Tuesday, 21 May 2019

How to buy a rock

“To try on a ring is to be reminded of one’s complicity. Beauty is often linked to violence in some way," writes J Jezewska Stevens in The Paris Review. Read on: 

There’s a self-contained atmosphere, a throwback sense of endurance, on West Forty-Seventh Street. It’s an attitude that fewer and fewer Midtown streets can claim; most of Manhattan seems to be converging on the sterile luxury of Hudson Yards. But on this modest one-block stretch, bookended by Fifth and Sixth, there are no experience spaces, whitewashed cafés, or glassy high-rises that double as malls. The storefronts are cramped, indifferent, tinged with elbow grease. The famous arcades, where narrow aisles maximize the number of jeweler’s booths, are brassy but austere—at least in comparison to the corporate mansions of Tiffany’s and Cartier. On Forty-Seventh, the whole street buzzes with the modest energy of the hustle, which only serves to heighten the intrigue of the diamonds on display.

When The Daily asked if I’d be interested in writing a piece of participatory journalism inspired by my story “Honeymoon,” I thought immediately of the Diamond District. My friends are getting engaged. They’re married with children. I find myself, like the newlywed narrator of that story (who happens to work behind a jewelry counter), at a stage of life when the idea of diamonds weighs heavily on the mind. I wondered if the District might strike me differently than it did a few years ago, when I used to pass through it on my old commute. I was working then as an analyst and coder on Forty-Eighth. The hours were demanding, and more than once I found myself walking through the District after midnight. I remember the naked mannequin hands, the ghostly grated windows. There was a sense of possibility in the abandoned displays.

Now, in the lunch-hour rush, in the first manifestation of spring, the street is anything but deserted. When I arrive, hawkers in gold chains and jeans hover in doorways. You buying? Selling? Buying? A weary shopper steadies herself against a length of scaffolding to swap a pair of lacy heels for a set of leopard-print flats, while a vendor directs a client around the corner for a meal. Kosher Deluxe! A woman in knee-high black boots, trailed by a beau in Burberry plaid, is immediately engulfed as she tries to cross the street. She’s ushered into Fantasy Diamonds on the corner of Sixth Ave.

The diamond trade has a long and venerable history in New York, and it hasn’t always been centered in Midtown. Until the twenties, the heart of the industry lay just north of Wall Street, on Maiden Lane. Additional outposts prospered on Canal, where a few noble holdouts can still be found today. At the fin de siècle, when financial institutions began to edge their way into the neighborhood, rents rose, and real estate developers broke ground on Forty-Seventh, erecting art deco lofts with the express intention of attracting diamond vendors. After the Nazi invasions of Belgium and Netherlands, a wave of refugees brought a fresh influx of jewelers and wholesalers to the city’s diamond community, which had by this time firmly consolidated in Midtown. Today, as then, the district remains largely Dutch, Belgian, Jewish, and Orthodox; on Shabbat, many of the booths are closed.

A stone’s origins are often elusive. Over 90 percent of diamonds imported to the United States now pass through Forty-Seventh, and as of 2003, according to a piece of Bush-era legislation known as the Kimberley Process, those stones are supposed to be conflict-free. But when a diamond changes hands eight to ten times on the journey from gem mine to display case, this is next to impossible to guarantee. Consumers seeking absolute reassurance are probably best off dealing in the District’s antiques or buying synthetics, though even this can lead to paradox: some argue that in places like the Congo—where entire communities depend on revenue from certified mines, diamond boycotts, or shifts to synthetic stones—this only makes things worse. To try on a ring is to be reminded of one’s complicity. Beauty is often linked to violence in some way.


I visit a few times. The first is on a Saturday. The half-empty arcades turn out to be a boon for a woman shopping alone. On this quiet afternoon, vendors are more likely to speak to an inauspicious customer like myself. As a saleswoman slips an empty band onto my ring finger and sets a grade-D stone into the crown, she leans forward to deliver a trade secret. “People aren’t going to pay attention to you,” she says, referring to the fact that I’ve arrived without an escort. “Don’t you care what they think. You try on your rings.” The advice comes so quickly, and so sincerely, that in my appreciation I almost forget to tell her I’m here as a writer, not a fianceé.

All the women in the arcade are going through the same exercise. We try on empty bands (the most popular choice is white gold) while salespeople use tweezers to settle princess stones into the crowns. Whereas retail outlets like Tiffany’s or Zales might host a greater variety of designs, the same quality stone will come at a substantial markup. (For other reasons to avoid retail chains, look no further than New York Magazine’s exposé on sexual harassment and gender discrimination at Zales, Kay, and other subsidiaries of Sterling Jewelers Inc.) In other words: what we’re really shopping for here are not rings, but the diamonds themselves. The jewels emerge from small manila envelopes, nestled into hole-punched tags that record the clarity, karat, and cut; in any given price range, as the size increases, the quality falls. An honest vendor will set two stones side-by-side on a white index card to reveal a hint of yellow, or offer a magnifying glass to point out a carbon inclusion.

This street-level pluck—vendors coaxing customers, customers bargaining for deals—is the most salient and immediate theater, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. There’s a whole ecosystem thriving above the arcades. Tucked above the shops are diamond setters and cutters and wholesalers, upscale boutiques on upper floors that show by appointment only. From the sidewalk, the entrance to the headquarters of GIA, the premier gem-grading agency, is a notable anomaly: bright lobby, security guards, gleaming elevator bank.

The density and diversity of tradesmen means that everything one needs to make a ring from scratch can be found on this one block. For Peter Germano, who has spent over forty years in the business, this is one of the best parts of both the District and his job. “I just walk down the street,” he says, if he needs a band or setting, or if a wholesaler calls him to assess a stone just arrived from Liberia. It’s casual, brisk, efficient; he can visit on his way for coffee. But beneath the breeziness of these negotiations lies a complex network. “It’s all about relationships,” Germano says. It strikes me that his no-nonsense affability serves him well on these errands—he’s easy to talk to, but he’s not a man with time to waste. When he was just starting out, he tells me, he used to pass a storefront whose display was nearly empty. “And I thought to myself, now that’s success.” The owner paid the premium for prime, street-level real estate only to eschew advertising to passersby, suggesting an indifference to operating costs that today makes Germano smile. “I thought, I want to be as successful as that.”

Germano, who now runs a ninth-floor boutique on the corner of Forty-Seventh and Fifth, also started out at street level (“the street”), though you “couldn’t pay him” to go back. He explains the etiology of the sort of hustle I noted there: rent is expensive. Storefronts trade at twenty to thirty thousand a month, and this puts serious pressure on the salespeople at the counter. Having secured a customer’s attention, everyone is trying to prevent a potential buyer from flipping to what is called a “be back,” someone who promises she’ll come back for a ring but doesn’t. “It’s a sales game,” Germano says, and he insists that the secret is as simple as honesty. Whatever his strategy, it seems to have worked. During his years behind a booth, he managed to curate a loyal clientele. Now he no longer needs to advertise via the arcades. The rent and the view are superior up here, where he depends on word of mouth, not walk-ins.

The claim to uniqueness is ubiquitous in the Diamond District: “He’s not your typical Forty-Seventh Street guy,” Germano’s assistant told me when I called to set up an interview, “you can talk to him.” Meanwhile, in the arcades, vendors are forever warning you against the tricks other sellers will try to pull. But the assistant’s assessment strikes me as sincere. Germano is casual but authoritative, with a disarming fuggedaboutit charisma. Looking around his office, it’s hard not to be taken in by the gallery of cards, pictures, and thank-you notes that fill his walls. Couples have sent photos of proposals on mountaintops and sea-sides. A card eases open to reveal the message: I love my rockstar earrings! (The signature, “J Lo,” is a joke.)

I ask Germano if, with gentrification putting the squeeze on small retailers throughout the five boroughs, he thinks the Diamond District will endure. “Of course,” he says. Then he pauses. There are some empty storefronts up for rent. “You never used to see that,” he says. But for the most part, the District has weathered the decline of retail fairly well. He hands me a thimble-size magnifying glass to detect an inclusion in an SI-2 stone—it’s hard to buy a diamond over the internet. “But online comments help,” he says. “That’s new.” And word of mouth on the web casts a wider net. “We get a lot of people from Ireland, Israel, and the UK,” he says.

When I wrote “Honeymoon,” I did not have the famous De Beers slogan—“A diamond is forever”—in mind. I was thinking about contingency and doubt; about how love, like faith, might be understood as a constant negotiation. I was thinking about how art, like any object of desire, changes depending on where and when we see it in the context of our own lives. I was wondering whether love, like art—or like the Catholic idea of divine grace—also exists as a function of time and setting and chance, or at least more so than we’d like to admit. And if there’s some truth to any of the above, if the matters of the heart are constantly in flux, then it seems to me one has to make the decision to stay in love again and again. It’s a process, rather than a discrete moment when rings are exchanged. Like all processes, it will eventually come to a stop, or else extend forever—in that sense, perhaps De Beers was not so far off. Anyway, we all exaggerate in love. But diamonds, too, I learn, are not without contingencies. They depend on the light, on their cut and luster, the tendency to retain smut. Germano steams the crown of a princess stone dimmed by the oily residue of fingerprints. I am surprised to learn that diamonds can even be repaired. “Of course,” he says.

The charm of the Diamond District, I think, is this: it’s alarmingly easy to talk. Amid the chaos, everyone is carving out a private conversation that feels secret, intimate. People here listen; they make you feel special. Back in the arcades, I see princess stones, oval stones, bands in rose and white gold. A saleswoman asks me how I shop for clothes. Do I look at how they’re made, the quality? Do I turn garments inside out to check the seams? I watch another sell a ring to a family of tourists laden with bags. The wife is debating, and they’re already late for a Broadway show. “As a friend, I’d take it,” the saleswoman says. As a friend! She’s not a friend, I think. Then it’s my turn at the counter, and I fall immediately under her spell. She’s always been a saleswoman, she tells me. She tells me a lot of things. Like any skilled fiction writer, she establishes authority by becoming more vulnerable herself: “Let me tell you something you’d never expect,” she says. Twenty years ago, she worked in cosmetics, and she was on her way to a job interview at Saks when someone stopped her right here on Forty-Seventh. He happened to be one half of the pair of brothers that owns the booth we’re standing at now. She points out the window, toward the street, to the setting of the serendipitous scene. “He asked me, You need a job? Can you believe it? Of course I need a job!” She’d been in the U.S. all of two weeks. “He says to me, I’m looking for someone like you.”

Let me tell you something you’d never expect: This isn’t my first time shopping for an engagement ring. When I was eleven, I went with my father to an Indianapolis mall to buy one for my mother. My parents have—and had—been married for many years. I remember we brought the ring home in a little velvet box. My mother has an academic’s sense of humor—she’s the kind of woman who wears plastic brontosaurus earrings to work. My parents hadn’t bought wedding rings until six years after they tied the knot, and even then only because my grandmother had dropped a bewildered hint to my aunt: “Is it a real marriage,” she’d asked, “if they don’t have rings?” She asked with the same concern she’d once directed toward my mother’s Ph.D. in biochemistry. “When will you have you learned enough that you can teach high school?”

I called my mom to ask what she felt when she unhinged that box to find such a belated, ostentatious gift, a sapphire on a white-gold band. It’s the most expensive item she’s ever owned. “At first,” she said, “when I opened it, I thought, it’s way too much. Too much for little old me.” She thought for a moment. “But then when I saw how excited your father was to be able to give me that gift, well …” She trailed off, and in the silence on the line, I was reminded that perhaps the best way to stay in love is to learn how to accept, to gracefully receive.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Latin, Hebrew … proto-Romance? New theory on Voynich manuscript

Researcher claims to have solved mystery of 15th-century text but others are sceptical

Some say it is a medieval medical manual written in abbreviated Latin and aimed at well-to-do women. Not true, say others: it was written in Hebrew by an Italian physician and clearly shows Jewish women having ritual baths.

Nonsense, others believe: the text was written in Old Turkish, in a poetic style. Or it may have origins in Old Cornish. Or in the Aztec language of Nahuatl, or in Manchu.

When it comes to the Voynich manuscript, a curious and apparently coded 15th-century document now held in the library of Yale University, perhaps the only thing on which academics, cryptographers and enthusiasts can agree is the depth of its mysteries. The beautifully illustrated text appears to have been written in cyphers representing a real language – but what does it mean?

Now a British academic has claimed the manuscript is a type of therapeutic reference book composed by nuns for Maria of Castile, queen of Aragon, in a lost language known as proto-Romance.

Researcher claims to have solved mystery of 15th-century text but others are sceptical

In a peer-reviewed paper published in the journal Romance Studies, Gerard Cheshire, a research associate at the University of Bristol, argues the manuscript is “a compendium of information on herbal remedies, therapeutic bathing and astrological readings” focusing on female physical and mental health, reproduction and parenting.

Rather than being written in code, he believes its language and writing system were commonplace at the time it was written, and he claims the document is the sole surviving text written in proto-Romance.

Though some believe the Voynich manuscript to be a hoax, its vellum has been carbon-dated to the early 15th century, and most scholars accept the text is contemporary. It is named after Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish book dealer who bought it in 1912, but much of the history of its ownership is unknown.

Although the meaning of the volume has tantalised experts since it first came to scholarly attention in the early 20th century – it reportedly eluded both Alan Turing and the cold war-era FBI – Cheshire says he unpicked its mysteries in just two weeks “using a combination of lateral thinking and ingenuity”.

Perhaps inevitably, however, Cheshire’s theory has been met with scepticism among medieval experts.

“Sorry folks, ‘proto-Romance language’ is not a thing,” tweeted Dr Lisa Fagin Davis, executive director of the Medieval Academy of America, of Cheshire’s paper. “This is just more aspirational, circular, self-fulfilling nonsense.”

Cheshire insists his work is anything but. “I experienced a series of eureka moments whilst deciphering the code, followed by a sense of disbelief and excitement when I realised the magnitude of the achievement, both in terms of its linguistic importance and the revelations about the origin and content of the manuscript,” he said.

The identification of Maria of Castile “took a lot of working out”, he told the Guardian by email. “But I had already solved the codex, so I applied lateral thinking and reasoning.”

He argues that the manuscript originated on Castello Aragonese, an island castle off Ischia, and that it was compiled by Dominican nuns as a source of reference for the female-dominated court run by Maria of Castile, the wife of King Alfonso V of Aragon. Maria’s great-niece, he notes in his paper, was Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII.

Cheshire claims the document includes images of Queen Maria and her court conducting trade negotiations while bathing. Italic annotations in the text may have been added by her.

Sceptics of the theory say such eureka moments are nothing new. Dr Kate Wiles, a medievalist and linguist and senior editor at History Today, said a new theory on the manuscript’s meaning happened “on a six-monthly basis at least … there have been at least two in the past year”.

She was not convinced by Cheshire’s theory. “It takes liberties with how we understand languages to work,” she said. “He is arguing for a language built of words drawn from lots of places and periods, but together they don’t create something that is convincing as a workable language.”

She added: “One of the reasons the Voynich manuscript is so appealing is because of languages like hieroglyphics and linear B, which were deciphered. But they didn’t come out of nowhere, they were decades in the making and drew on lots of different scholarly expertise. You can’t just have one person saying: ‘I’ve cracked it.’ You have got to have the field, on the whole, agreeing.”

Asked for his response to those who were unconvinced by his interpretation, Cheshire was bullish. “The journal paper has been blind peer-reviewed and verified by other scholars – that is standard confirmation in the scientific arena. There is no need to persuade anyone, as the solution will be used to study the manuscript by linguists and historians in due course.

“Furthermore, there is no ‘interpretation’ involved, as the alphabet, writing system and language have been fully expounded for others to consistently translate of any word, phrase or sentence.”

He is now inviting others to expand on his work and translate the manuscript in full. The mysteries of the Voynich manuscript have not been laid to rest quite yet.

(Source: The Guardian)

I spent thousands covering my body in tattoos during a bipolar mania episode – but I don’t regret it

Manic episodes can be dangerous, and I would never, ever recommend doing what I did. But I love the body confidence my new ink has given me

In April 2016, I started covering myself in tattoos. I have bipolar disorder, and I was at the start of a manic episode – something which often happens to me around this time of year. Bipolar disorder is categorised by two episodes: mania and depression. Each can last from weeks to months, and both can be just as debilitating.

I was experiencing something called hypomania – a lesser form of mania, but I still felt as though my mind was racing a mile a minute. Mania often includes symptoms such as feeling on top of the world, euphoric, even. However, there are some downsides – such as feeling quick to anger, being very irritable and snapping easily.

Acting impulsively, recklessly, having huge ideas that never quite pan out – such as writing books, applying for jobs, or spending a huge amount of money on something that you later come to regret, are other symptoms. It can also give you problems sleeping, and a constant feeling of adrenaline.

Some of Hattie Gladwell’s tattoos ( Hattie Gladwell )
That’s what I felt when I went into the tattoo shop. Adrenaline. The type you’d get when you reached the top of a super high roller coaster, ready to go down to the bottom. I’d already had three tattoos – but over the course of two months, I was covered in 26. I covered my legs, my stomach, my back, my neck and my arms. It was almost like an addiction, an addiction to the high and adrenaline I was feeling when the needle hit my skin.

It started when I made friends with a girl who was also covered in tattoos – I’d always thought she looked amazing but wasn’t sure if I could go through with that myself, dedicating a lifetime to ink on my body. I’d considered it, and there were times where I was tempted to head to the tattoo studio, but I always chickened out, thinking more rationally: would I regret this?

But when I was manic, I didn’t think about those things. I looked at my friend and thought, I want that. I was self-conscious and insecure, I’d always struggled with my body image, but I saw how people looked at her – they were interested in her, they would compliment her on her ink and she had, in turn, become more confident. I wanted that.

I remember heading into the studio in spring, and asking for a wolf to be tattooed on my leg. I had found the design on Pinterest, and I’d fallen in love with it. I was very happy with the finished piece. I felt immediately more confident – I’d always had a problem showing my legs due to being nicknamed “tree trunk legs” at school for my thick thighs, but this time I wanted to show them off. I was in love with that feeling.

I went back the next week and got the other leg tattooed. And a few days after, my thigh. It didn’t turn out great, I was quite unhappy with it, but even with this mishap, it didn’t stop me wanting more. It was like the feeling of ink sinking into my skin was making me high. I succumbed to the rush of it.

I would scour the internet daily for more and more designs – but as I got more I stopped doing so. Instead, I found an amazing tattoo artist who would regularly post her designs on Instagram, custom to those who wanted it – and I would get inked that way, with original works all over my body. This fed the mania even more, knowing I was covering my body with beautiful, original artwork.

By July 2016 I was covered. And I was happy with what I had done. This was a first for me – mania had often left me feeling negative. In other episodes I had written books which would go on to be rejected, pitched stories which hadn’t been thought through, and I would sign up to things like classes and go on reckless weekends away spending lots of money.

I did have one regret though: I had spent £3,000 of my savings. Savings which I had been building up for a long time. I’d lost it all on covering my body. This did get to me, because I couldn’t help but think if I had just been tattooed over time – and perhaps thought through some of the designs and costs a little more – I could have achieved the desired look while having money to spend on other meaningful things. This was a constant habit of mine during mania: spending a ridiculous amount of money and feeling guilty and ashamed afterwards.

But overall, I don’t regret what I did during that episode – I just know I should have thought it through more clearly, but when you are manic, nothing is clear. Everything in your head is just a big jumbled mess of ideas begging to come to life.

Because they were drawn for me and nobody else, I am more confident in my body. I love showing it off because I love displaying my art. And, in turn, I have become more confident with my size – having gone from never showing off my body to flaunting my ink during the warmer weather. I have grown more comfortable to accepting my shape, and loving who I am.

I do get stares from time to time – mainly from older people who wonder what I’ll look like when I’m older – but I’m happy with my ink and the way I look. Manic episodes can be dangerous, and I would never, ever recommend doing what I did – you may not be as lucky as to only regret the spending of the money.

But that episode, and my decisions to cover my body in ink, made me the self-loving and self-accepting person I am today.

(Source: Independent)

As an owner of multiple ovens, I know the perils of letting photographers into one’s kitchen

James Brokenshire has been feeling the heat over his four ovens – but at least they weren’t as disgracefully filthy as mine

You’ve got to be careful when being filmed in your kitchen. It’s very easy for people to find stuff in there to hate you for. I’ve been on the end of that, so shame on me for having a good old tut at James Brokenshire, who was revealingly photographed in his kitchen for a Sunday newspaper. That said, two double ovens is an awful lot of oven. I’ve got more than one oven myself. Not as many as the Brokenshires, but more than two. And that’s all I’m saying.

Let them eat cake: James Brokenshire and his two double ovens in an image from Twitter. Photograph: Twitter/@JBrokenshire
I have used my kitchen for filming on various projects. I did so wary of the consequences, invasion of privacy etc. But television involves the most horrendous amount of faff, not least the finding of locations. In the interests of avoiding an endless journey to someone else’s kitchen, it is so much easier to get the crew to come to me. Hang the consequences.

And the consequences have been grave. For a Panorama I made about Brexit I cooked for two MPs: Rosie Duffield (Labour, Canterbury, People’s Voter) and Andrew Percy (Conservative, Brigg and Goole, Leaver, Maydealer). I carefully crafted a Brexit-themed lunch, serving up a range of cheap jokes. There was Irish stew, a starter with red lines of red pepper paste piped over the plate and, for pudding, Eton mess.

And all viewers could say was that my oven was disgracefully filthy. I’m not on Twitter, but Rosie helped me out by fielding the abuse for me and passing it on.

In any case, with ovens, it’s not the number of them, it’s the price of the things. I am deeply ashamed of what I was conned into paying for my features galore. It’s all nonsense. Ovens just need to get hot, to a specified temperature, and then cool down. That’s all. Get me model numbers for the Brokenshires’ gear, and then I will properly sit in judgment on them.

(Source: The Guardian)

Nando’s and Asda chicken: Birds ‘stepped on and left convulsing and wounded in scenes of suffering and cannibalism’

Workers given extra training after secret cameras record ‘harrowing shots of painful abuse’

Workers on chicken farms supplying Nando’s, Asda and Lidl have been filmed leaving a bird convulsing after breaking its neck, stepping on the animals necks and throwing sick ones onto piles, footage from an animal rights group shows.

In grisly video taken by secret cameras, dead birds appeared to be left among the living, leading to cannibalism, while workers stepped on and kicked flocks in sheds.

Some suffered red, raw skin from feather loss and many were collapsed under their own weight, another video showed.

The “harrowing scenes of painful abuse” were shot in two separate investigations at farms run by one of the UK’s largest food businesses and endorsed by the Red Tractor scheme.

The company supplies the supermarkets and Nando’s restaurants with whole chickens and chicken products including ready meals and sliced meat.

Dozens of birds are seen in the film collapsed under the weight of their bodies, many flapping frantically in a desperate attempt to lift themselves up. The RSPCA said the condition results from chickens being selectively bred to put on weight unnaturally rapidly.

The videos appearing to show the workers kicking and stepping on birds were shot by animal-protection group Animal Equality in Northamptonshire between January and March after a tip-off about poor conditions.

The group said that after finding bin bags full of dead birds at one farm, the investigators installed a hidden camera.

The footage seems to show workers not only leaving dead or dying chickens convulsing, but also throwing any live ones unfit for the slaughterhouse onto a pile, where they were apparently left suffering for hours, unable to stand up, frantically flapping, the organisation said.

Weeks later, investigators from another group, Surge, said they saw birds with injuries, leg deformities and unnaturally large bodies, and numerous dead birds that appeared to have been left for longer than a day.

“There are also signs of injury, with one showing a large wound,” a spokesman said.

This chick was ‘gasping for breath’ as a result of being bred to grow too rapidly (Animal Equality)
The farms, Evenley, Pimlico and Helmdon, all rear chickens for Avara Foods, which says it is the UK’s sole supplier of chicken, turkey and duck, producing 4.5 million a week.

Animal Equality’s UK director, Toni Vernelli, said: “Headlines about American chlorinated chicken would have us believe British birds live a life of luxury but these harrowing scenes reveal the truth.

“Bred to grow so unnaturally large that their joints and hearts can’t cope, chickens on British farms suffer every minute of their lives.”

The group passed the footage to the RSPCA, Red Tractor and the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

Animal health and welfare is at the heart of Red Tractor standards
Red Tractor spokeswoman
Red Tractor labels require that operators check sheds at least once a day and remove any dead animals as soon as possible.

Dr Vernelli said chickens seen convulsing were likely to be dead but it was not certain, and the convulsions would have alarmed the flock. Breaking birds’ necks is a recommended way to kill any that are sick before going for slaughter, but she said birds that were lame and suffering should have been put out of their misery earlier.

In December The Independent revealed crippled turkeys were found at a factory farm in Lincolnshire supplying Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s, run by the Faccenda Group, part of Avara.

Research from the RSPCA says supermarkets actively encourage consumers to buy chickens that have suffered in industrial-style systems.

A Red Tractor spokeswoman said: “Animal health and welfare is at the heart of Red Tractor standards.  As soon as we were made aware of alleged breaches to our standards, we launched an immediate, independent investigation.

“Red Tractor has conducted on-farm spot-checks. The Animal and Plant Health Agency also inspected the farms and no major issues were found. 

Our members take their responsibilities to animal welfare very seriously
British Retail Consortium
“The footage highlighted some issues in terms of Red Tractor standards and we required all personnel involved with the three farms to undergo additional training including the prompt identification of sick birds, bird euthanasia and behaviour around catching. This training has now been completed and verified by a vet.

“The farms are now subject to a strict programme of unannounced inspections.”

Avara Foods gave The Independent a statement saying: “We take our responsibilities for the birds in our care very seriously, and their health and welfare is of the utmost importance.

Many birds were ‘suffering from lameness’ (Animal Equality)
“We have closely examined the contents of this report to assess compliance against our procedures. Initial findings indicate that, for the farm involved, our requirement to remove any culled or fallen birds as soon as they are identified has not been followed.

“We will take all necessary action to ensure that this situation does not recur. Anyone found not meeting our standards will be subjected to comprehensive retraining and further steps taken if appropriate.”

A Nando’s spokesperson said: “We expect all our suppliers to operate to high standards and we are disappointed. We will be working closely with the supplier to get to the bottom of these allegations, ensuring immediate actions are taken to bring all their sites up to standard.”

Lidl referred to a British Retail Consortium statement that said: “Our members take their responsibilities to animal welfare very seriously.

“Any breaches to animal welfare are totally unacceptable and should be investigated immediately, with swift action taken to rectify any issues.”

We expect high standards and are disappointed
An Asda spokesman said: “We take animal welfare extremely seriously and are investigating with our suppliers,” and referred to the BRC statement.

A spokesperson for the RSPCA, which has prosecution powers, said: “We shared the concerns raised about welfare and our inspectors visited. There were problems with some of the birds’ legs in the footage but staff produced evidence that they had been under the care of a vet and had been receiving appropriate treatment.

“However, we have real concerns about the realities of intensive farming practices which see fast-growing birds bred to provide maximum meat in a short space of time, which can cause severe health problems and lead to suffering.”

An APHA spokesperson said: The local authority, as the appropriate enforcement agency, may initiate prosecution action for welfare offences. We do not comment on individual cases.

(Source: Independent)