Broadcaster ARD's Report Mainz on Monday night featured secretly filmed footage of a farm in the Lower Saxon city of Twistringen that housed some 25,000 birds in an unlit, cramped space that forced them to exist in their own faeces. Many of the animals died each day due to the poor conditions, the report said.
Other filmed incidents from 2009 provided for the broadcaster by animal rights organisation PETA showed workers from the company's vaccination subsidiary Hühner kicking and brutally tossing hens and roosters into transport boxes, in addition to breaking their necks without anaesthesia.
Other material showed birds being packed for transport by the necks and thrown from great heights into transport trucks.
Veterinarian Dr. Rupert Ebner told Report Mainz that the birds would have suffered greatly from such treatment.
“Their bones are broken and they are then transported in these containers with broken bones. This is absolutely illegal and very clearly a violation of animal protection laws,” he told the show.
Wiesenhof, which works with more than 800 poultry farmers around the country, distanced itself from the incident in a statement on Monday, calling the birds' treatment “absolutely unacceptable.”
“Wiesenhof will as a consequence of this isolated case no longer work with the outside firm responsible for the transport of the animals,” the statement said, adding that they would also add unannounced checks of farm facilities by independent firms in addition to current inspection procedures.
In addition, the PHW Group, to which Wiesenhof belongs, plans to file a lawsuit against the responsible farm owner for failing to fulfil his contractual animal protection obligations.
PETA filed charges against Wiesenhof on Tuesday with state prosecutors in Oldenburg. At a press conference the group's spokesperson Edmund Haferbeck said the abuses were “no coincidence,” adding that the farm's treatment of the birds was “representative of an entire branch.”
But in its statement the company said it may also press charges against PETA, which it claimed had “instrumentalised” the farm manager by tolerating, “if not encouraging” the animal abuse for their films.
Wiesenhof was founded in 1965 in Rechterfeld, Lower Saxony and now belongs to the PHW Group. It made a profit of €1.1 billion in 2008.