By Justin Kerswell, Viva! campaigns manager
Last night I watched one of the BBC’s primetime fantasy shows. No, it wasn’t Dr. Who or Atlantis, it was Nigel and Adam's Farm Kitchen.
Celebrity chef Nigel Slater and celebrity farmer Adam Henson’s weekly show bemoaned the fact that, as they put it, “Britain has lost touch with where its food comes from”, and they aimed to put that right. A noble cause in the right hands, but last night’s episode on pig farming might as well have been set in Narnia. It was as far removed from the reality of pig farming in Britain today as it could have possibly been. So much for reconnecting people with where their food really comes from.
Nigel Slater at least acknowledged that not every pig was hand-reared like the three they were raising, but reassured viewers that Britain has some of the best welfare in the world so there was nothing to worry about. Except there is. A whole lot.
The trouble is, Britain’s welfare standards for pigs are pretty dreadful – only not as dreadful as some other countries (and some other countries actually surpass us). Far from showing the reality of British pig farming Nigel and Adam spent the whole hour applying a whitewash a mile thick.
Visit pretty much any indoor pig farm in Britain and you’ll find confinement and despair in equal measures. We know because we’ve visited many British pig farms over the years.
|Forget the fantasy, this is the reality of British pig farming today|
Whilst Britain banned the sow crate back in 1999 – much against the wishes of most British farmers, I might add – its ugly cousin the farrowing crate is still in wide use. Currently, 70 per cent of Britain’s pregnant sows are shut into these tiny cages a week before they give birth – and remain imprisoned until their piglets are three to four weeks old. The crate is just inches wider and longer than the sow’s own body: for up to thirty-five days, every four or five months, she can do nothing but stand up, lie down, suckle her piglets and stare at a blank wall.
Nigel and Adam also neglected to mention that around 80 per cent of Britain’s piglets are mutilated without anaesthetic every year at a few days old. Their tails are cut off to prevent tail biting – a stereotypic behaviour driven by the boredom and frustration of the mostly barren pens they spend their short six month life in. Many also have their back teeth cut off to prevent them chewing their mother’s teats too much – a problem caused because the sow cannot get away from her piglets in the crate. The TV duo also neglected to mention that even those piglets born outside will usually be moved indoors into bleak factory farms.
Of course, the thickest whitewash was reserved for the slaughtering process. Meat cannot be produced without killing a young, healthy animal that doesn’t want to die, but watching Nigel and Adam’s Farm Kitchen you’d be forgiven for thinking that all it takes to turn a pig into sausages is a slow dissolve. Watching a pig screaming on the end of a hook wouldn’t sit well with the cosy image of benign farming the programme was so desperate to portray. They said you wouldn’t be human unless you felt a twinge of sympathy every time they sent an animal to his or her death. Well, here’s a revolutionary idea: how about acting on that sympathy and not sending them to slaughter in the first place?
Nigel Slater and Adam Henson purport to reconnect viewers and food, but what they are actually doing is perpetuating a picture box image of farming that hasn’t existed in Britain since before the Second World War – if it ever existed. Worse still, they are indulging in fantasy and salving the consciences of consumers when they should actually be confronting them with the truth of where their food really comes from – and, frankly, that is unforgiveable.