OF&G hits back at ITV's 'misleading' Tonight exposé

The organic certification body that regulates a Norfolk chicken farm, the subject of a Tonight With Trevor McDonald exposé, has hit back at the ITV programme-makers.

Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G) told MTJ that the programme's claims of rat infestation, poor welfare and over-crowding at Traditional Norfolk Poultry (TNP) were inaccurate: "The footage was very inconclusive, if not misleading," said Mark Waugh, OF&G's media manager.

In the programme, which was screened on 11 June, footage shot by animal rights group Hillside Animal Sanctuary showed body parts from dead chickens in the barns, which the programme said was because rats were attacking the birds. There was also footage of a feather-pecked chicken and a flock of birds crammed into one corner of the barn.

Waugh disputed the allegations of a serious rat problem and said: "The birds look healthy, apart from the one with a bit of feather-pecking, which happens in any chicken house. As long as it's not serious and widespread it's a management issue. Nothing in that footage concerned us.

"They talked a lot about rats, but there was absolutely no evidence. We've seen the vermin control certificates from the firm that looks after the place and all is quiet on that front.

"They talked about rat droppings being everywhere, but they even confessed in the programme, that it's sunflower husks in the bedding that look like rat droppings. They showed some body parts, but with people intruding on the premises, we have no way of knowing if they pulled them out of the bin and had strewn them around themselves."

Waugh also said that chic-kens flocking together is natural "if people wander in with lights and cameras in the middle of the night. They are not packed in, they have plenty of sheds, there are around 650 birds per shed on that unit, but they do choose to flock together sometimes at night for security," he said.

Waugh also raised the issue of biosecurity, claiming the footage was filmed during the avian influenza (AI) outbreak. "They're using footage from people who, during an AI outbreak, wandered on to this property. We have no idea where they came from, where they went to or what measures they took to ensure they didn't harm biosecurity," he said.

ITV refused to address this point, but instead argued the programme was in the public interest. "Tonight with Trevor McDonald's producers felt that this

footage raised issues that had a justifiable public interest.

"The footage that was shown was a fair reflection of the concerns that that footage raised. We're satisfied that the footage shown in that programme was absolutely no exaggeration of anything in it.

"We made thorough checks and the programme was thoroughly researched and we stand by every frame of the footage we showed," said ITV spokesman Grant Cunningham.