Day Seven of Closing Speech for the defence

29th Oct 96 - Day 289 of the Trial

Beginning the second day of 'Animals' Ms Steel, added to the content of yesterday's summation in relation to the rearing and slaughter of poultry, concentrating mainly on Dr. Gregory's evidence (witness for McDonald's).


Ms Steel related that Dr Gregory had described how, at the Sun Valley hatchery, unhatched eggs were put through macerators - a pair of rotating rollers - and that chicks could be macerated alive. The unwanted chicks which HAVE hatched, Dr Gregory reported, were gassed using carbon dioxide. Dr Gregory was asked if this was a process he would consider humane, to which he replied:

"I am very concerned about the use of carbon dioxide as a means of killing chicks from a welfare point of view."
In his evidence, Dr Gregory then went on to explain the reasons for his concern:

"Two basic reasons; one is when carbon dioxide is inhaled at high concentrations, the type of concentration that would be at or close to 100 per cent, the gas can be an irritant. This is based on observations both in poultry species and also in man. That is one. So, in fact, in man the perception is pugency . It is a mild pungency by my personal rating. The second feature is that prior to the loss of consciosness, there is a rather, I would say, profound sense of breathlessness experienced. Putting those two together, there has been research work which has shown that carbon dioxide gas is aversive to poultry and also to pigs."
Ms Steel then said that according to Dr Gregory, it took in the order of two to three minutes for the chicks to die from dioxide gassing :

"That is the time of cessation of physical activity, including gagging movements."
In his evidence Dr Gregory then went on to say that it would not surprise him if cardiac function persists for longer.

"However, it depends obviously how you define death. An important feature from a humane point of view is firstly time to loss of consciousness; secondly, time to cessation of breathing."
Ms Steel said that the defendants would say that it would take a long time for the chicks to die and that the process of gassing IS inhumane.

Dr Gregory had further described how the chicks were tipped or dropped by the handful into a dustbin sized drum, where they stacked up until the drum was up to about two-thirds full, then the drum was sealed and left for 10 minutes. He agreed in his evidence that as well as getting doses of carbon dioxide, the ones at the bottom are getting squashed by all the other chicks.

This, the defendants claimed was also cruel and inhumane.

Ms Steel then moved on to Restricted Rations for broiler breeders: Ms Steel said how Dr Gregory had stated that in order to reproduce effectively broiler breeders have to be kept on severely restricted diets and that if they were fed to apetite they would suffer high mortality from obesity related diseases such as heart attacks, fatty livers and kidneys and prolapse.

Dr Gregory had said:

"One can make an informed guess as to whether they are hungry. I think this is highly likely. They spend a lot of their time foraging, looking for feed. One example where that occurs is if aggression occurs in these flocks (which it can do), the way of overcoming that, sometimes, is to scatter feed, that is, put food on the ground. The birds spend an inordinate amount of time looking for that food rather than resting. In addition birds kept under these conditions, whether scatter fed or not, will consume quite large amounts of litter, so they would be eating wood shavings. So one assumes they are hungry."
He then went on to agree, Ms Steel said, that the broiler industry is in a welfare dilemna: either it restricts food which could cause suffering through the hunger involved to the chickens or else, if they do not restrict food, there are severe fertility problems and can be mortality problems.

According to Dr Gregory's evidence, Ms Steel added, the dilemna is due to the genetic selection for faster growth and heavier weight birds, and its effect on the appetite of the birds. Which were selected by the broiler industry for economic reasons.

Ms Steel added that they were bred and designed for the purposes of quick profits without the concern for the welfare of the animals.


Stocking Density:

In his evidence, Dr Gregory said he would definitely prefer to see birds stocked less densely than even at 34 kg sq m (as recommended by the Farm Animal Welfare Council report). He considered that 22 Kg sq m would be a useful goal. This was something "we should aspire to in a commercial context."

Ms Steel argued that even at 22 Kg sq m it was still giving too much consideration to economic concerns rather than the welfare of the birds (Sun Valley stock at 36.7 Kg sq m).


Ms Steel reminded the court of research referred to by Dr Gregory that where chickens have been provided with the facility to switch the lights on or off by operating a switch themselves which they have been trained to operate, one study showed they will elect to be in light for 80 per cent of the time. So, from the point of view of the birds' preference, there is a preference for a dark period.

Ms Steel felt that if the welfare of the birds was being given any serious consideration then in every 24 hours they would be given approx 5 hours of darkness (20%) rather than the 20 - 30 minutes they currently receive.

Leg Weaknesses:

Evidence relating to the high prevalence of leg weakness in broiler chickens was recounted. Ms Steel said Dr Gregory had confirmed in his evidence that there were breeds available which did not suffer from the same levels of leg weakness as a typical broiler chicken, leg weakness was not something that was inevitable in chickens. In one line of chickens in the study, he believed "there had been no selection pressure over the past 10 years and their walking ability was perfect". In the study, even the commercial broiler breeds came out with less leg weakness problems if they had access to outdoor facilities and movement.

In a survey carried out by Dr Gregory on 152 birds at Sun Valley, only 31% of birds had no leg abnormalities whatsoever while 31% of birds were in category where their welfare may be unduly compromised. This 31% figure represented some 3 million birds at any one time having their welfare compromised and this was a study in one Sun Valley's 'better sheds', said Ms Steel (the total flock at any given time is estimated to be approx. 10 million birds).

In addition to the survey observing live birds, as above, Ms Steel referred to pathologies which were carried out on birds brought back from Sun Valley. In this study only 25% of birds had no leg abnormalities whatsoever. Whilst approx 53% of bird were in the category where their welfare may be unduly compromised. Extrapolated into a hard figure, Ms Steel said this meant over 3 million birds at ANY given time had their welfare UNDULY compromised.

Ms Steel gave Dr Gregory's assertion that the findings showed that the likely avenue for success is to improve the criteria Sun Valley are using when they select the birds. "They are selected for growth rate. They are not selecting adequate criteria in terms of walking ability. So it could be achieved just by trying to select the walking ability of the birds at the parent stock level or earlier."

According to Dr Gregory's evidence, Ms Steel asserted, breeds of birds are available that do not suffer from leg problems to such a great extent, so something could be done fairly rapidly to improve the situation. If people (i.e. Sun Valley) did not want to used other sorts of chickens that would be for commercial reasons.

The argument that Sun Valley 'were trying to do their best' was totally rejected by Ms Steel. She felt that clearly birds were being selected solely on the basis on how fast they can make profits for McDonald's and Sun Valley.

Hock Burn:

Ms Steel stated that some 10% of birds had Hock Burn at Sun Valley. This figure had come down from 20% a few years ago (the 20% figure was relevant to the time of the alleged libel).

Hock Burn is associated with factors like poor quality litter. If the litter is wet, or if it gets what is called capped, it forms a sheet on the top which makes it very greasy, then a chemical irritant 'starts' it off.

Ms Steel saw this as a consequence of the industry choosing to keep animals imprisoned in sheds living on top of their own excretia for their entire lives rather than keeping them in facilities which could be cleaned out and where they could get access to the open air and the outside and walk around on normal soil. Also, according to Ms Steel, Sun Valley could employ more people to clean, tend and manage the units but obviously this would cut their profits.

Five Freedoms:

Initially covered by Dr Gregory, there was a general acceptance of the 'Five basic needs', Ms Steel said.

These were:

Ms Steel stated that Dr Gregory had agreed that at Sun Valley some of the five freedoms were restricted - such as the freedom to display normal patters of behaviour and that (according to Dr Gregory) the ones that could be most criticised at Sun Valley (if one was bearing with the animal welfare requirements) is perhaps space allowance for the birds and variety in the environment.

His view, Ms Steel asserted, was that the chickens could express more normal patterns of behaviour if they were given additional facilities, which did occur with some other companies, where the birds are stocked at a lower density. In these other companies, Ms Steel revealed, roughage materials would be provided for the birds to eat besides their normal daily rations, the birds could have access to direct sunlight, they could stretch out in the sun which often provokes dust bathing behaviour. Dr Gregory had said that there are additional facilities which can be provided to enhance the behaviour repertoire of birds. Whereas at Sun Valley there were a number of natural behaviour patterns which were restricted because of the rearing methods used, for example perching, sunbathing and scratching in the dirt, and any kind of family structure, contact between chicks and their mothers.

In addition to Dr Gregory, Dr Pattison of Sun Valley had accepted the essence of the 5 Freedoms, said Ms Steel, even McDonald's recognised it (Mr Morris quoted from a McDonald's publication which claimed that McDonald's use only suppliers with the highest standards of animal welfare) - but Sun Valley and McDonald's don't want to interpret the 5 Freedom's literally.

Ms Steel asserted that if the 5 Freedoms were acceptable they should be the minimum recommendation and should be implemented now. She could see no reason why this could not be the case - then she asserted that the only reason that they (the 5 Freedoms) are not implemented now is because they would get in the way of companies like McDonald's and Sun Valley making their profits at all times.


Much of the evidence for transportation Ms Steel derived from the evidence of Mr Bruton (an ex-Sun Valley catcher). Ms Steel predicted that Mr Rampton would, with regard to Mr Burtons evidence, try to discredit Mr Bruton as carrying a grudge, as he had been sacked by the company. However, Ms Steel said that Mr Bruton had stated that he did not have a grudge against the company and had openly admitted he had been laid off when the company were getting rid of many workers to cut costs and further enhance their profits. Further, any attempt to discredit Mr Bruton would be futile, Ms Steel said, because EVERYTHING he said had been ENTIRELY accepted by Dr Pattison (of Sun Valley).

Mr Bruton had given evidence, which was backed up by Sun Valley documents, that the catchers usually carried up to 6 birds in each hand during the loading procedure. The birds were generally held upside down by one leg before being thrown into plastic drawers in modules, which were then loaded onto lorries. A team of six catchers was expected to load a lorry with between 4000-6000 birds approximately every 45 minutes.

Dr Gregory had been asked:

Q. If you have to pick up a chicken for any reason, which would be best from the chicken's point of view?

A. From the chicken's point of view only, if it is a broiler of the sort of size we are talking about here, I would catch it around the body with the wings contained against the body.

Mr Bruton had told how heads of birds often got trapped when the drawers in the modules were closed. Catchers had asked supervisors for more time to be given for loading the chickens in order to avoid this happening. Ms Steel stressed that more time to load never materialised. Dr Gregory had made criticisms of the module design to the manufacturers. Ms Steel then said that the defendants would say that Sun Valley's denial of more time and refusal to introduce a new modules, shows a callous disregard for the welfare of every single chicken they rear and handle. Ms Steel asserted that every single chicken reared for McDonald's is suffering cruelty during the catching process, let alone at any other time.

Referring to the study of the injuries inflicted on birds during catching and loading Dr Gregory had stated "It is not humane for those birds that get obvious damage like this. I think it is highly likely that those birds experience pain, if not a profound sense of shock. So I think one can safely say it is definitely inhumane for those. The level of dead on arrivals was not the end of the story, other birds would have suffered injuries."


According to Dr Gregory's visit on 19/4/93 to the Sun Valley slaughterhouse the line speed was 87 birds per minute at this time. Ms Steel then presented facts on the slaughter of the transported animals, taken from Dr Gregory's own report on his visit there.

At age 6-7 weeks birds were transported to the slaughterhouse, where they were hung upside down before being electrically stunned in water. Up to 14% of the chickens received pre-stun shocks, which cause distress and can be painful.

1% of birds (around 1700 per day) were decapitated without being stunned which (Dr Gregory agreed) could cause suffering. A further 1% were not dead on entering the scalding tank. He agreed that the stunning and killing methods used did not comply with the government's Codes of Practice, and might lead to distress and pain for the birds.

Dr Gregory: In a standard killing line the intention should be to stun the animal first, instantaneously, to not cause undue stress or pain in the application of the stunning method or equipment, and to make sure they do not regain consciousness. That is what is required. That is what should be performed.

Ms Steel said, two weeks before Dr Gregory visited the slaughter plant, the killing lines had been changed, previously there was only one line which operated at twice the speed and carried both male and female birds. This improvement to the slaughter line between Dr Gregory's visits was, Ms Steel said, AFTER the writs were served on the defendants. Prior to the seperate lines males and females would be hung from the same sized shackles, which meant that the males had their shanks compressed more, which could be painful - this was another case of cruelty. The situation would therefore have been worse at the time of the alleged libel.

Ms Steel also noted that as there was only one Official Veterinary Surgeon observing the slaughter, Dr Gregory had agreed 'the OVS has a lot to keep his eye on. With a line speed of 87 birds a minute it would be physically impossible to keep and eye on the welfare of each bird.'

[Court adjourned at 4pm]

Note:Due to the unavailability of the official court transcripts at this time, this report has not been checked for accuracy against the transcripts but was complied from extensive notes taken during the day by volunteers.
See also: The report for the previous day
The report for the following day
and, for summaries of all the key evidence given during the trial;
Trial News 1, Trial News 2, and Trial News 3