A farm supplying eggs to supermarkets including Asda, Morrisons and Tesco has been accused of having repeatedly breached animal welfare laws.
Undercover filming appeared to show hens with feather loss and raw skin living amongst dead birds. Cages were stacked up to seven high in windowless sheds at Walston Poultry Farm, Dorset.
The investigation came to light after campaign group Animal Equality visited the unit’s main site in East Down, Blandford Forum, five times in six weeks between January and March 2018.
It found the caged hens were only checked once in four days, a breach of UK government law which states birds must be inspected at least once a day.
The farm supplies caged eggs to Noble Foods, a brand of eggs under the Big & Fresh logo sold by Tesco, Asda and Morrisons. Noble Foods also owns Happy Egg, the biggest free range brand, and Gü Puds.
Toni Shephard of Animal Equality said: “Consumers paying a premium for Happy Eggs will be horrified to learn they are indirectly supporting these cruel cages used on Noble Foods’ other farms.
“It is time for Noble to go cage-free across all of their brands.”
Almost half of all eggs produced in the UK come from caged hens, but Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer and The Co-op do not sell caged eggs either whole or as ingredients in other products.
The investigation added weight to a 4.3 day protest by animal protection group The Humane League which has been campaigning outside the suppliers London offices this week asking for it to go 100 per cent cage-free.
According to the group, the length of the protest will reflect the 4.3 million hens kept in cages by Noble Foods. It has a policy to go 70 per cent cage-free by 2020.
Dorset County Council Trading Standards is now investigating the allegations.
A spokesman added: “Trading standards take all complaints and allegations concerning the welfare of farmed animals very seriously and they are addressed as a priority. This is no exception.
“Our enquiries are ongoing and if any action is required, it will be taken appropriately.
“We continue to work with the government’s Animal & Plant Health Agency on this.”
Farmers Guardian has approached Noble Foods for comment.