Diseases are running rife through Britains pig factory
farms. This means that animals are suffering sometimes excruciating
pain, and that powerful drugs are given through most of the
pigs life. Filthy conditions, overcrowding and stress
all ensure that factory farms remain bug infested.
Many producers do not appreciate the massive effect
stress can have on disease.... Intensive production and even
straw based systems do exert a certain amount of stress on
pigs. Dr Kees Scheepens, veterinary manager, PIC (Europes
biggest pig breeding company) (13)
Even Paul Blanchard, manager of the Meat and Livestock Commissions
Stotfold Pig Development Unit admits:
"pigs are kept in less than ideal environments, often in high
dust and ammonia which can cause respiratory diseases...and
that many units have created a cycle of disease.
Here are some of the most common or important diseases and
their causes. Veterinary dictionaries and Pig Diseases by
Professor DJ Taylor provide more detailed information (32).
Early Weaning causes Disease
Weaning should be a gradual process at 12 weeks, however almost
all UK farms wean piglets abruptly at three to three and a
half weeks. The digestive capacity of the pig has not developed
until 8 weeks, so early weaning means that piglets have great
difficulty coping with solid food.
According to Charles Sheppy of animal feed company, Finnfeeds,
when weaned early, disease resistance is low, temperature
needs are high and the piglet has a strong emotional
bond to the sow. (19) Breaking this bond causes severe
stress to the mother and baby - making both more susceptible
At weaning the piglet is confronted with a sudden large proportion
of non-milk food and the levels of digestive enzymes which
break down these products are low. Sheppy says:
As a result many young pigs have considerable difficulty
digesting their feed from weaning until two months of age.
This can result in large amounts of undigested food reaching
the large intestine which allows bacteria, some harmful to
the pig, in the hind gut to ferment this extra food and grow.
These organisms can damage the gut lining and cause scouring.
Scouring (severe diarrhoea) is a major problem across Britains
pig farms. In an attempt to counteract the problem, piglets
are given drugs on a daily basis (see later.)
According to Dr Philip Baynes, pig products manager at Trouw
Nutrition the piglets in the UK are:
...weaned at a time of peak vulnerability. At around
three weeks of age, the antibodies supplied from the sow as
colostrum in the milk are at their lowest. The piglet however,
will not have established an active immune system in order
to cope with any disease challenge, thus rendering it much
more susceptible to infection. (23)
Also the young pig does not produce the enzymes to digest
fibre. Fibre from wheat and barley can reduce uptake of nutrients
and cause non-specific colitis.
Early weaning encourages pigs to injure one another and promotes
disease - meaning continued reliance on antibiotics and other
Pig Injuries can cause Disease
As well as being susceptible to many diseases, pigs in confined,
intensive systems face injury from each other. This is from
so-called 'vices', including tailbiting, and ear and flank
An important factor in the development of such 'vices' is
greasy pig disease or exudative epidermitis. It affected 17%
of UK pig herds in 1994 and killed more than a third of in
one outbreak in non-immune herds (32). The disease may kill
up to 90% of younger pigs affected. A skin infection or wet
eczema begins on the top of the tail or ears, often started
by a combination of feed contaminating the skin and splitting
of the skin caused by injury from eg bites, rough concrete
flooring. Newly weaned pigs are often put on flat decks which
has a rough surface and no bedding. The injuries allow Staphylococcus
hyicus to invade and cause infection. Other pigs are attracted
to the lesion and eventually this leads to biting.
The Greenmount College management notes state that:
'this situation is particularly apparent when pigs are first
weaned into flat decks or nurseries or when they are moved
into second stage accommodation particularly if mixing takes
place. Other diseases such as pneumonia can result in disadvantaged
pigs being traumatised by others'. (29)
Treatment involves determining the antibiotic sensitivity
of the Staphylococcus hyicus if this is part of the problem
and medicating feed for 7-10 days, injecting traumatised pigs
with long-acting antibiotics, management control and prevention.
(29) The notes add 'if Staphylococcus hyicus infection is
part of the problem, there will usually be a very good response
to in-feed medication with tetracyclines'.
The VLA (Veterinary Laboratory Agency, Surrey) shows that
pneumonia has increased by 27% since 1994 (15). Other respiratory
diseases are in decline but Pig Farming magazine states that
the declining number of vet samples now sent for analysis
could be hiding the facts. Nigel Lodge, Pharmacia and Upjohn
veterinary adviser, says respiratory disease is possibly the
most important disease threat to pigs.
Major respiratory pathogens recorded by the VLA over the past
five years are:
Actinobaccilus pleuropneumoniaae (APP), Haemophilus parasuis
(Glassers disease), Pasteurella multicoda (pasteurellosis).
Swine flu is now an extremely common virus which often leads
to secondary respiratory infections, such as pneumonia.
Dr Stan Done, MRCVS, consultant pathologist at the VLA says:
Respiratory disease can cause severe damage to the pigs
lungs, drastically reducing production performance.
The VLA says that disease pressure in recent years has never
been greater. Viral infections have weakened pigs immune systems
leaving them susceptible to other infections. (15)
Dr Stan Done says that before 1991 the UK had no viral epidemics;
since then there has been PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory
syndrome) and swine flu which along with climate have caused
a rise in pneumonia. Northern counties such as Humberside
have a higher incidence of disease because they farm more
Mark Blackwell, animal health division of Antec International
states that the picture of respiratory disease has changed
dramatically over the past few years from mainly bacterial
diseases: enzootic pneumonia, actinobacillus pleuropneumonia,
atrophic rhinitis to a variety of complex syndromes.
Viruses such as PRRS, swine influenza and porcine respiratory
coronavirus combined with enzootic pneumonia and other bacteria
to produce constant major problems throughout production systems.
Pleuropneumonia is a highly contagious, often fatal, respiratory
disease. It is a major problem in most of Europe and the USA.
There have been extensive outbreaks of this disease since
1980 in Britain and reports state that 30 to 50% of all pigs
here and abroad are infected. (32)
The disease is caused by A pleuropneumoiae and causes depression,
anorexia, high fever or laboured breathing and blood stained
froth may be seen at the mouth. It often kills 30 to 50% of
the pigs infected. It spreads from pig to pig by contact -
making factory farms a suitable breeding ground.
PRRS (Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome or
This viral infection causes laboured breathing, occasional
fever, loss of appetite, abortion, increase in live births
and many piglets born to infected mothers are weak, splaylegged
Again this disease is widespread in countries that industrially
farm pigs. It was first seen in the US in 1987, Germany in
1990 and the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and the UK in 1991.
Surveys suggest that 50% of herds in these countries are infected.
(32). The disease spreads within a unit by direct contact
between pigs. Nasal secretions are the main source of infection,
although contact with faeces in dirty units can also spread
the virus. Early weaned piglets are vulnerable to the disease.
This bacteria invades already damaged lungs, causing fever,
coughing, lethargy, breathing difficulties and sometimes death.
It is transmitted by contact and ingestion. According the
veterinary microbiolgist, DJ Taylor: ..it is commonest
under poor husbandry conditions eg overcrowding, dusty ammoniacal
Scours (severe diarrhoea) is extremely common in pigs. It
is caused by many factors - but the list of environmental
factors associated with scours is telling.
Pig Farming magazine (69) states that the following factors
- Poor hygiene (eg the common sight of pigs standing in
excreta spreads disease)
Lack of bedding (many indoor units provide no bedding and
this leads to reduced temperature control and lack of benefit
from roughage intake)
Unclean bedding (if pens do contain straw it is often filthy
and this spreads infection)
Large group size - leads to spread of disease
Overcrowding (very common and leads to disease spreading)
Dirty water or lack of provision
Poor feed bin hygiene (again common)
In poor environments scours can occur without the major infectious
causes being present.
The most common infectious cause of scours in growing pigs
are: swine dysentery; PIA (porcine intestinal adenomatosis)
or iletis and colitis. Less common causes are salmonella,
E coli and parasite infections. Severity is influenced by
housing and diet. (Colitis is a vague term which is used to
describe varying degrees of scour.) Salmonella may infect
a pig with no disease occurring but other types of salmonella
cause acute generalised illness and can cause scours in people.
A government report in December 2000 stated that up to 700,000
pigs slaughtered that year could have been contaminated with
the salmonella food poisoning bug. MAFF calculated that 23%
of the nations pigs are affected by salmonella and that
5.3% of carcasses checked were infected. (31)
Salmonella infections (caused by Salmonella enterica) can
be serious - causing blood poisoning, acute or chronic enteritis
and wasting (mainly in pigs between weaning and 3 months.)
The septicaemic (blood poisoning) form kills almost all of
its victims. Symptoms of the other forms include diarrhoea,
fever, depression, weakness and sometimes paralysis and tremor.
And sometimes infections only causes mild enteritis or no
There has been huge media exposure of the effects of Salmonella
poisoning in people - but rarely mentioned is the pain and
suffering of the pigs.
Factory farms may help spread this disease as the bacteria
infects young piglets via contaminated faeces. Salmonellae
are also in slurry and dust within pig units - some of the
indoor farms visited by Viva! were thick with dust and slurry
pits had not been cleaned out - the stench pervading every
corner of the farms.
Further, live transport and markets transmit this disease.
Up to 20% of salmonella-free pigs are infected during transport
and at the abattoir lairage from contaminated excreta (57).
E coli infection causes blood poisoning in newly born piglets,
diarrhoea in newly born and weaned piglets, oedema disease
(usually in newly weaned piglets), cystitis and mastitis in
The bacteria, E coli, is in every pig. Disease occurs when
pathogenic (disease-causing) strains invade a pig herd or
when the immune system of a pig is under stress. For example,
starvation, lack of water and other forms of stress such as
a piglet being taken from her mother too young and put on
solids too young disturbs the normal balance and allow disease-causing
strains of E coli to flourish in the small intestine and cause
disease. (It is known that the white blood cells in the mothers
milk reduce the effect of E coli poisoning.) Another reason
intensive pig farming has E coli infections is that:
Dirty accommodation increases the number of infecting
bacteria and makes disease more likely. (Professor DJ
Unnaturally high protein feeds also add to the problem.
There are many strains of E coli and the different pathogenic
strains may cause disease in young pigs by several ways, eg:
Producing a poison called enterotoxin (Enterotoxigenic E coli
or ETEC); directly invading the small intestine or respiratory
tract and causing septicaemia.
Newly born piglets may die within 48 hours from E coli septicaemia
and diarrhoea. Outbreaks happen in farrowing sheds where litter
after litter can be affected. The disease may affect 70% of
piglets born and 70% of the piglets that suffer from diarrhoea
E coli in newly born piglets is caused by factory farm conditions
where mothers are moved into filthy farrowing crates to give
birth and suckle their young. The crates are metal barred
devices that stop the mother sow from being able to walk or
even turn around - she therefore has no chance of escaping
from the contaminated excreta.
Pathogenic E coli also harm newly weaned piglets. As already
explained, early weaning puts piglets under enormous stress.
Post weaning enteritis or post weaning diarrhoea occurs within
10 days of weaning. It is estimated that 20 to 50% of all
weaned pigs may be affected and the death rate is about 10%.
A shamefully high one third of breeding sows in Britain are
culled because of lameness. Worse still, foot lesions are
present in 94% of pigs killed for meat in SW England. (33)
Foot rot is exacerbated by the urine soaked, unhygienic conditions
in which many pigs live. The lesion of the foot is invaded
by bacteria causing it to go septic. The area is often ulcerated
and is very painful. If abscesses develop the leg is held
off the ground. Secondary abscesses may form in other areas
eg the brain, liver and spine.
Lameness is also caused by: overgrown claws (caused by keeping
pigs on muddy ground with lack of exercise); laminitis (in
boars and heavily pregnant sows) and erosive foot lesions.
Animal production expert, Lean says:
'Sows kept in close confinement and/or on slats may become
so lame and in obvious pain that there may be no other recourse
but to send them to slaughter, assuming that they are still
able to walk.' (1)
(If the animal is killed at the farm, a veterinary certificate
has to be obtained for the carcass to be accepted at an abattoir
as fit for human consumption.)
This is a painful and debilitating leg disorder that causes
lameness in pigs. It is linked to pigs being forced to grow
too fast and being kept on hard floors.
Cracks and crevices form in the cartilage layer at the hock,
elbow, shoulder and hip joints. (57)
Some degree of it may be present in up to 80% of pigs, according
to Professor Taylor of Glasgow University (32).
This is an infectious disease typified by mucus and blood
laden diarrhoea and loss of condition - pigs have sunken eyes
and their ribs and backbones stick out. Some untreated pigs
die with death rates varying between 5 and 25% on an infected
farm. Other pigs do not grow normally. It infects pigs across
the globe, with 11% of UK breeding herds and 5% of rearing
pigs diseased. (32) It has been reduced from 30 to 40% by
eg separating young weaning piglets from the rearing sites.
Swine dysentery is caused by an anaerobic spirochaete and
it is transmitted to healthy pigs by infected faeces, it may
spread to 75% of animals on a farm.
Streptococcal meningitis is an epidemic disease across W Europe,
US, Canada - all countries with industrialised pig farms.
Caused by S Suis, it results in sudden death of pigs that
seem in good condition. If the pig is seen alive, he may show
signs of incordination, tremor, paralysis and spasms before
dying within four hours of showing symptoms. The disease is
most common in 3 to 12 week old piglets but is not uncommon
in pigs up to 6 months. Bronchopneumonia is increasingly being
identified with the disease. The death rate is 1 - 50% in
any batch of pigs (32). Once infected the organism is
rarely lost from a herd (32).
Meningitis infection is spread by pig to pig contact. According
to veterinary microbiologist, Professor DJ Taylor:
Overcrowding, poor ventilation and mixing of pigs from
different litters are factors that assist the bug to
infect units. Evidently, these occur on factory farms. It
can be spread between farms by clothing and hypodermic needles.
S Suis may be present in the carcase of slaughtered pigs.
Meningitis from pigs can spread to humans. Vets, farmers,
abattoir workers, butchers and occasionally people buying
pig meat in whom it may cause a fatal meningitis or
septicaemia (32). Humans are more likely to be carriers
than to develop the disease.
An infectious disease caused by the bacteria Haemophilus parasuis.
It occurs in pigs worldwide. It is in 30% of units and has
become more serious since another disease, PRRS or blue ear,
appeared in British farms.
Early weaned pigs are most susceptible at 3 to 6 weeks old
(although older pigs do succumb). The piglet may have sudden
fever, anorexia, breathing difficulties and so the piglet
extends her head. Animals become arthritic and lame, all joints
being painful and swollen. The face may swell and there can
be severe nasal discharge and coughing. Piglets may die within
2 to 5 days and the skin may be discoloured red or blue.
Those animals that survive may develop heart failure, meningitis
or chronic arthritis.
The disease is spread by contact or aerosol.
PMWS and PDNS - new diseases
Post-weaning multisystemic wasting syndrome and porcine dermatitis
and nephropathy are sweeping through East Anglia and SW England.
They are viral diseases and efforts to treat them have so
far failed (59). PMWS is a new disease reaching the UK in
1999; PDNS has been in the country for 10 years but has only
become a problem since 1999.
The main symptoms of PMWS are weight loss and laboured breathing,
the pigs may also suffer scours, anaemia and jaundice. 5 to
20% of pigs die from the disease. It affects weaners.
PDNS on the other hand mainly affects finishing pigs, (rarely
piglets or adults). It is now killing more pigs than ever
before - up to one-fifth - because it is combining with PMWS.
Pig Farming magazine states that early weaning helps spread
the disease, and that piglets should not be weaned before
35 days. Filthy pens and feed containers also spread the diseases,
as does overcrowding and mixing animals from different farms.
Classical Swine Fever (Hog Cholera)
Classical swine fever (CSF) is a highly contagious viral disease,
caused by an RNA type of Pestivirus. It is a notifiable disease
in the EU and other areas. It was eradicated from the UK in
1966 but then three outbreaks happened in 1971 near Hull where
improperly boiled pig swill was fed; then again in 1986 (again
due to pig swill), 87 and 2000. *Pig swill can still legally
contain pork products.* (see section on Feed.)
Although the EU is officially clear from CSF, outbreaks have
occurred in many countries over the last decade. In 1997,
Holland killed 10 million pigs to eradicate the disease. (32)
The virus survives in frozen pork for at least 4 years and
in pickled or smoked meat for 3 to 6 months. It is destroyed
by heating at 65C for 90 minutes.
CSF makes animals feverish, dull, feel exhausted and it strips
their appetite. This is followed by conjunctivitis causing
the eyes to stick together, constipation then diarrheoa and
vomiting. The skin may redden and there may be widespread
haemmorhaging. Adult sows may abort. The poor pigs convulse
early in the disease and this is followed by lack of coordination
and circling. The animals die in 9-19 days in acute cases
and 30 to 95 days in chronic cases.
CSF is transmitted by pigs eating contaminated feed (eg swill),
litter or through broken skin. Contaminated vehicles and spreading
pig manure can diffuse the disease. The virus is in faeces
and urine - in factory farms animals are often forced to lie
CSF is controlled in the EU by a kill-all policy - pigs in
contact with diseased animals are slaughtered and buried or
burned. They are killed for economic reasons (CSF does not
infect people) - so that the UK can continue to export pigs
and pig meat. As usual, the tax payer compensates the farmers
- in the 2000 outbreak in the UK, farmers received 50% of
market value for infected animals and 100% for uninfected
By 24 August 2000, 12,000 pigs were killed in Norfolk and
Foot and Mouth Disease
Foot and mouth is a highly contagious viral disease - although
it infects most animals in a herd, it rarely kills more than
5% (except piglets where it may kill up to half).
It is caused by an aphthovirus which can survive in pickled
meats for 1 to 2 months and Parma ham for 3 to 5 months. It
is not always killed by pasteurisation and it may be in dried
milk for years.
Foot and mouths tell tale symptom is sudden lameness,
the feet being very painful. The pigs back may arch
and be he becomes unwilling to move. Blistering occurs on
the nose, tongue, lips and feet - hence the name foot and
The high concentration of virus produced in the early stages
of the disease, before symptoms show, coupled with the large
number of pigs crowded together and forced ventilation in
factory farms, gives rise to large viral plumes which can
travel by air for long distances. The virus may then infect
other pigs and cloven-hoofed species such as cattle, sheep,
goats and deer.
The virus is also spread by infected animals touching healthy
animals, by manure in lorries, markets or farms or carried
on clothing or shoes. It is also spread by infected meat in
improperly cooked swill. Milk may also be a source of infection.
Pigs do not remain carriers of the disease and are free from
the virus 28 days after infection (32). Why then are infected
The UK Outbreak of Foot and Mouth
In February 2001 panic hit the nations livestock farmers
as the first outbreak of foot and mouth disease was announced
for 20 years. By 20 May 2001, the number of confirmed cases
rose to 1,658 (58). It was reported in the press that the
source of the outbreak may have been infected meat fed in
swill to pigs at Burnside Farm, Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland
(35,36). Robert Waugh, the farmer, stated that he collected
school and restaurant waste to swill feed his pigs. Mr Waugh
said he had not fed the pigs: anything that had not
served up on bairns plates. (35) Little comfort
there as school dinners contain burgers, sausages, mince and
other cheap processed meat made from MRM (mechanically recovered
meat) a slurry made from chicken and pig bones, testicles,
rectum, udders, feet and tails.
Mr Waugh did not report the cases of foot and mouth at his
farm - the outbreak was first identified in Essex, at Cheale
Meats at Little Warley, where Waughs infected animals
were sent for slaughter (37, 38). Jim Scudamore, the governments
chief vet said of Waugh: This is a notifiable disease
yet this farm did not notify anyone. From the experts that
have looked at the ill animals it is quite clear they have
been showing signs of clinical illness for two weeks, the
blisters have already broken and healed. With incubation this
disease could have been present for 28 days, much longer and
a far worse situation than we thought at the beginning of
the week. (37)
On 23 February 2001 Bobby Waugh said: I honestly had
not seen anything wrong with any of the pigs in the last few
weeks. Is that because he didnt check the animals?
Farmers are supposed to check animals daily by law.
It is evident from Viva!s footage of 18 pig units that
many farmers either do not check their animals, or if they
do, knowingly leave them to suffer.
Vets declared that Waughs farm was the perfect breeding
ground for foot and mouth. Rotting pig carcases had
been left with live pigs. Pieces of raw meat were left lying
about the farm. The sows gave birth among other pigs and grown
pigs were eating piglets. (40)
Again, Viva!s footage shows similar obscenities in other
pig units across Britain. At most farms dead pigs were either
left with cell mates, strewn in gangways with rats running
around, in containers filled with thousands of maggots or
in various stages of decomposition in open pits. We filmed
sows giving birth into faeces; mother sows covered in flies
with dead piglets by their side; a mother sow haemorrhaging
into the gangway - it was filled with blood when we arrived;
dirty yards and filthy sheds that had not been cleaned in
And yet, MAFF had visited Burnside Farm one month before this
outbreak occurred and given it a clean bill of health! Nothing
new there either - Viva! notified MAFF/Trading Standards/Health
& Safety Executive about several of the farms we filmed.
The results? No action.
Foot and mouth spread from Burnside farm to nearby Prestwick
Hall farm, Ponteland, probably by wind. From there 40 sheep
were among 3500 sold at Hexham market. The buyer was Willy
Cleave, a Devon farmer. He shipped the sheep to Longtown market,
Carlisle, a holding centre, and from there to Cleaves
Burdon farm in Highampton, Devon. Sheep from Highampton were
taken to Bromham abattoir in Wiltshire where they developed
foot and mouth. Other sheep were sold to Hill farm in Llancludy,
Herefordshire and at an auction in Northampton. 348 other
sheep were exported live to Germany from Cleaves in
Devon, via Dover. (38) Of course infected sheep could have
been sent to many other countries - Germany incinerated all
sheep from stocks imported from Britain; France slaughtered
20,000 sheep, Spain 2000 and so on. Some countries though
had already reexported the sheep. And so the disease continues
The spread of this disease has highlighted again how live
animals are transported hundreds of miles within the UK and
for thousands of miles outside - all part of industrialised
agriculture. Despite the fact that most people in the UK want
live exports banned - the trade in misery continues unabated.
So long as it does, diseases will be transmitted quickly and
easily across the globe.
The policy to control foot and mouth is slaughter-all. This
is purely for commercial reasons. As youll have seen
from the above, there are nastier diseases than foot and mouth
that are running rife through industrial pig farms. However,
there is no national outcry about them. Why? Because the animals
are left to suffer and die, or are killed on farm; and no
exports are affected. The recovered animals are transported,
sometimes hundreds of miles, to a slaughterhouse where they
are mercilessly knifed and bled to death. Is that a better
ending than being shot in the head on farm, as happens with
foot and mouth victims?
All the breeding stock that farmers cry over losing are also
all destined for slaughter! When their breeding output drops
below an efficient level, sows (and other animals)
are sold for low-grade meat products. Old ewes are still sent
from the UK to France for Muslim festivals - where the animals
have their throats slit while fully conscious, often with
blunt knives. (See Going for the Kill, report on religious
slaughter by Viva!.) The intensive farmers tears are
over feared economic losses, not the animals. They are hypocrites
- preying on public sympathy - to pretend otherwise.
Of course, the National Farmers Union fully supports the slaughter
policy, as do the farmers. The slaughter-all policy aims to
preserve the myth of cheap food and to protect an elite of
large-scale farmers. Smaller farmers too have no incentive
to keep the animals alive. Their profit margins are small
and they dont want thinner and less productive animals.
Not when they receive compensation from the tax payer.
Britain persuaded the EU to adopt a policy to stop foot and
mouth becoming endemic. Abigail Wood, a vet and researcher
into foot and mouth at the Wellcome Trust, University of Manchester
says that the mass slaughter of foot and mouth animals:
...is purely an economic question. Although an infected
animal will recover after a couple of weeks, for quite a long
period after they wouldnt produce as much milk or meat.
So there is a loss of productivity. (41)
There have been vaccines available for 50 years but because
there are 80 strains of foot and mouth it is only partly effective.
The EU has banned the vaccine because it implies that the
disease is endemic. Instead the industry effectively gambles
that the cost of an outbreak every 20 years or so will be
less than that of losing foreign markets. (42)
Vet, Abigail Wood, neatly sums up the government and many
Although the killing involves these horrific scenes,
in economic terms its a quick, complete fix; afterwards
you can resume exports. Intensive farming is based on productivity.
Its better productivity-wise to eradicate it completely.
In fact the only way we will eradicate these diseases is by
ending factory farming, live exports and slaughter.