A farm where workers inflicted a string of torments on animals is a supplier to one of Britain’s biggest abattoirs that sells meat to major wholesalers.
It also sells pigs to a local butcher – prompting campaigners to say the footage proves it is a myth that locally bred meat means higher welfare.
Video taken at the Bedfordshire farm revealed a litany of abuse that broke welfare regulations including:
- A worker swinging a tiny piglet by one leg and smashing its head against a wall
- Piglets teeth being clipped off without pain relief
- Pigs being illegally and repeatedly shocked with an electric prod in their sides and neck
- A piglet left frothing at the mouth on a pile of corpses
- Dozens of dead piglets littering the floor of the farrowing (birthing) shed as well as live piglets trapped in crates with dead siblings
- Pigs crammed into barren pens so small they are forced to lie on each other in the heatwave
- At least one creature suffering from a tumour or hernia
Animal-welfare investigators uncovered the breaches of regulations at Rosebury Farm in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, which had passed five Red Tractor inspections this year including one last month – all of which the farm had been alerted to in advance.
But an unannounced inspection took place lafter the activists, from Animal Equality, disclosed the footage. The farm was then suspended.
The activists' evidence showed how when piglets were slammed against a wall one continued to kick for at least 10 seconds, suggesting it died in extreme pain.
Last month The Independent revealed how animals at a farm that had been inspected and authorised by Red Tractor officials were found to be suffering from painful, infected injuries.
The practice of using an electric prod is restricted to “extreme circumstances only” under law. At Rosebury Farm in Dunstable workers were filmed using an electric prod to load pigs onto a lorry heading to an abattoir.
The investigators trailed one lorry load of pigs from the farm to Cheale Meats in Essex, a slaughterhouse that supplies the biggest wholesalers in the UK. It is believed meat from Cheale ends up in major supermarkets.
Another lorry went from the farm to Evans & Son, a “traditional” butchers in Bedfordshire that boasts of selling only local meat.
Dr Toni Shephard, executive director of Animal Equality, said the investigation showed it was not true that local butchers or farmers' markets guaranteed better welfare.
She said: “The sound of piglets’ heads being smashed against the wall, the cries of agony as their tiny teeth are clipped, and the terrified squeals of pigs being forced onto the slaughter truck with electric shocks could all be straight out of a horror film.
“Yet these harrowing scenes are from the much romanticised local, family farm producing British pork under the Red Tractor label.
"It’s time consumers were told the truth - labels and certificates do not prevent animals from suffering in the meat industry, but choosing from the ever-increasing selection of meat-free options will.”
Veterinary expert Professor Andrew Knight from the University of Winchester’s Centre for Animal Welfare also viewed the footage and confirmed that it showed “inhumane handling and killing of piglets” as well as “excessive and inappropriate use of an electric prod likely to cause pain and fear.”
He said it was “great” to see the farm lose its Red Tractor accreditation "although other farms that have lost this have had it returned shortly afterwards."
Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the Green Party, said the evidence showed “self-regulation does not work and pre-announced inspections don’t work”.
Animal Equality handed all its footage to Red Tractor and the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' code of conduct states: “No person shall use excessive force to control animals...No person shall use any instrument which is capable of inflicting an electric shock to control any animal”.
It adds: “The prohibition … above shall not apply to the use of any instrument on the hindquarters of adult pigs which are refusing to move forward when there is space for them to do so, but the use of any such instrument shall be avoided as far as possible.”
Red Tractor chiefs say the scheme ensures food “has been responsibly produced to some of the most comprehensive and respected standards in the world”.
“A rigorous program of farm audits means that every farm that is Red Tractor-assured will receive a regular independent assessment to check that the animal welfare standards on farm match the requirements of the scheme,” it claims.
Jim Moseley, Red Tractor’s chief executive, said British farmers had lost out to foreign imports. “We remain in a very competitive market and need to ensure that we don’t inadvertently switch UK consumers to more imported product where standards can be very different,” he warned.
The farm was did not answer the phone when The Independent repeatedly tried to call, but Mr. Thorne, who runs it, told The Times: “I apologise for my actions and accept that there were shortcomings in the way that I managed the farm.
"The pigs have been my livelihood for the last 25 years so their welfare is of utmost importance to me. In future I will ensure that all staff including myself have the latest training and resource to be able to manage the farm in a way that the public would expect.”
Evans & Son butchers was closed today and not taking calls but it says on its website: “We consider ourselves to be one of the premier butchers in the area due to the high standards we set ourselves and the exceptional quality of the meat we supply.”
The Independent has asked Cheale Meats whether it will continue accepting pigs from the farm but has not yet received a response.
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