This week saw a whistleblower expose a shocking example of how American factory farmers are euthanising thousands of their pigs causing them “extreme, prolonged and unnecessary suffering”. Due to a glut of market-ready pigs following closures and slow-downs of packing plants because of high COVID-19 infection rates amongst workers, farmers are aborting and euthanising the pigs, removing them from the food supply chain. Animal rights group, Direct Action Everywhere, published the footage revealing pigs “shrieking in agony” by asphyxiation by turning off the ventilation system and pumping gases into their packed enclosure. The pork producer featured in the video, Iowa Select Farms, which owns 800 factory farms across Iowa and markets 4 million hogs a year, hit back saying that the activists were ‘hitting farmers when farmers were down’. Yes, farmers are also pawns in a factory farming system dominated by a few vast packing houses that squeeze so much of the profits from farmers, that they also have to get vast and mechanised or get out of the industry. There are cracks at every level and without whistleblowers the public would be unaware how these systems are unfit for purpose and unfit for shocks. Unless we protect our UK farmers in the Agriculture Bill, they will have to compete in this race to the bottom.
Along with such abhorrent failures in factory farming we read that some scientists are now hypothesising that industrial farmed pigs could be vectors for COVID-19, that is, could immunocompromised factory farmed pigs be the genetic path COVID-19 took between bats and humans? The report makes some striking correlations between the number of infected cases in Brazil and the number of high density pig farms in the area.
With the Tories refusing to ensure the Agriculture Bill bans imports of meat that would be illegal to produce in the UK, our farmers will have to compete against a system that is totally and utterly flawed. Please write to your MP, and to Members of the House of Lords, to urge them to prevent imports undercutting our farmers. And please sign this petition from the NFU asking for a law that prevents food being imported into the UK which has been produced in ways that would be illegal here. This includes animal welfare standards. We are aware that Red Tractor Assured pork products promoted by NFU in the UK are not great standards, but they will get a great deal worse with the pressure to compete with lower standard imports from abroad.
Equally important is to be aware that if we buy pork from factory farms we are a part of the problem. We all need to either give up meat or buy less but better meat, by only buying pork that has a label to say that it has come from a happy pig farm, i.e. RSPCA Assured, Free Range or best of all Organic.
We are really grateful to all the farmers who have made short videos about lockdown life on their high welfare farms. At June’s Farm, the crisis hasn’t had much impact on daily life on the farm, but online sales have gone through the roof!
Finally, this week we interviewed Pete Ritchie, the executive director of Nourish and owner of Whitmuir farm. He speaks about the need for a shake up in the food system, for a larger number of smaller scale abattoirs. He calls for a food system that respects meat, values high welfare, provenance and quality, and minimises animal stress rather than what we predominantly have now; mass, crass production.