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Undercover videos of organic chicken farms can be aired

April 10, 2018

The chicken producers had tried to block the broadcast, but Germany's top court has found an animal activist's footage showing miserable conditions in organic chicken farms to be in the public interest.

Chickens in a chicken farm
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Wüstneck

Germany's Federal Court of Justice on Tuesday ruled that German public broadcaster Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk (MDR) was allowed to air unauthorized footage of dismal conditions at organic chicken farms because it was in the public interest.

MDR used the footage filmed by an undercover animal activist in May 2012 in a September report on cheap organic goods titled, "How cheap can organic be?"

Read more: I may be a chicken but I'm no bird brain

The footage of the organic chickenhouse revealed birds that were partly featherless and some even dead on the ground. The court did, however, concur that the company had not violated any regulations.

Judges found that unauthorized film recordings were allowed if they disclosed grievances of legitimate public interest.

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'Watchdog of the public'

A statement on the Federal Court of Justice's website said the film deals critically with the mass production of organic products from the perspectives of consumer information and animal farming and shows the discrepancy between the high ethical production standards highlighted by many producers and the actual production conditions. 

It said it falls under the task of the press to act as a "watchdog of the public," and keep the public informed.

Read more: Food from labs for a sustainable future?

Presiding judge Gregog Galke said that in this case, the public's interest in information was higher than the producer's interest in the protection of its corporate interests and image.

"It was about mass production of organic products and therefore a highly topical issue," Galke continued.

Hundreds of chickens are crowded into a chicken farm
Hundreds of chickens are crowded into a chicken farmImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Büttner

Trespassing irrelevant

The group representing the chicken producers, Fürstenhof, had won two prior court cases, with the last being held at the Hamburg Higher Regional Court.

Fürstenhof argued that the recordings did not constitute a criminal offence and that the animal activist had trespassed and filmed without authorisation.

Read more: On the hunt for sustainable Easter eggs

The court stated that although the footage broadcast had been produced unlawfully, MDR had not participated in the trespassing committed by the activist and that the recordings did not reveal any business or trade secrets.

law/rt (dpa, EPD)

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