of the eggs would be classified as free-range, despite the fact that the majority of the eggs came from the sheds where the hens are raised in cages.

This operation violates the law, as eggs from free-range hens are sold at a higher price than those from caged hens. According to the same operator, the absence of adequate controls by the authorities facilitates the continuation of this practice.

Suspected forgery

The footage also documents a regular buyer of eggs demanding the withdrawal of an invoice and the substitution of a previously purchased batch, which laboratory tests carried out as part of their own self-monitoring procedures showed to contain traces of a drug exceeding the legal limit.

These checks are the result of a “memorandum of understanding” signed between the trade associations and the Ministry of Health, with the purpose of examining eggs for residues of substances that are harmful to consumers.

 

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Salta questo step

FOR A REFORM OF ANIMAL PROTECTION LAWS 

Directed to

Presidente del Consiglio, Mario Draghi

Ministro delle Politiche Agricole Alimentari e Forestali, Stefano Patuanelli

Ministero dell’Ambiente e della Tutela del Territorio e del Mare, Roberto Cingolani

Ministero della Salute, Roberto Speranza

Presidente della Camera dei Deputati, Roberto Fico

Presidente del Senato, Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati

In recent years, Essere Animali has disseminated numerous investigations carried out inside intensive farms and slaughterhouses in Italy — some of which involved collaboration with reputable international media — in order to document the conditions of animals raised for food.

During these investigations, carried out by means of thorough monitoring using hidden cameras and workers infiltrated inside farms, violations of animal protection legislation and the regulations of the Criminal Code were carefully filmed.

Essere Animali investigations have revealed:

  • Violence inflicted by factory farm staff while handling animals or when animals resist treatment, such as blows with iron pipes, improper use of electric tasers, lifting “downed cows” using a forklift, and kicking and throwing small animals.
  • Mutilations carried out without anesthesia and analgesia, in the absence of a veterinarian and even beyond the age permitted by law.
  • Systematic tail docking of piglets, an illegal but widespread practice in almost all Italian farms.
  • Animals left to die of starvation or brutally killed by farm workers, without applying the correct guidelines concerning emergency killing of sick animals.
  • Group killings inside slaughterhouses, with animals witnessing the deaths of other individuals, and use of ineffective stunning practices.

Several complaints have been filed to the relevant authorities for these abuses, but the frequency of such episodes is worrying as they were filmed in almost all the farms we visited. These farms were chosen on a sample basis throughout the country, including suppliers of PDO products.

Alongside these legal violations, Essere Animali investigations have also shown breeding types and practices which, although now legal, are the cause of undisputed physical and psychological suffering for animals, including:

  • Use of cages in which animals spend much or all of their lives.
  • High density when animals are raised “on the ground” or in enclosures.
  • Surgical castration of piglets and debeaking of hens.
  • Baby chicks, which are considered useless for breeding purposes, are ground up alive.
  • Separation of calves from their mothers at birth for milk production purposes.

I am therefore calling for a process of legislative reform to be undertaken which:

  • Ban use of cages, even partial use.
  • Ban of any mutilation or killing of male chicks if they are perfectly healthy but considered non-productive by the livestock industry.
  • Stop public subsidies to the livestock sector.
  • Increase penalties for the mistreatment of animals and for other violations, including withdrawal of authorizations and disqualification from activity in the most serious cases.
  • Set up a monitoring system that is more effective than the one currently in use, for farms, during transportation, and in the slaughtering phases.
  • Reconsideration of stocking densities, permitting animals more space to move, even outdoors, and with the inclusion of environmental enrichments.
  • Provides for farming systems that allow animals to meet their ethological needs according to age and species, in consultation with animal rights organizations.
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