August 27th, 2020 Animal Welfare, Newsletter

Cruel Farmers or a Cruel System?

The horror story experienced by US pig farmers who, between May and September, will have cruelly euthanized 10 million pigs, burying them in huge pits, could be repeated in the UK. A spike in COVID-19 infections at the Cranswick meat processing plant, in Northern Ireland, and the resulting closure of the plant for 14-day quarantine, could result in supply chain backlogs and animals being euthanized here too. As the article explains; ‘Failure to move finished pigs at the correct weight will result in pigs having to be shot and destroyed which will not be a pleasant picture for anyone. Remember the scenes of animal destruction during the 2001 Foot & Mouth problem?’

In the US, EU and UK the food processing industry is concentrated in a few large corporations and retail outlets. This means that, farmers are unable to relocate or rehome pigs and euthanizing becomes inevitable when farmers and pigs have become merely pawns in a centralised agri-industrial system.

This was made clear to me when I exposed a farm in the UK where pigs were kept in basic UK standards and I unexpectedly met the farmer/owner only to learn that he believed much the same as me. He spoke about farrowing crates where sows are crammed in tight metal cages on barren concrete floors, unable to move for up to five weeks while they suckle their young: “I know you don’t like those crates and I don’t either”, he told me. He said he had tried to produce his pigs to RSPCA standards but customers were not prepared to pay the slightly higher price. If supermarkets can source the cheapest pork in the EU, UK farmers can only compete by cramming ever more pigs into barren conditions with ever fewer stockmen to care for them. What hope for our pigs and farmers when pork comes from the US!

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Only this week we saw the horrors of factory farming at Flat House pig farm thanks to the brave Viva! campaigners who filmed the gruesome images of neglected, overcrowded and diseased pigs. And again this week, secret filming from a factory cattle farm showed stockmen beating animals and endemic lameness in the herd resulting in Tesco, Waitrose and Wetherspoons banning the beef from their supply chain. This is a great start, but where cruelty is commonplace, we shouldn’t have to rely on undercover film-makers to expose farms before their produce is banned by the supermarkets. Factory farming is endemic in the food system and unless we all become conscientious consumers and demand our government protect our farmers from imports produced to lower standards, our farmers will be unable to compete or improve their standards of animal welfare.

Though often surviving more from love of their pigs than from profits, there are a few high welfare farms in the UK that need your custom that you can find via our Pork Directory. Tullich Highland Rare Breed Pigs farm in the far north of the Scottish Highlands near Invergordon, breeds Oxford Sandy Black and Large Black pigs. During lockdown farmer Rob Pratley has seen a large upturn in pork sales as people are thinking more about the wellbeing of pigs. ‘We’re experiencing people that are coming back because they like what we do, and the quality of our meat and they like how we do it, which is brilliant. I also think people are becoming more aware of food miles, quality of meat and how the meat is produced so I’m hoping we can get the message across on our high standards and the quality of the meat that we produce’.

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