Pig Farming: The Inside Story

Pig farming: The inside story

This month, Viva! launches a Special Report taking you deep inside British pig farms.

This ground-breaking, illustrated report features findings from our 12 month investigation into an industry built on commodity and profit. Read it and find out what the industry would prefer you didn’t know!

  • Pig meat is the most commonly consumed meat in the world. Around 1.3 billion pigs are slaughtered annually for meat worldwide and around 250 million in the European Union. During one year, approximately 10 million pigs are slaughtered in the UK, and, in January alone, around 200,000. In 2019 it was revealed that 89 per cent of pigs are killed by C02 gas.
  • Around 4.9 million pigs are alive on farms in Britain at any one time and 98 per cent of pigs are fattened (finished) in sheds. 93 per cent of growing pigs and 60 per cent of mother pigs in the UK are kept indoors.
  • The selective breeding of pigs has been for traits such as growth and reproduction, which means that modern domesticated pigs are similar cognitively and behaviourally to wild boars – animals who spend much of their lives exploring and rooting in the soil. Pigs are extremely sensitive, highly social, emotional and bright animals with long memories. They are, in fact, said to be more intelligent than dogs. Piglets are also extremely fond of play in a similar way to dogs. Every part of this enjoyment is taken from pigs in farms.
  • Pigs are incarcerated indoors on intensive units – from the ramshackle to the gigantic – with almost all of their natural instincts thwarted. A pig’s snout is a highly sensitive organ developed for olfaction, carrying, pushing, rooting and social interactions. The desire to root is so strong, intensively farmed pigs persist in nosing the concrete floors. Factory farmed pigs are provided with concentrated feed and spend only a short time eating. At least 35 per cent of pigs in Britain are housed in utterly barren systems without even any straw bedding – they live in slatted pens with no privacy or reprieve from other pigs. Some enrichment is required by law – though this may only be a football or hanging chain. The inability to root and carry out other natural behaviours is a serious issue, causing frustration and acute chronic boredom for the animals.
  • Mother pigs are routinely caged and their offspring mutilated without anaesthetic. Sow stalls were banned from Britain back in 1999 yet its close cousin, the farrowing crate – which is a small metal cage in which mothers can be imprisoned for up to five weeks – remains. Today, around 60 per cent of British sows endure the farrowing crate. The misery experienced by mother pigs on modern-day farms is almost unimaginable. Research has shown however that the frustrations they feel are great, and this manifests into abnormal and stereotypic behaviours. Britain is lagging behind other European countries such as Norway and Sweden that have already banned the farrowing crate. Viva! actively campaigns against the farrowing crate.
  • Piglets in farrowing crates also experience anguish, and do not develop socio-cognitively. These babies literally become emotionally depressed. Under natural conditions, weaning is a gradual process yet on modern-day farms, piglets are removed from their mothers early so that the sow can be impregnated as soon as possible. Yet the earlier the weaning age of piglets, the greater the chance of them suffering from health and welfare problems later.  Weaning in this abrupt manner is a psychological trauma to both mother and piglets. Piglets are forced onto solid food which they cannot digest properly which leads to diarrhoea and a failure to thrive. The piglets are dosed with drugs on a daily basis to counteract this. Around 18 per cent of piglets do not survive until weaning in Britain.
  • Absence of straw (or a particulate, rootable substrate) causes tail biting. Evidence indicates that tail biting pigs are likely to be frustrated and hence experience reduced welfare. Tail biting is considered an abnormal behaviour, and the need to perform exploration and foraging behaviour is considered to be a major underlying motivation. In an attempt to control this, shortly after birth, around 80 per cent of piglets are subjected to a number of mutilations, including teeth clipping, tail docking and ear notching. Tail docking involves the removal of part of the piglet’s tail using a scalpel, clippers or cauterising iron. The teeth of new-borns are also either clipped or ground down. These painful mutilations are carried out without any pain-relief. Viva! has filmed these mutilations undercover, and they are difficult to watch.
  • Once removed from their mothers, piglets are housed in barren pens. With little to do, and an inability to carry out natural behaviours such as rooting – which their large, sensitive snouts are perfectly adapted for – aggression and abnormal behaviours ensue.
  • The vast majority of growing pigs in Britain spend most of their lives indoors. Once weaned, the piglets are moved into concrete pens. Almost all never see anything that resembles a natural environment, or one that enables pigs to fulfil their natural instincts. During this stage, the main objective is to grow the pig to slaughter weight as rapidly and efficiently as possible. The piglets are killed for pork, bacon, ham and sausages at five to six months old.Adult breeding boars may be housed singly in cells that only allow them to turn around.Breeding sows are kept in barren pens with nothing whatsoever to do. A week before birth they are moved into crates and kept there until their piglets are weaned at four weeks. Breeding sows are then killed for ‘low grade’ meat at three to five years old.
  • Hundreds of stressed animals crammed into filthy, stinking sheds means disease runs rife through Britain’s pig factory farms. The consequence of which is that animals are suffering sometimes excruciating pain, and that powerful drugs are given through most of the pigs’ lives. In Britain, nearly half of all antibiotics used are in farming, and pigs account for the majority of farm antibiotic use in this country.
  • Respiratory disease is a major concern on pig farms. Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (‘Blue ear’) is a viral infection in pigs that causes laboured breathing, occasional fever, loss of appetite, abortion, and an increase in still births. Piglets born to infected mothers are weak, splay-legged and often die.
  • Lameness is also a major cause of crippling suffering for pigs, with most instances being caused by pain associated with infections, trauma-related injuries, or underlying metabolic diseases. Stress and ill-health can also lead to lameness but trauma from contact with inappropriate slatted flooring, for example, is by far the most common cause of lameness. UK legislation and so-called Quality Assurance schemes such as Red Tractor allow fully slatted flooring in finishing units.
  • Whilst consumption of pig meat did increased in 2014, it remains much lower than 10 years ago, which indicates a long term decline. The British public are annually eating three kg less pig meat a year than they were in 2007. This is, in part, due to undercover investigations and campaigns by Viva! who regularly expose the atrocities on modern-day farms for pigs and other animals, as well as the health and environmental concerns associated with the meat industry and consumption. For example, Viva! this year is touring the UK, challenging people to ‘Face Off’ to the British pig industry. Many people are shocked to find out conditions on the farms we film are legal.

Viva! also went undercover recently in two standard pig factory farms and shockingly, filmed piglets in what can only be described as ‘battery cages’. This same farm supplies the supermarket Morrison’s, and is approved by Red Tractor. At another farm, a pig was filmed literally being eaten alive by another.

This enthralling Special Report takes you behind the closed doors of an industry built on commodity and profit. Read it and find out what the industry would prefer you didn’t know!


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