A Brutal Business, an investigation into the treatment of animals at livestock auctions, revealed that animals are routinely abused on their way to slaughterhouses. The evidence was compiled over four years from 36 markets by volunteer welfare monitors.
The video showed sheep packed so tightly into pens that the bars were clearly embedded in their sides; pigs being kicked in the head; terrified lambs huddling together; and one pony so terrified that it repeatedly bashed its head on the side of its pen in an effort to escape.
Against the "calm, competent, unhurried handling of persons, used to dealing with livestock" required by the industry code of practice, the film showed men throwing sheep down a ramp of a truck, and in another case dropping them four or five feet from a platform. One man was shown screaming at and hitting pigs he was herding, while another kicked a sheep in a fit of temper after it failed to load.
Julia Gardner, a volunteer monitor in East Anglia, displayed a selection of sticks with pointed metal prongs at the end "commonly and legally used" in markets and abattoirs.
"We prod them, we poke them until they're totally confused and don't know where they're supposed to go, then we call them stupid," she said. "I think the real problem with markets is the indifference and total disregard for animals. We don't credit them with feelings - we treat them like potatoes."
The Labour MP Ken Livingstone said the video, a previous version of which is now used to help to train trading standards officers, was "the best advertisement for vegetarianism" he had seen.
"I wouldn't mind betting what we've seen is not one-hundredth of what is going on," he said. "If the RSPCA comes across someone who's abusing their dog in a house they are prosecuted, may even get a prison sentence and huge publicity. Because this is the food industry and so many people have an interest in the profits then there seems to be a different standard."
More than 20 million animals a year pass through the market system. Animal Aid is calling on the Government to introduce more humane rules to be adopted at market, or alternative procedures for sales, such as via computer links. It wants to see accredited training for people who handle animals and for existing laws to be strengthened and properly enforced.
It is also calling on the Government to appoint an independent body to inquire into markets across the country. "Those that fail to meet a given standard of welfare should be forced to comply immediately or close," said Steven Tyler, director of the charity.
Margaret Gibbins, a retired estate agent from the South- west, has been monitoring for three years, having jettisoned her plans for a peaceful retirement. Her grandfather had been a cattle dealer, but she found it "stressful, a great strain", and hated the hostility and suspicion with which monitoring is generally greeted.
She said: "I can see markets have always been a great social event for farmers but so have public hangings, and we've moved on from there."Reuse content