Over the years as an animal activist, I’ve documented many meat chicken factory farms across New Zealand, because I know the animals are suffering behind closed doors and I want New Zealanders to know exactly what is happening.
People need to know, and these days they want to know, where their food comes from. The industry certainly won’t show people the truth, so that task falls to myself and other animal activists.
Every time I document conditions inside a factory farm, I risk my own personal safety. We take these risks because the industry needs to be countered. A big light needs to be shone on their practices. With increased public awareness comes culture shift and our country desperately needs to shift away from fast, cheap and nasty meat. Not just for the welfare of animals but for the health of our communities and our environment.
Factory farms are toxic places and no matter how many I document, I never cease to be shocked at what I find. There’s not much, if any, difference between a Tegel or an Ingham’s meat chicken factory farm. These places are all based on maximising profit over expenditure and the chickens are the ones who suffer for it.
I’ve witnessed chickens crammed in their tens of thousands inside huge industrial buildings, I’ve seen chickens struggling with lameness and other physical deformities, I’ve held chickens in my hands dying slowly from open wounds and other injuries. The life of a modern meat chicken is the stuff of nightmares. I’ve had to walk away from the suffering of many individual animals over the years because there’s just too many to save; but I take with me images that will tell their stories to New Zealanders.
I think of meat chickens as “Frankenstein” chickens. The poultry industry breeds these chickens to grow so fast, that by six weeks old they’re supermarket-sized chickens ready for slaughter. These are six-week-old babies who still have blue eyes and cheep like the chicks they are.
At six weeks, a normal chick would still be small with plenty of fluff but instead commercial meat chickens are trapped inside grotesque, oversized bodies. All this suffering so the industry can maximise profit by turning over as many chickens as possible every year.
In New Zealand now, around 120 million chickens are slaughtered each year for their meat and this number keeps climbing. Over two million of these chickens will die from health issues before they even reach slaughter weight. This year Tegel tried to add another nine million chickens per year to the total number slaughtered with their controversial proposed mega factory farm in Dargaville. Tegel’s plans were thwarted when the Overseas Investment Office turned down their bid.
Before Tegel’s plans were scuppered, myself and others from animal advocacy organisation Direct Animal Action wanted to show New Zealanders what goes on inside a typical Tegel farm. We documented horrific conditions at one of Tegel’s farms in Helensville where we found chickens slowly dying lying on their backs unable to right themselves, chickens with leg and beak deformities and one chicken with large open wounds covering her body.
Imagine the outrage if a domestic cat or dog was found living in comparable conditions to a Tegel meat chicken. New Zealand has legally recognised animals as sentient meaning the law says they can feel pain and suffer. So legally speaking how is a chicken any different to a cat or a dog?
Our footage was damning enough to spark an investigation by the Ministry for Primary Industries. However, we were disappointed when MPI chose to “educate” Tegel about good animal welfare practice rather than pursuing a prosecution.
A Code of Welfare for Meat Chickens with no teeth combined with a Ministry with a conflict of interest that priorities protecting primary industries over animal welfare is a recipe for inaction and injustice. We urgently need to replace MPI with a separate Ministry for Animal Welfare that will finally take the poultry industry to task. Until then, animal activists like myself will keep documenting inside factory farms and pushing for that culture shift.
Deirdre Sims is a campaigner with animal advocacy organisation Direct Animal Action.