By Justin Kerswell, Campaigns Manager and Deputy Director of Viva!
Viva!’s concerns about illegal mutilations buried to protect farming industry
Whenever we go undercover to expose animal abuse, one of the questions we are often asked by supporters is whether we have reported our findings to the authorities and what they are doing about them? There is a widespread misconception that farmed animals are protected from suffering and the laws in place are up to the job. In reality, that simply isn’t true.
However, admittedly there are some laws to protect farmed animals. Whenever we suspect that one has been broken we report our findings to the appropriate authorities so they can investigate and hopefully bring those responsible to justice. What could possibly go wrong with that? Recently we found out when we were essentially told that protecting animals was a waste of time and money.
You may remember that over two years ago our undercover team filmed on a dairy goat farm that supplied Delamere Dairies (who in turn supplied many of Britain’s leading supermarkets). We found disease, corpses and castration of young male goats without anaesthetic. This was all bad enough, but we also filmed goats having their horn buds burnt off by farm workers, again without any pain relief. The law is very clear on this: this painful procedure can only be done by a qualified veterinary surgeon and anaesthetic should be given. In other words, there was a powerful case that this farm was routinely breaking the law – and who knew for how long?
Dutifully we reported our concerns along with footage and logs. Initially, the response we got from the authorities was encouraging: they too were concerned about the potential illegality of this practice and suffering it caused. Then we heard nothing. Repeated requests for information from Staffordshire Animal Health (a government department) were met with a standard reply that it was an ongoing investigation and they could not comment further. Then they simply stopped replying to us at all.
After two years of waiting we’d had enough and sent Staffordshire County Council a Freedom of Information request. We’d filmed baby goats screaming in pain as a blistering hot iron was twice forced onto their heads. Why on earth was this investigation taking so long and were these animals still suffering in this way?
This forced their hand and, after prevaricating and dithering for several weeks, the council eventually sent us a letter admitting that there had been no prosecution for animal cruelty despite being given footage showing evident suffering and the law being broken. Those taking part had been let off with a caution – which itself was an admittance what they did was wrong. However, the council has told us that they will not release the reasoning for this partly because of commercial sensitivities. In other words, protecting the dairy goat industry in Staffordshire is seemingly more important than enforcing one of the few laws that actually protect farmed animals.
The council letter said that a senior animal health official and the farm’s vet gave them the all clear after not observing any illegal activity, or cause for concern, during a visit. On the surface this sounds positive, but who on earth is going to break the law in front of officials during an official visit? The man who owned the farm told the Daily Mail, when they covered the story, that he didn’t employ a vet to do the disbudding because it cost too much money. In other words it’s one rule for livestock farmers and seemingly one rule for everyone else. Although we can’t be certain for sure, it is reasonable to assume that on a farm that had 1,800 goats at any one time that these mutilations were commonplace and carried out not by the farm’s vet but by unqualified staff (as our footage shows). If so, why did the vet not stop this happening?
Ultimately, this opens up more difficult questions for the UK dairy goat industry on a national level. If this farmer couldn’t afford a vet to come in to disbud all of his goats what happens on the UK’s other large intensive goat farms?
The UK goat’s cheese sector still sells itself as a cottage industry. It is not. The majority of it is now highly intensive, with goats kept indoors the whole time. In other words, zero-grazing is already here. Of course, that’s not how it is sold to consumers – with packaging designed to conjur up mental images of a pastoral, low scale type of farming that hasn’t really existed for decades (if it ever really existed ever at all).
Watch the Viva! investigation into the British dairy goat industry
Many people continue to consume meat , eggs and dairy products because they continue to believe the myth of high animal welfare standards on British farms. They also believe that animal cruelty violations will always be prosecuted and farmed animals have a high level of protection under British law. Most farmed animal welfare guidelines are just that – guidelines not enforceable by law.
Sadly, often what we film – however horrific – is not breaking the law. Factory farming is not illegal in Britain. Cramming sows into farrowing crates little bigger than their own bodies is not illegal. Cutting the tails and teeth off piglets without anaesthetic is not illegal. Keeping thousands of ducks inside sheds with no access to water apart from drips to drink is not illegal. Each year, grinding up tens of millions of male chicks alive for the egg industry is not illegal. Shooting male dairy calves in the head at a day or two old because they are the wrong sex to produce milk is not illegal. The list of routine abuses of farmed animals in the name of producing meat, eggs and milk in Britain today is endless – and we’ve filmed much of it undercover. However, all of this routine abuse is sanctioned by the Government. Those industries simply couldn’t exist on the scale they do without the law allowing it.
Still, when a prosecution is not forthcoming, even when the law has been broken, you must ask yourself what protection do these animals really have? The answer is very little indeed. However, there is a way to protect farmed animals from this abuse – both of the legal and illegal kind – and it has nothing to do with relying on ineffective government bodies or useless animal protection guidelines and that is to take personal responsibility by not supporting these industries by buying from them.
If you care about animals don’t rely on someone else to protect them. The best decision you can make to help end the suffering of animals is to stop eating them and products they produce, such as eggs and dairy. It has never been easier to go vegan. Why not try our free 30 Day Vegan programme? Find out more: www.viva.org.uk /30dayvegan.
What else can you do?