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Frequently asked questions

Surely this type of farming can’t be legal?

Factory farming isn’t just legal; it is sanctioned and protected by our Government and the meat industry itself. Intensive farming operates on the principle of saving money by cutting corners and cramming as many animals into the smallest amount of space possible. This is how meat is kept cheap.

Trapping mothering sows in crates so small she can’t even turn around for five weeks at a time is legal. It is also something that around 70 per cent of British sows endure around twice a year (for a week before she gives birth and around four weeks afterwards). It shouldn’t be confused with the sow stall (an almost identical crate where a sow is kept throughout her pregnancy), which was banned in Britain in 1999.

The natural instincts of pigs are cruelly ignored on Britain’s factory farms. Although guidelines suggest that they should be given manipulable materials (such as straw or peat) to satisfy rooting behaviours, farmers only have to include a chain or a football in otherwise barren conditions to satisfy the word of British law.

Pigs are highly intelligent animals yet are driven to abnormal behaviours, such as tail biting other pigs, by boredom from the unnatural conditions they are kept in. The industry’s answer is to cut off their tails to try and prevent the very behaviour they created (tail biting problems are almost unheard of in the wild). Many piglets also have their back teeth cut out with pliers in an attempt to stop injuries to a mothering sow’s teats. However, again this is only because she is unable get away from her piglets because she is held in the farrowing crate. Although the Government claims that piglet mutilations are not routine in Britain, 80 per cent of British piglets are mutilated each year – and most without any pain relief. We have filmed it happening on British farms. These mutilations involve handling stress, immediate and in some cases long lasting pain.

One of the owners of Poplar Farm (where we filmed piglets in battery cages) even boasted that they had been given the all clear, saying that they had been visited by a government vet, local authority officials and an assurance assessor. She said: “Everything was found to comply with legislation.” In other words, keeping piglets in cages in Britain is cruel and unusual, but seemingly breaks no laws. So much for legal protection.

I thought we had the best farmed animal welfare in the world?

That’s what they keeping telling us. Only problem is that it’s not actually true. Did you know that many other countries in Europe actually have higher farmed animal welfare than Britain? Other countries in Europe have already banned piglet mutilations (Sweden, for instance, already prevents tail docking)  or have commitments to do so in the future. Despite the British pig industry routinely suggesting that British welfare standards are the best in the world, other comparable countries have already banned or limited the use of farrowing crates including Sweden, Norway and Switzerland. Denmark and the Netherlands are actively developing systems that don’t use restrictive crates.

The EU, Canada and other nations have also banned the sow stall (or gestation crate) – the UK is not unique in this!

However, just because countries have higher welfare that Britain we should not presume that there are not major problems in those systems. The answer is to not buy into cruelty, but to go kind.

Why not report these farms to the authorities?

We do, but rarely anything happens. We reported the findings our latest two pig farm investigations to the government’s Animal Health Office in both areas. We detailed where we believed the law was being broken. We sent in photos and footage and offered to co-operate with them in any prosecution or at least provide extra details. To date we have had no word from the authorities. Not even an acknowledgement. It is also worth considering that many of the worst factory farming practices (farrowing crates, piglet mutilation, forced impregnation) are entirely legal.

Recently we wrote to government department DEFRA to ask them how many prosecutions there had been for farmed animal cruelty in the past 12 months in Britain? The answer came back that they had no idea. Which means that central government, who are the nation’s decision and law makers, have absolutely no idea if existing laws to protect farmed animals are working because they don’t collate or record that data. In reality, British farmed animals have practically no enforced legal protection and prosecutions are rare to non-existent.

The RSPCA announced recently that they were going to take a step back from their role as prosecutor in some animal cruelty cases. Whilst they have said that they may potentially step in if the authorities decline to prosecute farmed animal cases they will routinely pass cases to – you guessed it – those very authorities who very rarely prosecute.

Don’t supermarkets and Assurance schemes ensure good welfare?

Poplar Farm is Red Tractor approved and supplies Morrisons. Consumers are constantly told that ‘You can Trust the Tractor’. We proved that quite the opposite was true. Following our exposé, and the staggering reactions from the public and Morrisons’ own customers, both the supermarket and Red Tractor fell over themselves to condemn the use of piglet cages. They said that the cages had been removed with immediate effect after they ‘stepped in’. However, both repeatedly dodged the question asking why they hadn’t known about them in the first place? Assurance schemes are in practice a consumer confidence trick. They rarely offer anything above and beyond minimum legal guidelines – and sometimes they fail to do even that.

I hate factory farming. That’s why I only buy organic, outdoor bred, free range or from my local butcher. Surely that’s better?

Many welfare labels can be misleading. Just because meat from a pig is marked ‘outdoor bred’ or even ‘outdoor reared’ does not mean that pig lived his or her whole life outside. Indeed, almost all pigs born this way will be moved indoors at some point. Only 1 per cent of British pigs spend their whole lives outdoors.

General welfare standards on organic farms tend to be higher; however that isn’t the whole story. Piglet mortality is around 10 per cent higher on organic farms. In practice, organic farming is more about taking steps to protect the consumer rather than the animal her or himself. Drug use on organic pig farms is lower than intensive ones. This paradoxically could mean that pigs may, in some circumstances, suffer more through lack of effective or timely treatment.

Buying from a local butcher guarantees nothing in the way of animal welfare. Just because a farm is local does not make it good. Some of the worst pig welfare we have seen has been on smaller farms. Poplar Farm, where we filmed piglets in cages, sells meat at its own farm shop and at local farmers markets.

Of course, ultimately, even if you can provide a pig a good life it certainly won’t be a long one. All pigs farmed for meat end their short lives in the terror and cacophony of the slaughterhouse. They are only kept alive as long as it is profitable to do so. British pigs are killed at around 6 months regardless of whether they are from organic or intensive farms (their natural lifespan is up to 20 years old). And then there is the moral question , as we are healthier without eating meat, is it ethical to take lives needlessly

I love my bacon – it can’t be that bad for me can it?

Viva! have been warning people about the harmful health effects of red and processed meat for years but now it’s official. Processed meats such as bacon, sausages and ham, do cause cancer says the World Health Organisation (WHO). They also say that red meat (pork, beef and lamb) probably cause cancer too. Organic meat is no different!

WHO announced in 2015 that eating just 50 grams of processed meat (less than two slices of bacon) a day increases the risk of bowel cancer by 18 per cent. They also found an increase of 100g of red meat a day increases the risk of bowel cancer by 17 per cent. They also found links between red meat and pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer, and processed meat and stomach cancer.

This breaking news came just two days after Viva!’s shocking footage revealed pigs crammed into tiny cages at a Red Tractor approved farm that supplies Morrisons supermarket.

The saturated fat in fatty cuts of meat is also linked to heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and many other diseases. Vegans are healthier and people are beginning to sit up and take notice. Those on a plant-based diet weigh less, have lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and rates of type 2 diabetes than meat-eaters. A diet free of animal products can reduce the risk of heart disease by a third. A large study from the University of Oxford found that those who drop meat from their diets have a 32 per cent lower risk of hospitalisation or death from cardiovascular disease than people who eat meat.  

But surely everyone eats red meat?

Actually, no! Brits are dumping meat at an ever growing rate. The long term trend is ever downwards. Since 2007, annual pig meat consumption decreased in Britain by 114,000 tonnes (down by around 8 per cent). This reduction is actually even larger once you take into account population growth. Overall, recent official data from Defra shows UK meat consumption has fallen overall by 13 per cent since 2007.

If you make the switch you’ll be joining the ever growing number of Brits that are! 12 per cent of UK adults are now following a vegetarian or vegan diet, rising to 20 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds.

What about other types of British meat?

Other animals raised for meat in the UK hardly have it any better than pigs.

The most killed animal in Britain is the chicken. Almost all are factory farmed; living on top of their own excreta, with many suffering from painful leg problems and burns from the ammonia soaked floor. They are slaughtered at just six weeks old. Eating chicken is also bad for us, with a medium-sized chicken contains almost a pint of fat73 per cent of British chickens are infected with campylobacter (a sometimes deadly bug that makes 280,000 Brits ill every year).

Most ducks are factory farmed and are cruelly denied water to swim in. They are killed at just seven weeks. A million lambs die on British farms each year because of hypothermiaThe seas are being emptied of fish and populations are crashing. Going vegan means you are part of the solution and no longer part of the problem.

Read more about the different species of animals consumed in the UK.

OK, I get not eating meat, but what’s wrong with dairy and eggs?

Going vegetarian saves lives. There’s no doubt about it. However, there’s a hidden cost to our consumption of dairy and eggs, too.

British dairy cows are kept in a cycle of near constant pregnancy and lactation (meaning huge stress, often leading to disease). They repeatedly have their babies taken away from them (so people can drink their milk). Around 100,000 male dairy calves are shot in the head a few days after birth as they can’t produce milk and are not profitable enough for beef. There are also the considerable health risks associated with consuming dairy to consider, such as increased risks of certain cancers, diabetes, asthma, osteoporosis, heart disease and inflammatory bowel disease.

Egg laying chickens are no better off. We know because we’ve filmed it all. The battery cage has just been replaced by a bigger cage – and free-range production is falling in Britain. However, free-range is really little better as it is mostly highly industrialised and many birds never leave the sheds. Most hens have the tips of their beaks cut off and are killed at around just 72 weeks as soon as their productivity drops. As with the dairy industry, there is little commercial use for the males (as they are too skinny to be profitable). On British hatcheries each year between 30-40 million day old chicks are gassed or minced up alive.

What can I do?

We can’t rely on Government, or increasingly poorly funded local authorities, to protect farmed animals. As consumers we need to take the matter into our own hands. If you want to prevent animal suffering, are concerned about climate change, want to avoid preventable diseases and secure a future for generations to come there is one easy step you can take – stop eating meat – and stick with it! The best way to do that is to go vegan – or at least take steps in that direction.

What can I eat instead?

Thankfully, it has never been easier to switch to a kinder vegan diet. There are vegan versions of sausages, bacon, pepperoni – you name it! Many of these are available at your local supermarket or health store. Check out Viva!’s handy L Plate Vegan for tasty alternatives. There are hundreds of recipes at www.veganrecipeclub.org.uk

OK, you’ve convinced me. How do I do it?

Viva! can offer all the free help you’ll ever need. Thousands of people have taken part in our 30 Day Vegan – where you can try living vegan for a month with recipes and tips on shopping, health and much more. Why not try it today? We also have a beautiful recipe book showing you how to cook kind (with all UK measurements). Also, why not check out places to eat vegan near you in our online directory My Vegan Town.

10 million pigs killed

in the UK each year equates to:

833,333 per month
192,308 per week
27,397 per day
1,142 per hour
19 per minute