Tory MP urged to return £10k donation to alleged animal cruelty firm

Tory politician urged to return £10k donation to alleged animal cruelty firm

Conservative politician David Mundell has been urged to hand back a £10,000 donation from a Borders egg producer under investigation by the RSPCA for alleged animal welfare abuses.

Mundell, who is running to retake his former Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale seat, was handed £9,995 by Glenrath Farms in 2020, which operates in the constituency.

But in May, video footage captured by welfare charity Animal Justice Project, showed dead hens littering the “filthy” shed floor at one of Glenrath’s chicken sheds.

Animal Justice Project’s video footage of Glenrath, and other egg producers.

RSPCA Assured, which certifies the company’s eggs, is investigating Glenrath and two other companies probed by the Animal Justice Project. It called the footage “disturbing” and said it had suspended its certification of one of the firms, pending further investigation.

Animal Justice Project and opposition politicians called on Mundell to return the money as a “public condemnation of the scenes of exploitation and neglect”. Failing to do so would make “a mockery” of the Tory politician’s animal welfare credentials, they argued.

Mundell and Glenrath claimed inspectors from several groups, including the RSPCA, found no issues. The hens may have been “frightened or slaughtered” by activists, Glenrath alleged.

Glenrath probe, Mundell, and animal welfare

Animal Justice Project claimed some dead hens appeared to have had their necks snapped, and were “discarded in a heap”. Some appeared too weak to get up and others had “severely deformed beaks likely caused by debeaking”, the charity said.

Debeaking involves the partial removal of hen’s beaks to stop them pecking and potentially injuring other birds. But the process itself causes pain and stress in hens. Animal Justice Project claimed the free range hens were not let outside on each of the four days it visited the site.

Glenrath was founded by John Campbell, who was knighted in 2017, partly for services to farming. The business claims its hens produce over a million eggs a day for UK supermarkets including Tesco and Asda.

Director Karen Campbell is also a director at the British Free Range Egg Producers Association, which won an award from the Poultry Club of Scotland in 2022 for her ‘outstanding contribution to the Scottish poultry industry’.

Mundell has previously championed his animal welfare credentials. “I truly believe that as sentient beings who can experience fear and pain, all animals should be treated with thought and care,” he said in 2019.

In 2020, however, the Tory politician was criticised for u-turning over legislation which aimed to force imported food to meet the same quality and animal welfare standards as UK products.

RSPCA animal cruelty investigation

An RSPCA Assured spokesperson said: “This footage is very distressing to watch and we launched an investigation as soon as we were made aware of it.

“As part of that investigation, RSPCA Assured assessors have made unannounced inspections of the three farms that are members of the RSPCA Assured scheme. We’ve also analysed the footage to identify any breaches of the RSPCA welfare standards.  

“We can confirm that we have suspended one of the farms, pending further investigation.”

Tory politician urged to return £10k donation to alleged animal cruelty firm 6
Animal Justice Project claim the free range hens were not let outside on each of the four days it visited the site. Image: Ben Moreland

Ian Campbell, managing director for Glenrath said: “At Glenrath, our first priority is the welfare of our birds, and we make every effort to ensure we uphold high animal welfare standards. 

“We’re disappointed animal activists chose to break into our farm, causing a significant biosecurity and disease risk. It is a criminal offence to break into a secure property. From the footage, it looks as though the activists were in the shed whilst the birds were resting, which would cause them to become upset and distressed. 

“Whilst a misshapen beak is unfortunate and the industry makes great efforts to ensure accurate beak trimming, occasionally some birds do still have mis-aligned beaks. Whilst the beak appears to be disfigured, there is no indication that any bird was under weight and struggling to feed or drink.

“Were the deceased hens caused through fear? Frightened or slaughtered by an intruder/s? The hens in the shed photographed were inspected by a qualified vet on 26 April 2024 and the vet detected no concerns and no welfare issues. The RSPCA have inspected the shed since the allegations and have found no major non-conformances.”

Tory politician should ‘return donation’

South Scotland Labour MSP Colin Smyth branded the footage “disturbing” and welcomed RSPCA’s probe. “David Mundell should do the right thing and return this donation while that full investigation is being carried out and until the matter is resolved,” he said.

“Mr Mundell will be fully aware of the allegations and it would make mockery of his pretence that he has any interest in animal welfare if his election campaign was bankrolled by a business under investigation for such concerning allegations”.

Scottish Greens rural affairs spokesperson, Ariane Burgess MSP, said Mundell should hand back the donation and “make it clear” he doesn’t agree with the alleged welfare conditions at the farm.

“All animals deserve to be treated humanely and politicians must lead from the front,” she added. “What David Mundell has said about animal welfare is clearly in direct contradiction to the suffering that was witnessed taking place.”

The MSPs’ views were echoed by Claire Palmer, director of the Animal Justice Project. “Anyone who cares about animal welfare will be horrified by the conditions we discovered inside the Glenrath sheds,” she argued.

“We urge David Mundell to return the money as a public condemnation of the scenes of exploitation and neglect documented at Glenrath Farms. This action would send a strong, clear message to other farmers that such standards are entirely unacceptable.”

Mundell said: “The recent report by the Animal Justice Project has been the subject of review by the RSPCA. They, along with independent auditors from the National Farmers Union and British Egg Industry Council, have since visited the facilities in Peeblesshire where no signs of low standards were found.

“A donation made by Glenrath Farms Ltd more than four years ago has entirely properly been a matter of public record since early 2020.”

The large numbers of chickens kept at Glenrath sites have also had an impact on air pollution. In 2019, The Ferret revealed how the egg producer was Scotland’s second largest polluter of ammonia.

The pollutant poses a risk both to the environment and human health, particularly when it combines with vehicle and industrial pollution to form tiny airborne particles.

Main image: David Mundell at a Burns Night celebration at Lancaster House in London, 25 January 2017. Credit: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office/Flickr

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