Locavore

Farms not factories: campaigning for an end to cruel pig production

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Tracy Worcester with Peter Gott’s boar

In a guest column for Locavore, Tracy Worcester, founder of Farms Not Factories, explains why she started campaigning for high welfare pig farming and how by using the power of the purse we can close down inhumane and dangerous factory farms.

 

I was raised in the countryside near farmers who took pride in traditional skills inherited from their forefathers who had tilled the same land for generations. They cared for their animals, ensured they had good, comfortable lives, some even gave them names. There was a natural symbiosis between the farmer, the animals and the land.

But by the time I had my own children, food production had already become part of the same industrial system that produces cars, fridges or toasters. Profit not health or welfare – for humans or animals – now dictates food production. Cheap meat floods our supermarket shelves but at what price?

I’ve been an environmentalist since having kids awoke a dormant survival gene. My focus on food production – particularly pigs – happened coincidentally when I was producing a documentary series for BBC World about the true costs of ‘progress’. A campaigner from the Animal Welfare Institute invited me to Poland to visit a pig factory owned by the giant American pork producer Smithfield Foods. Now Chinese owned, Smithfield Foods is the largest meat producing and processing company in the world and, at the time, it was using Poland to get a foot-hold to dominate the European market. Unable to gain permission to see inside the factory, we filmed secretly with a hand-held camera, clambering over razor wire fences to film through broken ventilation shafts and exposed windows.

In factory farms, sows are often packed into pens with no room to turn, no bedding nor sunlight and no social interaction.

In one shed, thousands of pigs were crammed together in tight pens on barren concrete floors. Snorting and squealing in distress, some had gnawed on the steel bars until their gums were bleeding.  The smell of biodegrading feces was indescribable. Another shed contained row upon row of lactating sows in crates so small they couldn’t turn around. Following the flies to a large plastic bin in the yard, we found piles of dead pigs and piglets that could not survive the overcrowded, contagious conditions.

What I saw was so appalling that I vowed to put all my time and resources into informing the British public about this barbaric system and galvanising a consumer movement to protect our higher welfare  farming methods…

What I saw was so appalling that I vowed to put all my time and resources into informing the British public about this barbaric system and galvanising a consumer movement to protect our higher welfare  farming methods, by shunning  low welfare pork from across our borders, detectable by the lack of welfare label on the packet. By only buying high welfare pork we would use the power of our purse to prevent factory farms springing up in our country. My organisation Farms Not Factories was born.

Smithfield Foods “raises” around fifteen million pigs a year in similar conditions in the US, Europe and Mexico. Their metal barns known as CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) contain tens of thousands of pigs crammed together in confined spaces. The floors are slatted, allowing waste to be flushed into 30-feet-deep pits the size of two football fields, referred to within the industry as lagoons. The lagoons contain a mixture of water, excrement, urine, blood, drugs and other chemicals which is sprayed on the fields as fertiliser – the sheer quantity of it causing water and air pollution.

Although no creature on earth should be kept in such cramped conditions for our consumption, it is all the more heartbreaking to realize how intelligent and sensitive pigs are. Studies in the Nineties showed pigs to be quick learners able to respond to commands much like dogs and perform tasks previously only given to chimpanzees.

I kept pigs for a while and they are charming creatures. Social, affectionate, inquisitive and, contrary to the stereotype, very clean. Their snouts, designed to find food and used to greet other pigs also sniff out human carers, and are incredibly responsive to stimuli. In the wild, pigs form stable family units led by a matriarch, much like elephant social structures, and, as with most mammals, there is a strong bond between a mother and her piglets.

Helen Browning, Chief Executive of the Soil Association, takes a nap with her pigs.

No wonder then that pigs held in cramped and tiny stalls on bare concrete in confined spaces become so stressed. In some cases, they turn on each other biting each other’s tales and cannibalising their dead and dying companions. A butcher will tell you that a pig with an intact tail reveals that it had a good life yet the organisation Compassion in World Farming estimates that 88% of pork sold in British supermarkets come from tail-docked pigs which means they’ve had their tail removed to prevent tail biting due to their  overcrowded, stressful conditions.

The fact is that the Great British Bacon Butty is often not British at all. Some 54% of our pork is imported – mostly from pig factories in Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands. Some might come from as far as Chile where I filmed the local people’s successful battle to close the world’s biggest, a 2.5 million pig factory.

The fact is that the Great British Bacon Butty is often not British at all. Some 54% of our pork is imported – mostly from pig factories in Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands. Some might come from as far as Chile where I filmed the local people’s successful battle to close the world’s biggest, a 2.5 million pig factory.

These cheap imports undermine British farmers who, with higher welfare standards than our European partners, cannot compete. The Red Tractor Assurance label, guarantees that pigs have been raised in the UK and to minimum UK legal welfare standards. Although this means no sow stalls for pregnant pigs (which are still allowed for a month in every pregnancy in most other EU countries), UK sows can be kept for up to five weeks in a narrow steel farrowing crate while they suckle their litters. This, frankly, is not good enough.

Though Red Tractor is not a guarantee of good welfare, it is no fault of the farmer. To stay in business, they shove ever more pigs into their sheds and stop providing the pigs with bedding, keeping them on bare concrete. According to Compassion in World Farming, 35% of British fattening pigs are given no straw or any other suitable material and are often overcrowded – adding to the numbers of tail-docked pigs at our supermarkets.

We could impose tariff barriers to cheaper imports as suggested by David Cameron at the Oxford Farming conference in 2007 when leader of the Conservative party and included in my film Pig Business. He said “Just as we don’t import cars that have lower emission standards than we allow in this country nor should we import meat with lower animal welfare standards.” When Prime Minister, I asked him why nothing has been done and he replied that we should be giving Africa the opportunity of earning money by supplying our food! So, global trade is the mantra which is dutifully followed by the National Farmers Union and National Pig Association who want the UK to scale up to compete with the intensive pig husbandry systems from abroad.

In 2010 they backed a move by Midland Pig Producers (MPP) to build a US-style mega pig factory near the heritage town of Foston in South Derbyshire. Planned to be built on a 30-acre greenfield site, the factory would have confined a total of 25,000 pigs, 100 metres from a home and 150 metres from a women’s prison. For four years, we supported a grassroots local action group fighting against planning permission. Despite  MPP’s rhetoric of a few animal welfare  improvements, opposition to the factory flooded in from around the country. After initially refusing a planning permit in 2015 due to its potential negative effect on local people’s health and the environment, the Environment Agency caved and provided MPP with a permit on appeal at the end of 2016, albeit with a number of stringent conditions. MPP are now deliberating over whether to put in a new planning application. We, local villagers, NGOs and 30,000 concerned citizens will be after them if they dare.

Animal factories are not only abusive to animals; they also pose a serious risk to human health. Workers in factory farms are sickened by the noxious fumes emitted by biodegrading waste; local people suffer as feces and other waste is sprayed on fields and leaches into local lakes and streams and other watercourses. Excess nitrogen and phosphate cause algae blooms and fish kills.

Even more alarming than all of the above is the overuse of antibiotics in a factory system. Keeping animals in such unnatural, crowded and unhygienic conditions promotes disease so factory pigs are given routine doses of antibiotics just to keep them alive long enough to get them to slaughter.

Even more alarming than all of the above is the overuse of antibiotics in a factory system. Keeping animals in such unnatural, crowded and unhygienic conditions promotes disease so factory pigs are given routine doses of antibiotics just to keep them alive long enough to get them to slaughter.

Even as doctors and hospitals are reducing antibiotic use, alarmed at increasing resistance, the use by factory farms is increasing. In many EU countries more antibiotics are given to healthy factory animals as disease prevention than to sick people; in the UK 45% of antibiotics sold are to treat animals and in the US over 80% of all antibiotics are used by agribusiness. All this over-use of livestock antibiotics is fuelling the proliferation of antibiotic resistant bacteria helping to make some human diseases more and more difficult to treat. Doctors are warning that we could be seeing the end of antibiotics as a cure for human diseases. Hailed as a miracle cure for some 75 years, we could be undoing the greatest achievement in modern medicine.

Harry Boglione with his pigs. Harry, who supplies high welfare pork for chef Damian Clisby at Petersham Nurseries, says: “I am yet to give a pig antibiotics. They’re incredibly resilient creatures, so if you’ve got to give them antibiotics, you are doing something incredibly wrong.”

However, there is some good news. Since I started making films, in 2005, we have seen a huge evolution in lifestyle habits. People want to know where their food comes from; the horsemeat scandal in 2013 also woke people up to the corruption inherent in long food chains in this centralised system of production, processing, distribution and retailing. The movements in slow food, local and organic, vegetarian and vegan have grown exponentially.

Recently, the US fast food giant Chipotle began sourcing almost all its high welfare pork from the UK and UK consumers are beginning to seek out higher welfare labels.

Our 2016 campaign, endorsed by some deeply concerned and passionate celebrities, like Rupert Everett, Dominic West, Vivienne Westwood, Jon Snow and Miranda Richardson, has touched millions of people around the country. We asked them to take a selfie with their nose turned up, hashtag it #TurnYourNoseUp and post it on line where they can watch celebrity-led films about the horrors of animal factories. The message to viewers is to only buy pork with the labels RSPCA Assured, Outdoor Bred, Free Range or Organic.

We have just launched our new video series ‘Rooting For Real Farms’ connecting top chefs, such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Mark Hix, and the high welfare farmers who provide them with pork. Each video features a chef preparing a delicious pork dish while describing the significant difference in taste, texture and conscience between high welfare and factory produced pork. The farmers describe the benefits of raising happy pigs in spacious outdoor or deep straw conditions, as opposed to intensive units where pigs are crammed into barren concrete cells.

Every single one of us has the power to change the system. It is the power of the consumer that persuaded UK McDonalds and Prêt a Manger to only serve cage free eggs, RSPCA Assured pork and organic milk; it is the power of the consumer that has, so far, prevented GMOs from being grown in this country. We do have choices and when we exercise that choice we can shift an entire industry.

Every single one of us has the power to change the system. It is the power of the consumer that persuaded UK McDonalds and Prêt a Manger to only serve cage free eggs, RSPCA Assured pork and organic milk; it is the power of the consumer that has, so far, prevented GMOs from being grown in this country. We do have choices and when we exercise that choice we can shift an entire industry.

Each time we buy pork we vote for the system that produced it. Vote for pigs to have a good and healthy life by buying the bacon for your Great British Bacon Butty from a  real British farm and not a factory by looking for the labels RSPCA, Outdoor Bred, Free Range and best of all Organic.

Written by Tracy Worcester
Farms Not Factories

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Stay in touch with Locavore!