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An undercover investigation has revealed animal suffering on a pig mega farm in Leicestershire.

Until last week, Flat House Farm – which houses around 8,000 pigs and 800 breeding sows – was part of the consumer assurance scheme Red Tractor, which claims all of their farmers’ ‘animals have been well cared for’.

After a four-month investigation by animal protection agency Viva!, which involved installing hidden cameras inside the farms’ sheds, the farm was dropped with immediate effect by Red Tractor, which said it was ‘appalled’ by the footage.

‘The most disturbing images’

The farm has been condemned by Conservative MP Henry Smith, who said: “Viva!’s investigation contains some of the most disturbing images I have ever seen. It is clear the animals on this farm are suffering. If this is the Red Tractor standard, then consumers are being misled. We cannot allow farms like this to operate in the UK.”

Among these images captured on film were animals with a range of ailments including bleeding hernias, deformed trotters, prolapses, rectal strictures and pot bellies, as well as lacerations and bites. Footage also shows pigs confined in farrowing crates.

Viva! says it filmed ‘young animals left to die in cells, writhing in pain with their eyes rolling in their socket’ and ‘dead and dying animals pulled into the walkways and left to rot – a serious violation of the government’s guidance on how to handle fallen stock’.

“Vice lesions such as flank, tail and ear biting were found to be widespread on the farm and do not appear to be effectively managed. Pigs suffering with acute malnutrition and severe enteritis are experiencing long-term health conditions that take time to develop and indicate that animals have not received adequate veterinary care, causing unnecessary suffering for the animals,” said Viva!

Dismembered pig body parts littered the farm (Photo: Viva!)

‘Suffering everyone in Britain would be disturbed and upset by’

Viva!’s founder and director Juliet Gellatley said: “I witnessed suffering that I truly believe almost everyone in Britain would be disturbed and upset by. In cells covered in excreta, I filmed a pig of about three months old left on her side, writhing in pain with her eyes rolling in their sockets. Another had been left to starve to death. It is appalling that this farm was Red Tractor approved and trusted to supply the nation’s food.

“Our team also witnessed appalling conditions in this investigation, documenting the systematic abuse of farmed pigs, whose short lives are filled with nothing but misery and pain. Animals are left to suffer as a result of poor hygiene, care and disregard for their welfare – all for the sake of red meat which causes multiple human health problems. 

“This investigation reiterates the fact that supermarket welfare claims and regulatory bodies such as Red Tractor are nothing but a façade for the horrendous, brutal and cruel reality of intensive factory farming in this country.”

Conditions on the facility appear filthy in images (Photo: Viva!)

‘We need to end factory farming’

She added: “What our investigators found at Flat House Farm are typical of what is permitted by government and retailers. I think British consumers will be disgusted to see the conditions on this farm.

“Not only do factory farms raise serious welfare concerns, they also create an ideal environment for mutating viruses and antibiotic-resistant superbugs. In fact, most governments thought the next pandemic would be caused by an avian influenza (bird flu) virus emerging from poultry or pigs. 

“Our relationship with animals can no longer be just focussed on exploitation, the way meat is produced is now considered to be a global threat. It’s not just a case of banning wet markets, although that can’t come soon enough. We need to end factory farming before it ends us and are calling on consumers to choose vegan.”

Ill animals were simply left to die in areas of the farm (Photo: Viva!)

‘Very concerned’

Flat House Farm said: “We have done nothing wrong. The RSPCA were happy with their spot check and that there was no case to answer upon completion of their inspection.”

But in a statement about the findings, the RSPCA said: “We were very concerned about the footage, which we were sent last week, in particular, it showed a number of pigs who appeared to be suffering with severe injuries and injuries requiring urgent treatment, underweight pigs, poor carcass disposal practices and stock-keepers striking pigs.

“For biosecurity reasons, animals such as feral or domestic cats should not have access to the pig accommodation.

“Sadly, the use of farrowing crates on pig farms is legal. We would really like to see farrowing crates phased out because they do not meet the welfare needs of the sow, preventing her from being able to turn around and severely restricting her natural nest-building behavior.”

*Some of the images from the farm were so disturbing, PBN felt it could not publish them.

Maria Chiorando

Maria is the editor of Plant Based News. As a former magazine editor, newspaper reporter, and features writer, her work has been published by The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and various regional newspapers, as well as Vegan Life magazine and Vegan Trade Journal. She has interviewed a huge range of people, from Prime Ministers to authors, activists, pop stars and actors, and enjoys the varied range of topics writing for PBN allows her to tackle.