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It’s business as usual at Sun Valley
12:17pm Thursday 7th February 2008 in Business
A HIGH profile television campaign against intensive poultry has done little to affect the trade at one of Hereford's biggest employers.
Chicken production has come under the spotlight with media campaigns led by chefs Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver highlighting their concerns over the present state of certain sections of the farming industry.
The pair have both featured on television and criticised the way they see chicken reared on a mass scale.
However, Sun Valley, which employ hundreds of workers at their Grandstand Road site, has hit back and added that the exposure has not adversely affected sales.
"We have noted some increased interest in our chicken reared under the Freedom Foods scheme, but our standard chicken product sales are unaffected," said a statement from Storm Communications, who represent Sun Valley.
"It is too early to tell at this stage whether the programmes will have any significant long-term effect on consumer preferences when purchasing chicken."
The National Farmers Union (NFU) and a county farmer have also leapt to the defence of Sun Valley and poultry welfare.
"Their welfare of their chickens is safeguarded by legal requirements and industry standards," said NFU West Midlands spokesman, Oliver Cartwright.
"If people want to pay a little more for a higher welfare product then we would encourage them to do so."
And a Herefordshire Sun Valley supplier, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, said: "Sun Valley employs an enormous amount of people in Herefordshire, providing jobs, and clearly these people all invest further in the Herefordshire economy.
"They are very holistic in their approach and have been very careful to keep business local where possible and keep the sheds in a tight radius of the factory."
She added that the poultry industry had spent too long on the back foot, and added that bird welfare was not compromised in their standard bird sheds.
Prominent county groups, however, believe the recent media interest highlights the dark side of intensive meat production.
"This is a huge issue for Herefordshire," said Felicity Norman, the Green Party's prospective European parliamentary candidate for the county.
"Our farmers meet high welfare standards for other forms of livestock, but the way in which intensively-reared chickens are produced is cruel."
And the Herefordshire Poultry Society said the programmes were a real eye-opener.
"I think the programmes give people an idea of the stocking densities which show that often there is not enough room per bird," said society chairman, Carolyn Southern.
Chris Dowdeswell, of the Western Animal Rights Network, said some of his members had taken action at Sun Valley following a national newspaper story of a Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) report into poor conditions at the Uphampton Farm site in Shobdon.
Sun Valley has refuted these claims saying they take their responsibility for animal welfare very seriously, adding "our employees handling live birds receive specific training to ensure the highest possible welfare standards".
Police spokesman Neil Tipton confirmed a teenage male was arrested on suspicion of attempted burglary at the Sun Valley base on Grandstand Road and was subsequently released on bail. Police are still searching for another man in connection with the alleged offence.