Warning: Article contains details and images some readers may find upsetting
Bloodied and injured turkeys have been filmed in a free-range, RSPCA-approved farm, during an undercover investigation by Animal Aid.
With just days to go until Christmas, the animal rights group released footage of turkeys with gaping wounds and injuries at a farm in Weston Longville, Norfolk, that has passed the society’s animal welfare standards.
One bird can be seen collapsed on the floor, shaking, with a severe head injury in the clip, while another lies on the ground lifeless.
Animal Aid said the birds were in “immense distress” and described them as being in a “dreadful state”.
However, Bernard Matthews, which operates the farm, dismissed the footage saying the injuries the birds suffered were a result of them pecking one another which “is natural turkey behaviour”.
The farm was investigated by the RSPCA after the footage was released this week, but despite the society saying it was “very concerned” by the video, a spokesperson said the farm’s practices were “in line with the RSPCA’s welfare standards”.
Luke Steele, farming and slaughter campaigns manager at Animal Aid, said: “The dreadful state in which these free-range birds were in clearly caused them immense distress.
“I am sure those contemplating buying a Christmas turkey will be equally shocked at the suffering that could have been endured by the turkey they are planning to buy.
“Some of these birds were injured, bloodied and at least one of them had not survived.”
Steele urged “caring people” to swap Turkey for a meat-free alternative this Christmas.
A Bernard Matthews spokesman accused activists of participating in an “illegal break-in” and said that since the incident the site has been audited by independent bodies.
Norfolk County Council confirmed that Trading Standards had visited the property and had no concerns with how it was operated.
The Bernard Matthews spokesman said the company “remains committed to the highest standards of animal welfare”.
He defended the footage of a dead bird saying “in any turkey flock a small number of birds can die for a variety of reasons”.
“If this happens during the middle of the night (which has happened in this instance) any fatalities are removed and recorded first thing in the morning when farm workers inspect the turkey flock,” the spokesman added.
“Regarding the images of the other two birds, these incidents have occurred as a result of pecking by other turkeys.
“This is natural turkey behaviour. Any turkey found being pecked is always inspected (in this case in the morning) and then treated if necessary.”
Bernard Matthews further raised concerns about Animal Aid’s actions affecting the meat producer’s “strict levels of biosecurity”, but the group said it had a “strict investigations” policy “which ensures adherence to biosecurity measures”.
An RSPCA spokesman said turkeys have a “natural instinct to peck each other to assert dominance and unfortunately sometimes they can cause serious injuries”.
“It can happen on any farm whether it’s free-range, organic or indoor and even amongst wild and pet turkey. Sadly this is what appears to have happened to some of the birds in the video.”
The RSPCA said an assessor had visited the Norfolk farm and confirmed its records had shown the injured birds received “appropriate treatment, in line with the RSPCA’s welfare standards”.