Farming’s shame: the unbelievable cruelty of Red Tractor Assured pig farming

Animal Equality
Most consumers have no idea how appalling the lives of intensively reared pigs are. As the truth comes out eating habits are changing. MATT MELLEN and KIRSTIE PHILPOT report

Consumers are blind to how their meat is raised, and they are heavily influenced by marketing and price. The consumer driven market is a myth. If you want to help end this immense suffering the only option is to stop buying normal pork products and join the campaigns to prevent business people from setting up operations that mistreat animals like this.

Many pork products appear - at the point of purchase - to come from decent, traditional farms. Farms where animals are a healthy, happy and valued as part of the operation before some of them are turned into food. Sadly, the reality is grim.

The shocking truth is that the vast majority of meat sold in the UK comes from intensive operations where the animals live short lives of intense misery. The businesses are increasingly automated and mechanised, minimising human contact and turning these sentient animals into cogs in a grisly, grinding economic machine.

Read: Special Investigation: How the common agricultural policy promotes pollution

In recent years the value of pork has fallen, demand for pork in the UK has dropped, production continues to rise as efficiency and productivity improve, leading to more pig meat on the market. UK pork battles against cheaper EU imports, exacerbated by the weakness of the euro against the sterling.  

Environmental stimulation

These pressures on UK pig farming favours the expansion of intensively raised pigs, where farmers have massive pig units, as well as producing their own animal feeds and utilising waste products - slurry - to increase profits.

Supermarkets and food corporations facilitate the descent to lower welfare meat by using misleading marketing and, in many cases, creating fake farms to label products.

Consumers are supposed to drive the market and influence what the supermarkets sell, in turn influencing what farms produce. However, in reality supermarkets are price driven, and consumers are blind to the realities of farming.

Assurance Schemes, such as The Red Tractor, are designed to reassure customers but actually simply deceive. The “hellhole” pig “farm” exposed by a Viva! investigation and reported in the Daily Mail was Red Tractor Assured.

The pigs were crammed into small, dirty concrete pens. Dead animals lay rotting. Chains were hung from the ceiling - a grotesque perversion supposed to offer the animals environmental stimulation but actually just making the scene more reminiscent of a concentration camp.

High welfare

Lex Rigby, campaigns manager at Viva! said: “Consumers are increasingly led to believe the UK has the highest animal welfare standards in the world, yet time and time again our undercover investigations have revealed the shocking reality of what that in truth means.

Consumers are blind to how their meat is raised, and they are heavily influenced by marketing and price. The consumer driven market is a myth. If you want to help end this immense suffering the only option is to stop buying normal pork products and join the campaigns to prevent business people from setting up operations that mistreat animals like this.

"We’ve filmed dead and dying animals crammed into squalid overcrowded hellholes; dumped and abandoned in gangways; tossed in wheelbarrows and left to rot. We’ve witnessed an appalling lack of enrichment in their filthy concrete prisons, leading to further frustration, aggression and ultimately cannibalism. It’s no life for any animal.”

The Red Tractor helps farmers to sell their product, as they sell under the supposed banner of quality-assured British food. The farms are inspected by Red Tractor, which has been government-assured, meaning they will receive fewer inspections from government authorities.

This lax approach to regulation means welfare standards are not fully adhered to, and, for the benefit of profit, farmers can cut corners and find ‘excuses’ for not fully complying or committing to better welfare for the pigs.

This ill conceived system makes it more profitable for farmers to massively dose their pigs with antibiotics, so they can be kept indoors at the highest densities. With the current floored certification schemes the only way a consumer can actually be confident of buying high welfare pork is by purchasing organic.

Potentially grim

All UK pig farmers are required to ensure that pigs have some material to nest and play with to give them some stimulation from their environment. Horrifyingly, many farmers achieve this by simply hanging chains in the pig’s sheds. The Red Tractor Pig Standards stipulate that “chains alone are not acceptable”, they may only be used when in conjunction with other objects or materials.

Farmers are able to get around these regulations by saying they throw in a handful of root vegetables, or put a handful of shredded paper in a farrowing crate (which is pretty useless to a sow, considering she can’t turn around or move enough to make a nest with it).

Government authorities are ultimately responsible for ensuring farms are conforming to current welfare regulations. However it is quite evident that this system is not working. Government authorities devolve enforcement to assurance schemes, who are giving certification to farms in breach of even the minimum standards of welfare.

Some UK supermarkets have committed to selling 100 percent fresh UK pork, which appears to the consumer as good news, supporting the ‘British’ campaign, and one major supermarket appears to be leading the way in high welfare pork, with the majority of it’s fresh products labeled as ‘Outdoor Reared’.

However, many of the labels on food packaging are actively misleading. For example, “outdoor reared” pigs are born outside, but then actually spend the vast majority of their lives indoors in potentially grim conditions.

Contract growers

The gaping chasm between consumer understanding and reality has led to increasingly urgent campaigning on the part of organisations like Compassion in World Farming and Farms Not Factories as well as many celebrity chefs from Jamie Oliver to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, all of whom strongly oppose the way these intelligent, social mammals are being treated.

These campaigns are having some traction in the UK. Sales of higher welfare meat have gone up. Perhaps more significantly, veganism is growing very rapidly as people turn their backs on animal products altogether.

However, globally the demand for meat is increasing. Some large pig operations in the UK are keen to grow rapidly, often encouraging ‘contract growers’ (who are given pigs at weaning age and are fed till slaughter) to join their business. Many have no background in farming and are purely in it for profit.

The “hell hole” pig factory which has so shocked consumers was run by JMW Farms. JMW farms is one of the largest producers of pigs in the UK and Ireland. Almost unbelievably, after the investigation was made public they were inspected by Red Tractor - which found nothing wrong with their operation. 

JMW has ended its lease at Lambrook Farm after the exposure of this particular pig unit. However, being a massive company with several farms in Northern Ireland, England and Ireland and with over 50 contract growers, the closure of one unit was inconsequential to them.

Pig ‘performance’

The company have since purchased a £5.85 million pound farm in Norfolk, housing 30,000 pigs, and have expanded a pig unit in Somerset housing 8,000 finishing pigs.

JMW is a typical example of a UK livestock mega farm.  To maximise profits it combines pig production with being a feed miller and renewable energy producer - energy produced in an anaerobic digester using pig slurry.

The company has an annual turnover of about £40 million. It employs 145 persons, as well as providing self-employment opportunities for 50 contract growers and the associated supply chain.

JMW currently has 15,000 sows with a current stock level of 140,000 pigs and killing over 250,000 pigs per annum. JMW is thought to supply Tesco and Asda supermarkets, as well as exporting meat products worldwide, including an expanding Asian market.

The company has a pig research unit, which is researching ways of reducing the costs of animal feed without reducing pig ‘performance’ - the number of piglets born per sow and their growth rate to slaughter.  

Mass production

They have produced a liquid feed, which doesn’t affect productivity, but sadly for the pigs denies them the pleasure of even eating solid food, and also causes a 2-fold increase in ‘sow dirtiness’ - unpleasant for the pig, but no consequence to the farmer as the pigs are housed on a slatted floor so the slurry is carried away to the anaerobic digester to generate energy.  

These disturbing practices and trends demonstrate how the quest for increased profit drives a race to the bottom for animal welfare. Businesses demonstrating no concern for animal welfare perform well on the stock exchange.

JMW, the Armagh-based company, has been included in a list of Britain's elite businesses by the London Stock Exchange in 2016. The Inspire report highlighted the fast-growing companies headquartered outside London. Jim Wright of JMW Farms was a Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, and named NSF Assured Pig Farmer of the Year, 2015.  

JMW describes itselve as having “an acute awareness of the worldwide need for conservation and sustainability of natural resources and have to date made considerable investment in renewable energies. JMW Farms pride themselves in their personal ecological policy and endeavour to continue with this policy all the while contributing to the country’s economy and infrastructure.”

In reality, JMW Farms dominate the market and perpetuate poor welfare standards, its portrayal of being ecologically sustainable is only a result of the need to dispose of a mass production of slurry which is diverted into renewable energy via biogas. However, they are actually legally obliged to deal with this waste, otherwise they wouldn’t gain the environmental licence enabling them to operate.

Consumer driven

JMW is expanding its recruitment of ‘contract growers’, who are private/independent farmers who have entered into an agreement with JMW to grow pigs. Terms are agreed where JMW farms supply the pig and the contract grower feeds the pig. The arrangement works on a target /performance basis which when achieved is both beneficial to grower and producer.

One such contract grower, who has 2,000 pigs in a purpose built unit, with automated feed and drink, is quoted to say: “If someone from a timber background with no experience of farming can do it, anyone can!"

The set up seems to require very little human engagement with the animals, this is no longer farming, it is so far removed from what farming is and should be, this is just a money making business raising and exploiting animals in an inhumane way.

Despite JMW being portrayed as having an astute business acumen, with it’s business awards, it is certainly not on the list of high welfare, environmentally conscious farms with close ties to the land.  Its farm’s published offenses include: being prosecuted for keeping to many pigs; being fined for a forklift death and a fine for breaching environmental regulation.

Sadly, JMW Farms is not unusual in how they treats pigs. Many intensive pig factories in the UK have similar conditions. Regulators do not strictly apply animal welfare legislation and penalties are not strong enough to change farm’s operations.  

Consumers are blind to how their meat is raised, and they are heavily influenced by marketing and price. The consumer driven market is a myth. If you want to help end this immense suffering the only option is to stop buying normal pork products and join the campaigns to prevent business people from setting up operations that mistreat animals like this.

These Authors

Matt Mellen is a communicator and strategist specialising in movement building, public affairs and environmental campaigns. He founded an edits EcoHustler Online Magazine. Kirstie Philpot has worked in research, animal behaviour, ecology, wildlife epidemiology, and farm animal welfare. She has also worked in a senior role within the healthcare industry.


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