Justice for all... unless you’re a pig
Justice for all... unless you’re a pigby Justin Kerswell, Campaigns Director
The question we get asked most often after
one of our undercover investigations hits the national media is:
‘what are the authorities going to do about it?’
The short answer may shock you – they invariably do precisely nothing.
Recently, I wrote to government department Defra to ask how many prosecutions there had been for farmed animal cruelty in the past 12 months? ‘We have no idea’ was the answer that came back.
Central government, the nation’s decision and law makers, have absolutely no idea if existing laws to protect animals are working because they don’t collate or record that data. Just a simple oversight? Sadly not!
British farmed animals have almost no legal protection that can be enforced and prosecutions are rare to non-existent. It appears the government likes it this way. Prosecutions cost money and this, combined with a lack of laws, benefits corporate factory farmers who would otherwise be permanently in court. So, whilst politicians claim Britain has the best animal welfare in the world, farmed animals are failed by the system every step of the way. Industrial agriculture and government clearly collude to ensure this is so. The government routinely claims that farmed animal welfare is robustly protected by its Codes of Recommendations for each species. Farmers supposedly need to be aware of what these codes say but are able to ignore most of them because they are not legally binding. Whilst the codes do include some laws, they are so loosely termed as to be meaningless. It seems that as long as you ensure a farmed animal has sustenance, they have little other protection.
Even when a law is broken it doesn’t guarantee prosecution. A few years back, our undercover investigators filmed the painful, illegal disbudding of baby goats without anaesthetic at a farm in Staffordshire that supplied Delamere Dairies. The farmer himself admitted he was operating outside the legal guidelines but received no more than a slapped wrist from the authorities. They don’t act because it would open up almost every farm in Britain to prosecution.
Recently, we filmed shocking scenes of suffering on two pig farms. Poplar Farm, near Hull, confined piglets in cages while at Necton Hall Farm, we filmed cannibalism and an almost complete absence of environmental enrichment – the very thing that encourages this unnatural act.
On both farms we saw sows confined in restrictive ‘rape racks’ awaiting insemination – cages almost no bigger than their bodies. The law says they should only be kept like this for a few hours but our investigators filmed them in the early morning and it appears that they had been left like this overnight.
We reported our findings at both farms to the relevant local Animal Health authorities. We detailed where we believed the law was being broken, sent photos and footage and offered to provide extra details and co-operate with prosecution. And then we waited. The silence was deafening. To date we have had no word from them, not even an acknowledgement.
We know that they launched an investigation because the Daily Mail, who ran our exposé on the battery piglets, received confirmation of it. How serious is an investigation that has absolutely no interest in talking to the people who made the complaint and backed it up with powerful evidence of cruelty?
One of the owners of Poplar Farm 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 scheme assessor. She boasted: “Everything was found to comply with legislation.” In other words, keeping piglets in cages in Britain, although cruel and unusual, breaks no laws. So much for legal protection!
However, it isn’t just the authorities who repeatedly fail farmed animals. What of the much-promoted assurance schemes? 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 outraged reactions from both 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’. Both repeatedly dodged the question as to why they hadn’t known about them in the first place.
Assurance schemes are little more than a consumer confidence trick. They rarely offer anything above and beyond minimum legal guidelines and even they seem to be ignored. Were the Red Tractor scheme assessors blind on the day they visited – or did they visit at all? We also often get asked about the involvement of the RSPCA. In the case of Poplar Farm they did condemn the cages. Dermot Murphy, assistant director, said that the cages “… represent the worst systems in which to keep pigs.” Yes, the very same cages that had been given the stamp of approval by those who claim to protect the welfare of farmed animals. And the RSPCA did not prosecute.
So, legal protection of farmed animals in the UK is bad – but it just got worse. In December last year, the RSPCA announced they were no longer going to prosecute illegal hunting and animal cruelty cases but will in future simply pass cases to – you guessed it – those very authorities who very rarely prosecute. Whilst they have said that they may potentially step in if the authorities decline to prosecute farmed animal cases, I wouldn’t hold your breath. The situation is likely to get even worse as cuts to local government budgets deepen.
The worst excesses of factory farming, from restrictive farrowing crates to chopped off piglets tails to gassing day-old male chicks, is completely legal. In fact, factory farming could not thrive without the confinement, mutilation and premature deaths of hundreds of millions farmed animals. There is little point alerting the authorities to the everyday horrors of intensive farming as they can’t do anything about them even if they want to. Forget about transgressions of the official recommendations, nothing appears to happen when laws – few as they are – are broken.
It’s a sobering thought that even if all these claims of high animal welfare were true, the poor creatures would still end up facing the horror of the slaughterhouse. Neither national or local authorities have any interest in really protecting animals but they do have one champion and that is you. Animals are cynically failed at every turn but you can end your role in any suffering.
Our campaigns are hitting home and millions of people are no longer supporting the systems that monstrously fail animals. If you haven’t done so already, please think about joining them.
FIND OUT MORE: www.viva.org.uk/faceoff