An investigation by a leading animal protection charity has shown shocking scenes of cruelty and suffering on Red Tractor-assured farms in Britain.
Images shared by Animal Equality show female pigs caged in tiny ‘sow stalls’ for days on end, a practice banned in the UK since 1999.
The images have raised questions around whether the Red Tractor assurance scheme can be trusted.
In addition, the investigation has led Animal Equality to launch a campaign demanding action from the government, retailers, and Red Tractor.
According to investigators: "In September and October 2017, Animal Equality investigators made multiple visits to Hall Farm in Norfolk, where welfare violations had been exposed in 2016.
"On each visit they recorded female pigs in tiny cages, known as sow stalls. Hidden cameras placed by the investigators revealed one group of pigs were continuously confined for at least 127 hours (five plus days).
"Footage of bar biting and aggression demonstrates pigs were extremely distressed in these cages."
There more shocking discoveries at Hall Farm - which sells pigs to HG Blake – a Norfolk abattoir supplying London’s Smithfield Market and butchers in East Anglia.
These included a pig with a major abscess on his back (see photo above), and another with an infected leg wound, both left in a pen with other pigs, and most pigs kept in barren, crowded pens that deny their natural behaviors.
All pigs also had their tails amputated (docked), a painful mutilation performed without anaesthetic that should not be done routinely under UK law.
According to a spokesperson for Animal Equality: "In September 2017, our investigators visited Poplar Farm (East Riding of Yorkshire), a Morrisons supplier exposed in 2015 for poor welfare.
"They found multiple pigs with open, bleeding wounds on their ears; a severely lame pig left in a pen with other pigs; pregnant pigs kept in barren, concrete pens without any enrichment; several heavily scarred pigs and all pigs tail-docked.
"Two dead pigs were also left out in the farm yard overnight, an imprisonable violation of legislation governing disposal of dead stock."
In October of this year, investigators also visited Cross Farm in Devon, owned by W J Watkins & Sons - National Pig Award winners in 2016 and 2017 - after a tip-off about poor conditions.
A spokesperson says: "Investigators found pigs living in leaking, dilapidated buildings covered in slurry and forced to lie in their own waste; two pigs with large hernias left in pens with other pigs; pregnant pigs kept in barren, concrete pens without any enrichment, and all pigs tail-docked."
A tip-off also led to investigators visiting Grange Farm in Lincolnshire, where they found a decomposing dead piglet left in a pen with its mother and siblings, young pigs kept in barren, tiny pens barely bigger than a bath tub, and all pigs tail-docked.
Protected... on paper
Pigs are the most protected farmed animals in Britain - on paper.
UK law prohibits caging pigs in tiny sow stalls, routine mutilations like tail docking and keeping pigs in barren pens that deny their natural behaviors.
Yet this investigation shows these prohibited practices are still happening on British farms.
According to Professor Bo Algers, an expert on EU pig welfare legislation based at the Swedish University for Agricultural Sciences, who reviewed footage from all four farms: "The pigs shown are not kept in accordance with the current animal welfare regulations.
"Pigs, kept under conditions such as those shown on the videos, do not have an acceptable level of welfare.”
Dr. Toni Shephard, UK Director of Animal Equality, added: "Consumers are constantly told to ‘Buy British’ for higher welfare, yet laws governing pig welfare - some nearly two decades old - are routinely ignored and neither the government, retailers nor Red Tractor are doing enough to enforce them.
"This flagrant cruelty cannot be allowed to continue. We are demanding immediate action from those responsible for protecting pigs from the most extreme practices of factory farming."
Animal Equality has sent a dossier of footage, photographs, and written evidence to the Animal and Plant Health Agency, which is charged with investigating on-farm welfare violations.
It will be demanding ‘long overdue action on pig farms who fail even to adhere to the limited protections that the law demands’.
Evidence has also been sent to Red Tractor, which certifies all four farms.
A spokesman for Red Tractor told The Times newspaper that as soon as it received this evidence from Animal Equality, it ordered inspections on all four farms.
They added: "All of the farms in question are now subject to a programme of unannounced spot checks."
Hall Farm was 'briefly suspended' by Red Tractor - but this suspension was lifted after cages where checked by an auditor who said that 'the sows could enter and leave of their own volition'.