Pigs reared for supermarket Parma ham kept in 'illegal' conditions, secret footage reveals

Investigation reveals animals are kept in filthy sheds, often deprived of water and suffering untreated wounds. This article contains video and images some people may find distressing

Jane Dalton
Monday 26 March 2018 16:18
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Investigation uncovers pigs bred for Parma ham kept in dire conditions

Secretly obtained footage reveals how thousands of pigs raised for Parma ham sold in Britain are kept in squalid, cruel and illegal conditions.

An undercover investigation found the animals living in filthy, overcrowded sheds, suffering painful untreated infections and having had their tails routinely docked – against EU rules.

Campaigners say the video, taken at six intensive farms in Italy, is typical of “the shocking reality for many pigs farmed in the EU” and highlights an “appalling” failure to follow welfare standards.

The film focuses on huge farms that produce Parma ham and other Italian speciality meats such as sausages.

Parma ham is considered a product of excellence, exported and renowned worldwide, including to supermarkets in the UK.

But the footage shows:

• Pigs suffering lesions and infections, in desperate need of veterinary care, with some too lame to move

• Insufficient ventilation, and water systems that had failed

• Dilapidated and dirty facilities, some with mice infestations

• Pregnant sows left without access to water

• Most pigs forced to stand and lie in the faeces and urine of the group, with urine and faeces on feeding troughs as well as animals’ bodies

• Animals chewing at the ears, muzzles and limbs of other pigs through boredom, overcrowding and frustration – not something that happens in the wild

• Pigs that have had their tails cut off as a matter of routine – illegally. Tails were seen in a skip holding carcasses of dead animals (mostly piglets)

• Carcasses left close to occupied enclosures for long spells

• In one case two foetuses that a sow had aborted lay on the floor.

Water troughs were dry and sick animals were bitten by others (LAV)

Pigs at all six centres were confined permanently indoors, in overcrowded, barren sheds, living their entire lives on bare concrete or slatted floors, with no bedding or outside stimulation. It is a stark contrast with natural or organic settings, where pigs forage and root for food, and naturally keep their sleeping and dung areas separate, experts say.

The Italian animal-rights group Lega Anti Vivisezione (LAV), which shot the footage, also filmed a sow that was shaking constantly in a gestation unit (where pigs give birth). Witnesses said she looked emaciated and was seen crawling with difficulty towards a feeding trough.

The investigators said they saw other pigs suffering from eye infections, untreated ulcerated tail lesions, abdominal hernias and painful rectal prolapses, which can lead to death if untreated.

“The conditions seen on these farms are cruel and in many cases illegal,” said Sean Gifford, of UK-based Compassion in World Farming. “These pigs are not being treated as sentient beings, but as mere meat-producing machines.

“Sadly, the appalling conditions revealed in the footage are typical of the shocking reality for many pigs farmed in the EU.”

Bodies of diseased pigs were left dumped close to living animals (LAV)

He added: “The terrible plight of these pigs highlights the need for pig welfare standards to be implemented in Italy and across the EU.”

By law, pigs must have “permanent access to a sufficient quantity of material to enable proper investigation and manipulation activities, such as straw, hay, wood, sawdust, mushroom compost, peat or a mixture”.

Some factory farms carry out routine tail-docking to prevent piglets biting one another’s tails, and the footage shows widespread evidence of this, although it is against EU legislation.

The filming was carried out at intensive breeding farms housing up to 10,000 pigs each in the provinces of Brescia, Cremona and Mantua in Lombardy, in the north of Italy.

A piglet became trapped upside down and was unable to free itself (LAV)

Eurogroup for Animals, which has launched an “end pig pain” petition against cruel practices, called on the EU and member states to enforce welfare legislation.

The Independent has asked the Parma Ham Consortium and the San Daniele Ham Consortium to comment but has not yet received a response.

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