Squalor, misery, disease and death: the reality of British pig farms

Posted on the 14th April 2008

Last week, Animal Aid visited a typical pig farm in order to compare the welfare standards we found with those claimed by the pig farming industry in recent weeks. The conditions we witnessed are a world away from those featured in the ‘Pigs Are Worth It’ campaign.*

In the squalid farrowing unit, rows of new mothers were trapped inside metal crates with no room to even turn around or take a step forward. They were able to stand in one position only or lay on the dirty concrete floor. No bedding was afforded these poor creatures. Some carried wounds. The piglets could reach their mother’s teats but they could not be nurtured.

A chart in the farrowing unit tallied the dead.

The ‘fattening unit’ was similarly filthy and barren. Here, large groups of young pigs lived and slept in a small concrete cell on a bare, slatted floor with no bedding. By law, pigs must be offered manipulable materials to keep their active young minds stimulated. These animals were given a single metal chain, which hung from the ceiling. Some animals were lame, and one young gilt was barely able to walk.

Dumped outside lay a dead sow. On opening bin bags, we found dead and stillborn piglets who had simply been swept up along with the litter.

No animal could survive such appalling conditions unaided, and these pigs are no exception. Evidence of the massive array of drugs with which they are dosed was found in bins overflowing with empty veterinary bottles and used syringes. They included vaccines and drugs to treat enzootic pneumonia, wasting syndrome, coccidiosis, swine erysipelas, Lawsonia intracellularis and Porcine Reproductive & Respiratory Syndrome. Farmers can administer these to pigs right up until slaughter, indicating that residues may be ingested when the pigs’ meat is eaten.

Says Animal Aid Head of Campaigns, Kate Fowler-Reeves:

‘While pig farmers bemoan their lot and beg the public to ‘Save our Bacon’, pigs are suffering untold horrors on British pig farms. The images presented by the industry do not remotely resemble the conditions we have witnessed in the years we have been investigating pig farms. At the most recent – a typically atrocious farm – a dead sow was dumped outside the units, while row upon row of new mothers lay trapped in filthy, barren farrowing crates, barely able to move. Bin bags containing dead piglets and stillborn litters swept up with the trash lay alongside dustbins overflowing with discarded veterinary products. This is the reality of British pig farms and it is a disgrace. And still pig farmers claim we have the ‘best animal welfare standards in the world’. That would be funny if the reality wasn’t so tragic.’

*In the autumn of 2007, the British Pig Executive ran an advertising campaign to encourage consumers to buy British pig meat. One advert that was placed in several national newspapers stated: ‘Pig farmers in the UK already face higher costs than those in Europe, largely due to our higher standards of pig welfare.’ The advert shows a healthy-looking pig in a straw-filled pen out in the sunshine. A second advert, which also ran nationally, shows pigs living outside under a huge sky. The text reads: ‘The logo at the bottom of this page, the Pigmeat Quality Standards Mark, is proof that farmers care about the welfare of their animals.’

In January 2008, the £1.5 million ‘Save our Bacon’ campaign was launched by Waitrose and Farmers Weekly, and supported by the British Pig Executive and celebrity chefs.

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