A criminal investigation has been launched after pigs were brutally hammered to death at a meat farm endorsed as “high welfare”.
The secretly filmed video showed piglets deemed too small or too weak for the abattoir being hammered to death by farm workers or being swung against a concrete floor to be killed.
One animal-welfare expert described the clips as “some of the most disturbing footage” he had ever seen.
The Aberdeenshire farm is owned by the man who helped set Scotland’s pig welfare standards and was endorsed by the body of which he was chairman.
Those animals not killed on farm go to a slaughterhouse supplying Lidl, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, and many other major restaurants and retailers.
Animal-rights organisation Animal Equality UK filmed at P&G Sleigh Pig Unit, an intensive indoor farm, uncovering what it said were “a number of serious legal violations”.
Some pigs gasped and writhed after several blows to the head, it was claimed, with one showing signs of life for over four minutes.
A worker was caught on film saying that using a hammer to kill a pig was “as good as any bullet”. In fact, pigs are gassed to death with carbon dioxide in abattoirs.
Another was filmed standing on a pig’s neck as he killed it.
The investigators said they also saw:
- Piglets routinely being slammed by workers onto the concrete floor
- Mother pigs suffering from torn vulvas and severe prolapses, caused by forced impregnation, resulting in their uterus or internal organs painfully protruding outside their bodies
- Piglets having their tails cut off and teeth cut out with pliers, without anaesthetic, causing several to develop debilitating infections
- Pigs suffering from seizures caused by meningitis
- Animals forced to live in filthy conditions, flooded with faeces and water, with no access to dry bedding.
After the findings were revealed, the farmer, Philip Sleigh, a former chairman of the National Farmers Union Scotland pigs working group, quit as chairman of the pig standard-setting committee of the Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) assurance body.
Animal Equality said that in addition, as a result of its investigation, the farm was removed from QMS.
The body, which promotes the red meat sector and has in the past received grants from Holyrood, has launched an investigation into P&G.
The Scottish SPCA said it would submit a report to Scotland’s procurator fiscal, the nation’s prosecuting body.
Andrew Knight, veterinary professor of animal welfare and ethics at the University of Winchester, described the footage as “some of the most disturbing” he had ever seen, saying: “The suffering of these ill and injured pigs would have been very considerable, yet no signs of appropriate veterinary care were visible”.
Abigail Penny, executive director of Animal Equality UK, said: “Rubbing shoulders with government officials and accreditation reps, Philip Sleigh was entrusted with a position of power, yet his own farm breached the very standards he helped set.
“QMS boasts of being proud of its standards, yet it took Animal Equality to uncover these serious breaches on its board member’s farm.”
Animal Equality says it has investigated 10 UK pig farms in five years and on each one has exposed severe suffering and filthy conditions.
A Tesco spokesperson said: “The conditions shown on this farm are completely unacceptable. We require all farms in our supply chain to adhere to strict animal welfare standards and we delisted this supplier as soon as we were made aware of these allegations.”
A Lidl spokesperson said: “At Lidl GB we take the matter of animal welfare extremely seriously and are committed to maintaining high welfare and traceability standards throughout our supply chain. All of our fresh pork originating from Scotland is assured to QMS certified standards.” He said the farm had been suspended, pending an investigation by QMS.
Lidl does not source directly from the particular farm, but some pork products originating from it are used by the chain’s direct supplier.
In a statement on Mr Sleigh’s behalf, the National Pig Association said: “The UK pig sector takes allegations of the mistreatment of pigs incredibly seriously and as soon as aware will always encourage the relevant authorities to investigate as we did in this instance.
“As with all livestock farming, however, pigs do sadly become ill or injured and when they do not respond to treatment, will need to be euthanised. What matters is the skill, expertise and care exercised by the stockperson in identifying problems and dealing with them appropriately.
“In this instance, however, the footage does depict poor practice with regard to the method of euthanasia used and pig handling, which we do not condone and find totally unacceptable. We understand that the farm in question is now subject to a full investigation by both the relevant authorities and Quality Meat Scotland.”
M&S said the farm was not one of its suppliers, and the chain buys only outdoor-bred pork.