Game Bird Imports via Eurotunnel

The Times, April 20th 2019:

Millions of day-old game chicks are being transported to British shooting estates via Eurotunnel trains after ferry companies boycotted the industry, The Times can reveal.

Court documents reveal that Eurotunnel is the last remaining company transporting the chicks from France to the UK. Animal welfare groups are calling on it to cut the “lifeline” it has thrown to French game bird exporters.

P&O Ferries, Brittany Ferries and DFDS Seaways have all refused to transport game bird chicks in recent years, after lobbying by animal welfare groups over them being bred in battery cages for the shooting industry.

Chris Packham, the naturalist and BBC Springwatch presenter, and Joanna Lumley, the actress, have backed calls for Eurotunnel to end the transportation from Calais to Folkestone.

Ms Lumley told The Times it was “indefensible at every level” and Mr Packham said that the battery cage conditions were “appalling”.

“We as conservationists have grave concerns about the environmental impact the vast number of pheasants put down in the UK countryside are having,” he said.

About half of the 30 million pheasants and six million partridges reared on British game farms are imported as day-old chicks or hatching eggs from Europe, according to figures from the government.

Two major French game co-operatives, Gibovendée and Envol de Retz, which represent dozens of farms exporting millions of chicks and eggs to the UK, unsuccessfully tried to sue P&O Ferries, Brittany Ferries and DFDS Seaways last year, accusing them of “discrimination based on political opinion”.

In 2017 Gibovendée had a turnover of €19.5 million, a third of which was from exports to the UK, while Envol de Retz had a turnover of €11 million, with nearly half coming from exports across the Channel.

In a ruling by the French competition authority against the farms, seen by The Times, it was revealed that the chicks are now being sent in 3.5 tonne vans on the Eurotunnel passenger service. Animals are not allowed on the company’s freight service.

Pheasant hatching eggs cost about 35p to buy and day-old chicks cost about 80p. Partridge hatching eggs cost about 75p and day-old chicks can reach £1.50.

Court documents show that Gibovendée made 139 crossings to export its chicks to the UK last year and Envol de Retz made 130 crossings.

Eurotunnel said it had been unaware of the transports. A spokesman said: “We will look into the condition of the carriage for these companies with the relevant authorities.” Footage taken on Gibovendée farms last weekend by investigators from the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) show pheasants and partridges kept in rows of raised barren cages with mesh floors and no enrichment, which is illegal in the UK but allowed under EU law.

Birds are seen jumping and flapping against their cages while attempting to escape and their beaks are covered by plastic “bits” to prevent them pecking each other through stress. A promotional video made by Envol de Retz shows battery cages used for egg production.

The HSA said: “The overwhelming feeling when visiting these farms is despair. The vast majority of the public find the shooting industry repellent and battery farming even more so. Eurotunnel should give a firm commitment to immediately stop the transport of pheasants and hatching eggs.”

Breeding pheasants are kept in battery cages for about three months; partridges as pairs for three to 18 months.

Glynn Evans, head of game at the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, said that Eurotunnel “should not give in to the bullying tactics of extremists” and it was “perfectly legal to import eggs and chicks so long as all relevant regulations are met”.

Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said the British Game Alliance was looking at adopting a standard under which all its member shoots would source birds from farms with UK standards.

Gibovendée and Envol de Retz declined to comment.

The Hunt Saboteurs Association expose can be found here.