Day Eight of Closing Speeches for the Defence

30th Oct 96 - Day 290 of the Trial

The morning session continued with the issue of chickens and during the afternoon Ms Steel moved onto the subject of the raising and slaughter of pigs.

Ms Steel referred to the testimony of Clare Druce, the National Organiser of the Farm Animal Welfare Network (formerly Chickens Lib), who gave evidence for the defence. Ms Steel began by talking about the expertise and experience of Clare Druce in the area of poultry. Mrs Druce had kept poultry extensively for many years, and studied their behaviour. Most of the birds were bought from battery and other intensive farms. In addition to personal experience she had carried out a great deal of research, over the course of 25 years, into the broiler and battery industry, and had written a book about the intensive chicken and egg industries.

Ms Steel told the court that Clare Druces' work for poultry welfare was widely respected. In 1991, Chickens Lib had been awarded the Lord Eskin award by the RSPCA for furthering the cause of humane husbandly. The Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food have asked FAWN for input regarding legislative changes or changes in the Codes of Practice for Farm Animal Welfare. Additionaly, the governments' own Farm Animal Welfare Council have consulted FAWN regarding it recommendations prior to releasing its broiler chicken report.

Ms Steel reminded the court that throughout the trial, McDonald's witnesses had been saying that everything must be fine because all the farms are visited by inspectors from the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food. However, Mrs Druce testified that MAFF visits only a small percentage of farms. There are about 300 state veterinary officers to inspect something like a quarter of a million farms. Those farms that are inspected are given ample warning days before the visits, so effectively farmers could clean up their act before the inspectors arrived. In Clare Druces' view the inspections were virtually worthless.

Mrs Druce had testified that the "modern broiler chicken is a genetic freak, the product of generations of selection for fast growth. The selection has shown a marked lack of concern for the birds' wellbeing". She said that the birds are frequently diseased, lifeless and crippled. They suffer from painful and crippling leg weakness due to their unnatural weight and also suffer from a number of widespread diseases, such as ascites and Gumboro.

Mrs Druce had added that in addition to problems largely arising from their genetic make-up, the birds' living conditions are unacceptable, being unsuited to the birds' needs and insanitary. Diseases and injuries caused or exacerbated by living conditions in the windowless controlled-environment sheds include hockburns, ulcerated feet, poor feathering, heat stress and injuries caused by birds becoming trapped in automatic feed devices.

She also related that the conditions in broiler sheds, which may distress or actual pain to the birds, include; dim lighting, inadequate ventilation, filthy 'capped' litter, overcrowding and the impossibility of properly inspecting the stock, as is required by law in the Welfare of Livestock (Intensive Units) Regulations 1978.

Clare Druce had specified the problems she saw with even the stocking density at the recommendation of 34 kilograms a square metre, "In the last, say, two weeks, two and a half weeks, there is very little opportunity to exercise normally but then the birds are of such a freakish nature very often their problems with walking are quite pronounced and they are not really like chickens. They are engineered, not genetically, but they are an engineered species. They have been selected ruthlessly..... selected simply for fast growth".

Mrs Druce had been asked for her opinion on the refusal of Sun Valley to allow her to inspect the company's farms and slaughter plant, for the purposes of making a detailed report for this trial. "Obviously it is disappointing but I suppose that we are used to being considered something of a threat, not a literal threat, but I consider the poultry industry is one which attempts to hide the true conditions in which the birds are kept. We have been instrumental very largely in exposing these conditions and we are not popular. That does not surprise me at all."

Ms Steel reminded the court what Clare Druce had said when asked about the shackling of birds upside down on the slaughter line. She had stated " is a position that the bird is never in normally, so it is clearly frightening and novel and it would cause suffering in the sense of extreme stress. I think there would be no doubt about that in anybody's mind."

Dr Gregory (McDonald's witness) had stated that Oasters birds (McDonald's egg suppliers) were kept five to a cage and would have roughly 450 square centimetres each of floor space. Mrs Druce stated that this was typical for the industry, each bird having an area smaller than an A4 sheet of paper.

Clare Druce had said that chickens in battery cages cannot stretch their wings, "A chicken with both wings fully expanded measures roughly 30 inches accross and very few battery cages measure that. Most are 20 inches to 5 birds. So it is true to say they could never extend both wings at once fully". Ms Steel added that such rescrictions to natural behavior would contravene the 'five freedoms' which I think both sides in this case have accepted should be the minimum standard."

In Mrs Druce's opinion, welfare problems were due to thinking only of profit and quick profit with no regard whatsoever for the behavioural patterns or need or the feelings of the birds. When asked whether she would say that a company that ignored the Codes of Practice regarding minimum lighting levels, maximum stocking densities, the recommendations for either cardiac arrest at stunning or cutting both carotid arteries, and not having a visible readily accessible ameter on stunning equipment could be said to have high standards of animal welfare, or the highest standards of animal welfare - Clare Druce had said, "No, I would think it all suggested that they were putting through-put and economics ahead of animal welfare." Ms Steel had been refering to the practices of McDonald's suppliers, Sun Valley, and the quote which was published in McDonald's literature in a number of places, where they said they only deal with suppliers with a high standard of animal welfare.

Commenting on the suggestion by witnesses for McDonald's that it would not be in the farmers' own interests to have individual animals or birds dying because it would cost them money, she said that "certainly in relation to chickens, that they are very low value birds and that is one of the problems, they are very low value individually and it can be economic to reckon on losing a percentage of them.", and that was what she believed happened. And she said that poultry do suffer from that aspect of being low value animals.

Ms Steel began on the issue of pigs. She started on the evidence of Mr. Ashley Bowes, the director of G G Bowes and Sons. He had said that Bowes owns roughly one hundred thousand pigs, but they also buy approximately 60% of the factory production from other producers.

Mr. Bowes evidence was that they were moving away from indoor systems, but not totally because companies like McDonald's were not willing to pay the higher price for the outdoor pork. Mr.Bowes had said that there was a point in the 1970s when all of the company's pigs were inside and that they had been gradually taking more of the production outside again from that time.

Mr Bowes said that ten years ago, most of the farms supplying Bowes, would have been rearing pigs indoors. Indeed, he said that fifteen years ago the Bowes farms would only have had 10% of their pigs outside. He said that by 1990, that figure had increased to about 30%.

Ms Steel reviewed the evidence of McDonald's witness, Dr. Gregory. She said that he had obviously been misinformed by being only shown the outdoor system when he made his visit to Bowes to prepare a report for the trial. Mr Bowes had told the court that McDonald's is supplied with pork from the indoor system and only receive pork from outdoors if there is a surplus. Ms Steel said, "All in all, I would say that McDonald's have deliberately tried to mislead the court about the source of the pork used in their products. That is obviously because they feel they have something to hide. They recognise that people would find the conditions that the pigs are reared in to be unacceptable if they got to hear about them."

In the late 80's up to 50% of Bowes suppliers used dry sow stalls, the figure was now about 10-12%. After mating, a sow would be taken to the dry sow stall where she would remain until she goes to the farrowing crate (which is about the same size) to give birth, (nearly 4 months) Mr Bowes agreed that a typical dry sow stall would be about 2.1 metres by 0.6 of a metre (so the sow can only stand up or lie down, and cannot even turn around). Mr. Bowes actually said, "I will welcome it when the dry sow stalls are banned totally in this country because the restriction on the sow. I personally think it is not a good method of animal production for an animal to be shut in the stall for all that time or tied to a tether, it is not comfortable."

Ms Steel consluded, "So here we have a supplier of McDonald's admitting that it is not good for the animal to be shut in the stall for all that time, it is not comfortable, basically that it is inhumane. And yet whilst they no longer use them in their own farms they still took meat and pigs from suppliers which were using dry sow stalls, and they still do." She continued, "Either they are indifferent to that or they are putting commercial considerations before the welfare of the animals..

She added, "So for virtually their entire lives a large percentage, (certainly at the time of the alleged libel) of the sows which were reared by Bowes or by their suppliers, were being incarcerated in a tiny stall with no freedom of movement whatsoever. Obviously, we would consider that to be competely inhumane."

The defendents asked Mr Bowes why the company could not use the outdoor system exculsively. Mr Bowers had said that would be more expensive and that there wasn't a big enough market for outside pork. He said that the cost of production of outdoor pigs is 15% to 20% more. He said that McKeys do not have a specification of solely outdoor portions. Ms Steel said, "So obviously unless Mckeys are disregarding McDonald's instructions, McDonald's have not got a specification for solely outdoor pork, we have not heard anywhere that they do have any such specification, so we can safely assume that they are happy to take whatever is the cheapest, with utter indifference to the welfare of the pigs."

Ms Steel concluded, "The point being that the vast majority of all the pork meat which McDonald's are getting is coming from pigs which are spending their entire lives inside."

Justice Bell replied, "I have got that point.". He then added, helpfully, that even the outdoor pork, that McDonald's might, on occasion, have received, would have spent half of their lives indoor.

Ms Steel continued, "Right, okay. Well it is a shame McDonald's did not just concede that point at the start, then we could have saved a lot of time."

Mr Rampton interupted, "The reason was, that it is not true of the United States and other parts of the world." By saying this he was seemingly admitting that it was true for the UK, at least at the time of the alleged libel, while attempting to move the goal posts, since neither side had specifically provided evidence regarding US production of pork.

Ms Steel countered with ,"It is also my understanding that the vast majority of pigs are in the USA are reared in exactly the same way." She continued, "..we heard evidence from Dr. Gregory, that generally the UK has better or slightly more humane systems than the USA."

She continued, "while we were on the subject of the United States there is some evidence from Mr. Bowes about conditions on pig farms in the United States." He had said that he had visited pig farms in the United States and that they had also been using farrowing crates. He had been invited over there to give them advice on introducing improvements in terms of welfare.

Ms Steel reminded the court that they had asked Mr. Bowes whether or not McDonald's had asked to to be supplied with the free range pigs. He said it had been discussed in the past but not taken up. She had then asked him, if McDonald's were not willing to pay as much as Tescos were paying and he said, "I wish they would !"

[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
and, for summaries of all the key evidence given during the trial;
Trial News 1, Trial News 2, and Trial News 3