Viva! exposes scandal of the Red Tractor ‘battery cage’ piglets | Viva! - The Vegan Charity

Viva! exposes scandal of the Red Tractor ‘battery cage’ piglets

Release date: 
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Release date: 
Friday, October 23, 2015

- Horrific scenes filmed on farm belonging to scheme outside Hull
- Farm supplies Morrisons supermarkets
- Trading Standards have confirmed that they are investigating

A rough cut of footage is available to view here:

VEGAN ORGANISATION VIVA! has released legally obtained undercover footage taken over two nights revealing what the groups says is suffering on a massive scale and potential illegality (1)(3). The group says that it will be major embarrassment for Morrisons and the Red Tractor scheme which has recently launched a major initiative to persuade people to ‘trust the tractor’ (2).

The shocking footage legally obtained in August and September this year shows hundreds of weaned piglets crammed into tiny group cages reminiscent of the battery cages for chickens (3). Battery cages for hens were banned in 2012. The pig cages are stacked three high and appear to be so insecure that on both nights piglets had fallen to the concrete floor.

Scandal of the battery farm piglets

Piglets in cages

Some piglets had seemingly fallen from the cages onto the floor.

Elsewhere on the farm, sows covered in flies are filmed kept in tiny impregnation cages so small that they can’t turn around. They may have been held there for longer than Government legislation allows (4).

Sows incarcerated in insemination crates.

The farm supplies East Riding Country Pork, which runs its own farm shop and regularly holds stalls at farmer’s markets in the local area – as well as boasting of supplying Morrison’s supermarket. The company also boasts of adhering to, and being supervised by, the Red Tractor Scheme (also known as ABM (Assured British Meat Scheme)). The company claims that none of its pigs are allowed outside because the soil is not suitable.

Elsewhere the footage shows sows in restrictive farrowing crates, dead and dying piglets, piglets with tail docking (a mutilation not meant to be carried out routinely), and scant environmental enrichment. Also, pigs on filthy faeces-smeared floors and an infestation of flies.

This sow couldn't even reach her dying piglet.

Sows in restrictive farrowing crates

Viva! has passed on the footage and their concerns to the local animal health office and they have confirmed that they are investigating.

Justin Kerswell, Viva!’s Campaigns Manager, says: “Consumers have been told to trust the tractor, but I think they will be shocked by the conditions we found at a farm claiming to adhere to the scheme. Few could be unmoved at seeing barely weaned piglets trapped in tiny wire cages one on top of another. Piglets are fun loving and intelligent, yet in this hell hole the only attempt made at enriching their environment is a metal chain hanging down in a metal cage. If the farm were keeping hens in cages like this they would be breaking the law. Why is it acceptable to keep piglets this way? The answer, of course, is that it isn’t.

“Even worse, the cages were seemingly so decrepit that piglets had forced their way out and fallen onto the concrete floor to fend for themselves. It was not an isolated incident. Escaped piglets were filmed on both visits.

“Elsewhere on the farm were dead and dying piglets. Sows trapped in metal crates little bigger than their own bodies and packed so tight they couldn’t even turn around or properly mother their babies. And sows held and caged in the insemination room; dejected and covered in flies. There is a myth that Britain has the highest animal welfare in the world. Viva! says don’t believe the hype.”

“Consumers have seemingly been hoodwinked into believing that meat they buy from the Red Tractor scheme or from farmer’s markets is somehow more welfare friendly. This footage shows it is anything but. British pig farming stinks and much of what was shot simply shows how most pigs live short degrading lives on factory farms in the UK. Don’t like what you see? Don’t be part of it and go vegan.”

ENDS information: 


(1) Footage was taken on 19 August and 2 September 2015. Filmed at Poplar Farm, Rimswell, Withernsea, North Humberside, HU19 2BZ. Strict biosecurity measures were adhered to and access was gained through open doors. GPS and electronic map evidence to prove the location of the filming was obtained. The footage has been released by Viva! Campaigns Ltd.

Poplar Pig Farm is owned by P S Kirkwood Farmer – who also operates East Riding Country Pork. East Riding County Pork is registered at Poplar Farm at Companies House. Farmer Peter Kirkwood discusses his family business on this link.

(2) The company boasts on their website: "Our pigs are bred and reared to the highest welfare standards as supervised by the ABM (Assured British Meat Scheme) otherwise known as ‘the little red tractor’."

East Riding Country Pork claims that they supply Morrisons via Tweets on their website.

Angela Kirkwood told The Yorkshire Post in August 2014: “Our pigs are housed in a welfare friendly environment, which meets the highest production standards as outlined by Red Tractor Assurance.”

Red Tractor Standards say: “The Red Tractor logo confirms that our independent assessors have checked food or drink meets our comprehensive standards, from farms to fork”.

“We know it is important to you that farmers protect the health and welfare of animals. Our standards make sure that our farmers are competent to look after animals, understand their needs and that the animal’s health and welfare is regularly checked. The Red Tractor logo means that animals have adequate space, and safe and comfortable housing or shelter.”

The Red Tractor scheme has launched a major seven week initiative to get consumers to ‘Trust the tractor’ and has the backing of farming minister George Eustice.

(3) Potential illegality and non-compliance with Red Tractor Guidelines

DEFRA pig guidelines

Pig farming: welfare regulations (overview)

Welfare Rules which apply to all Pig Holdings from 1 January 2013

Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Pigs


Red Tractor / ABM (Assured British Meat Scheme) Guidelines

Piglets in cages: The footage shows weaned piglets kept in small wire cages that have been stacked three on top of each other in at least two separate rooms. The only ‘environmental enrichment’ observed is a chain hanging down (this may satisfy the law, but Viva! believes would do little to stimulate the piglets). It is currently unclear whether such ‘battery cages’ for piglets are currently legal in the United Kingdom. However, Viva! believes that consumers will be shocked to hear that weaner piglets are farmed in this way in Britain under the Red Tractor scheme. Red Tractor Assurance standards dictate that “Housing must be constructed and maintained to provide a safe environment for livestock” (HF.a) – specifically: “Housing securely contains livestock” (the footage shows on both occasions that piglets have escaped cages and fallen to the concrete floor).

(4) Sows in impregnation cages: The footage taken on the second night shows approximately 25 sows in cages either awaiting or post impregnation (boars were kept in straw barns opposite). It is unclear how long the sows had been here, but the footage was obtained at around 3am. This might suggest that the sows had been left overnight.

Length of time sows were kept in cages.

"90: You should keep the sows in their groups until insemination, at which time they can be moved to an appropriate stall or pen and inseminated. Sows should be allowed time to settle down in the stall or pen, and then exposed to a boar in order to encourage the standing reflex before artificial insemination takes place."

"91: Sows should be left undisturbed, to allow uterine contractions, for up to thirty minutes after artificial insemination (and natural service), but they should then rejoin their group in order to minimise bullying within the group hierarchy. When double insemination is used, sows may be penned separately until 30 minutes after the second insemination, but pens must allow the animal to turn round easily."

Water source. It is unclear from the footage if the trough in front of the cages was for drinking water or urine drain-off.  The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2003 (S.I. 2003 No. 299), Schedule 6, Part II, paragraph 15 states that: “All pigs over two weeks of age must have permanent access to a sufficient quantity of fresh drinking water.” The Red Tractor guidelines also state: "Livestock must be provided with adequate access to a supply of fresh, clean drinking water."

The farm also utilising the so-called ‘farrowing crate’, a metal crate mothering sows are kept inside for a week before birth and up to four weeks afterwards. Consumers often believe that the farrowing crate has been banned in the UK, but confuse it with the sow stall – a similar contraption that was banned in Britain in 1999 (where sows were incarcerated throughout pregnancy). Approximately 70 per cent of all British sows are still subjected to the farrowing crate every year. Viva! argues that the crate is barbaric, torturously restrictive and can lead to mental collapse and stereotypic behaviours in sows.

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