In the year that brought us a devastating global pandemic and much uncertainty, here at Viva! we have continued our fight for animals – launching a major documentary, innovative campaigns and an incredible 13 investigations of factory farms to raise awareness about the spread of disease and cruelty on factory farms and releasing an exciting new seven-day vegan meal programme.
By Juliet Gellatley, Viva!’s founder and director
HOGWOOD: The Film Release
In February we excitedly announced the release of our now multi award-winning documentary, HOGWOOD: a modern horror story, directed by our associate director, Tony Wardle. Since its launch, HOGWOOD has racked up an impressive accolade of awards and reviews – causing a real stir in the world of independent film and turning many people vegan. To top it off, Lewis Hamilton shared our trailer to his 21.3 million Instagram followers!
The overwhelmingly positive response to the film has filled us with so much joy after more than two years of relentless campaigning for Tesco to drop the farm as one of their suppliers. Streaming across Amazon Prime, Apple TV and Google Play, watch and share – it really helps people go and stay vegan.
Viva!’s billboard campaign
Shortly before the nationwide lockdown in March, Viva! launched a huge billboard campaign across the East Midlands which asked people to question their food choices and choose vegan. The messaging was simple and direct, intended to make people stop and think. It caused a social media storm and reached six million people.
We received amazing feedback about the billboards from vegans and non-vegans alike. I carried out back-to-back interviews with 12 radio stations promoting the campaign and discussing the countless benefits of veganism, particularly in the current climate.
Everything you need to know about Covid-19
By late March the coronavirus pandemic gained enough momentum to essentially shut down the entire country. Having already published a number of articles on the links between pandemics and the trade in wildlife and factory farming, we pulled our resources together and released a comprehensive Covid-19 section on our website.
3 in 4 campaign launch
We began work on a new campaign, called 3 in 4, to spotlight the shocking statistic that three out of every four of the world’s new or emerging infectious diseases come from animals. The number is increasing directly due to the way animals are exploited for food and wild habitats encroached upon.
We launched five videos viewed by almost 5 million people!
We published a one minute video on the origins of coronavirus which was viewed 1.1 million times. We then launched another video, Shocking Facts about the Origins of Pandemics, making the connection between eating meat, the decimation of wildlife, factory farming and disease outbreak. In just 2 weeks it was viewed by 1.5 million people.
What Have Pandemics Got to do with Animals? then won an award. Spurred on by the incredible reach of our 3 in 4 campaign, we made a further two videos, Confined in Lockdown and the Cost of Lockdown – with a further 1 million people choosing to watch them throughout.
The Independent published our open letter, signed by 10 scientists and campaigners, warning that factory farms and wildlife markets provide the perfect conditions for disease to thrive and transmit to humans. I wrote an opinion piece urging for more people to go vegan; and we gained coverage from the Daily Mail, the biggest online news platform in the world.
- We organised a digital photo call to help spread the word. It went viral! We were thrilled with how many people took part in the social media storm, including Viva! Patrons and celebrities Heather Mills, Peter Egan, Jasmine Harman and Wendy Turner-Webster.
- Keen to give our supporters more actions to take, we set up an appeal to Boris Johnson, backed by comedian Ricky Gervais, urging the UK government to End Factory Farming Before It Ends Us.
- To help people go and be vegan during lockdown, we launched weekly cookery demonstrations by Helen Wilson of Viva!’s Vegan Recipe Club – covering everything from DIY Indian takeaways to a masterclass on tofu.
Calvesley Farm investigation
As lockdown restrictions began to ease in May, our brave investigators set off to work again capturing disturbing footage inside two farms supplying pig meat to Morrisons. Workers were filmed brutally killing young piglets by slamming their tiny heads into the concrete floor, mutilating others and leaving dead animals out in the open.
The investigation reiterating the fact that supermarket welfare claims and regulatory bodies such as Red Tractor, who as a result of the investigation suspended the farm from their membership scheme, are nothing more than a façade for the horrendous reality of intensive factory farming.
Morrisons refused to take responsibility or acknowledge Calvesley and Whiteshoot farms as their suppliers but action was taken by the Yattendon Estate office, who own the land Calvesley Farm is housed on. The manager of the estate confirmed that they were launching legal proceedings to “get the buildings [at Calvesley Farm] vacated in the quickest time possible” – with the rumoured intention to demolish the entire Calvesley site. What a victory!
Flat House Farm investigation
Hot on the heels of the Morrisons exposé came another, more shocking look at ‘high welfare’ pig farming in the UK. This marked the launch of our long term campaign, End Factory Farming Before It Ends Us.
Undercover investigators captured a catalogue of disturbing scenes and used hidden cameras to film some of the farm’s handling practices at Flat House Farm in Leicestershire. The team discovered animals had a range of serious ailments causing acute pain – including bleeding hernias, prolapses, deformed trotters, rectal strictures and pot bellies.
We released the footage captured at Flat House Farm, gaining national media coverage in the Daily Mail, The Sun, BBC News and our Head of Investigations, Lex Rigby was interviewed on regional TV News and national radio.
Since the release of the investigation Red Tractor suspended the farm (starting to notice a theme?), claiming to be ‘appalled’ by the barbaric conditions we captured. This is the first time they have issued such a strong response to an investigation. In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today, Red Tractor even admitted that their reputation had been damaged by Viva!’s exposé – another first for us.
I confronted the owner of this appalling farm where pigs are in purgatory – and our film, The Flat House Factory, reached over two million people.
Going inside Flat House Farm
After our investigators reported their early findings to me I decided it was time to go and see this hell-hole myself. I walked with trepidation through fields of corn – tall enough to hide me, following my nose as the dark smell of stress and filth hit the back of my throat.
The first pig I saw was about three months old, alone in a squalid cell writhing on the floor, her eyes rolling back. I knelt by her side, helpless, and whispered to her: ‘let go, let go’. It was absolutely devastating. I’ve been filming in farms for three decades but this was horror on another level.
In response to the Flat House Farm investigation, we held a socially distanced demonstration with video van in a busy Leicester city centre. Campaigners Laura and Will, along with local Viva! supporters, talked to hundreds about the wretched farm on their doorstep and the solution of being vegan.
For some time we’ve wanted to launch an investigation into fish farming and September 2020 provided the perfect opportunity for our investigators to visit a number of salmon farms in the Highlands. There, they discovered a hidden industry that is pouring tonnes of formaldehyde in Lochs and which forces salmon to live in overcrowded pens where they are being eaten alive by sea lice.
Farmed salmon are kept in overcrowded sea pens which provide a breeding ground for sea lice. In severe cases lice consume the flesh around the fish’s’ head and neck area right down to the bone, causing immense suffering and stress for the fish. We knew this was a story we had to share with the public.
Featuring as an exclusive in the Daily Mirror, we were delighted that our investigation gained the national coverage it deserved. Many consumers were not only appalled at the conditions these creatures are forced to endure, but were also surprised that all Scottish salmon is intensively farmed.
At the end of the year, as part of our overarching campaign End Factory Farming Before It Ends Us, our intrepid undercover investigators exposed turkey farming of major operators, Gressingham and Avara Foods. They supply most UK supermarkets.
Viva! revealed shocking scenes of suffering and a total disregard for animal welfare. Forced to live inside cramped sheds, these turkeys never see the light of day and are mechanically fed, watered and continually weighed to ensure maximum growth and profit. They suffer from stress, boredom and frustration, which manifests in severe pecking, bullying and cannibalism.
Most shockingly, investigators recorded birds being ruthlessly kicked more than 218 times while being herded for slaughter. The cramped, unsanitary conditions on these farms are a breeding ground for disease. As we continue to navigate our way through a global pandemic the risks surrounding factory farming are becoming ever more apparent.
With thanks to our Head of Investigations, Lex Rigby, for all her work on investigations this year.
Juliet Gellatley Wins P.E.A Award
I was honoured to receive the ‘Vegan Award’ at The People, Environment, Achievements (P.E.A) Awards – the UK’s biggest green award that celebrates sustainability heroes from every sector. Viva! has been at the forefront of the vegan movement for over 25 years now and it’s fantastic for our hard work for the animals and the environment to be recognised.
Jarvis Smith, co-founder of the P.E.A Awards said: “Juliet has been leading the charge for the vegan movement for over 25 years, I can only imagine the resistance she may have come across in that time yet she has stayed true to her purpose. As a vegan myself, and witnessing the unconscious cruelty to animals especially in factory farming, Juliet is a HERO for being a pioneer in making this a mainstream issue. Keep up the good work Juliet, you really deserve this award.”
Our New Website
A big part of 2020 for us was developing and launching our fantastic new website! It has been a huge undertaking but we are delighted to present the new site packed with vibrant and beautiful photography and practical information on all elements of veganism. Our new site presents the four key areas of our work; Viva! Animals, Viva! Health, Viva! Planet and Viva! Lifestyle.
This was a mega project involving our whole staff – with special thanks to Roger Penarroya Zaldivar, our web manager, Conor Haines and Nick Hallows, our web content editors and Roisin McAuley, Head of Communications. Thanks to Louisa Kendal for her social media support throughout the year.
In May we published our Zoonoses report, written by Viva!’s senior researcher and writer, Dr Justine Butler, explaining how most new and emerging infectious diseases come from animals, including SARS, MERS, Ebola and AIDS. We revealed why factory farms could be the source of the next pandemic and looked at the hot topics of antibiotic resistance and avian influenza.
Following our huge success with our thought-provoking billboards in spring, we knew that we needed to get out another key message as the country continued to suffer from Covid-19. Neither the media nor the government were telling us one easy way in which we could protect ourselves as much as possible from severe Covid-19, so we stepped in.
In November our Slash the Risk campaign launched with 80 billboards around the country. It was a two-pronged campaign, saying:
- You can slash your risk of severe Covid-19 by going vegan.
- We can slash the risk of future pandemics by ending factory farming.
Our website lists the risk factors for Covid-19 and provides the scientific evidence why going vegan can help. Alongside Viva! Health researcher Veronika Charvátová – I hosted a lively Q&A session on Zoom with 100 participants. And gave almost 20 radio interviews! We distributed 40,000 campaign leaflets too!
15 experts signed a letter in the Sunday Times calling for the government to promote veganism as the cheapest and most effective way to stop pandemics and reduce the risk of severe Covid-19.
While the nation was in lockdown Vegan Recipe Club’s Helen Wilson used her culinary skills to deliver a tantilising series of live cookery demonstrations on Facebook. Covering a whole host of cuisines including Best DIY Burgers, Tofu Masterclass and Homemade Indian Takeaway she attracted thousands of viewers and inspired them to get creative in the kitchen – vegan style! And Maryanne Hall, VRC’s manager, sent out weekly recipes for lockdown.
As lockdown restrictions eased, in October we launched our exciting campaign V7 – a brand new one week food challenge, led by our PR Manager Siobhan Dolan. Users sign up to receive a complete vegan shopping list with seven days of super recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Daily emails show you how incredibly easy and delicious vegan food can be. Designed specifically for meat eaters, meat reducers and those interested in trying veganism but don’t know where to start – V7 is so easy, tasty and simple!
So if you, or someone you know, wants to try veganism for just seven days, sign up to V7 at vegan7.org.uk.
Feed the Homeless
Over the course of November, Viva! teamed up with Million Dollar Vegan to provide and distribute 2,000 vegan meals. As the country went into a second lockdown, Viva! was dropping off meals at various different charities and shelters to help people who had been severely impacted by the pandemic.
It was extremely rewarding to be able to help those in need as much as we could over this difficult time, and several of the charities we worked with were really pleased to have vegan food delivered to them so that they were able to cater for the vegetarians and vegans who relied on their services while also providing people with healthy meals.
Vegan Recipe Club – Vegan on a Budget
Throughout the year, the Vegan Recipe Club has pumped out countless delicious recipes and cookery demonstrations – designed to help the public go vegan during lockdown, with thanks to Maryanne Hall and Helen Wilson.
We produced a new leaflet – the Budget Guide to Eating Vegan which dispels any misconception that veganism has to be expensive. Learning to cook your own fresh, plant-based dishes from scratch is exciting, rewarding and may even save you money. The guide sits alongside our popular Student Guide to Eating Vegan, perfect for students who don’t have the time or money to prepare meals from scratch, featuring quick meals like 10-minute one-pot pad thai.
We also launched a video promoting our Deliciously Vegan Christmas Guide, which has been watched by over 57,000 people on YouTube alone.
Gifts for Life and Viva!life
Throughout lockdown our enthusiastic merchandise team were determined to send your orders out promptly. They worked exceptionally hard in challenging times. A big thank you to Emily Coster, merchandise manager and her team, Alice, Dani, Jem and also later, Renata.
Also a big thank you to Laura Turner and her team for coping so well in challenging times in sending out thousands of packs and information.
Despite the rollercoaster ride that has been 2020, veganism is continuing to explode in popularity. For many, the global pandemic has been a wakeup call and caused them to question the undeniable relationship between our health, the way we treat animals and the wellbeing of our planet.
Our plans for 2021 are bigger and more exciting than we could have ever imagined. The vegan revolution is well under way and Viva! is paving the way for a kinder, more compassionate future. Watch this space!
Please help us make 2021 even more spectacular by supporting Viva!’s work today!
For the animals
Founder & Director, Viva!