A huge thank you to everyone who helped make our recent National Day of Action Against Marks & Spencer's use of the farrowing crate such a roaring success! On Saturday March 17 - the day before Mother's Day - nearly 200 stores had peaceful protests outside and over a thousand people took part in the day. Tens of thousands of leaflets were given away to a shocked public, who couldn't believe that this supposedly ethical store forced 70% of their sows into crates so small they could never turn around. Many pledged to joining the fight to free Britain's pigs - and we had a fair few go veggie on the spot!
However, it is essential that we keep the pressure on. Please help us do this by contacting M&S and adding your voice to the growing call for change.
The Day of Action followed the launch of the anti-farrowing crate campaign in London, on Thursday March 15, by Heather Mills - who we asked to come undercover with Viva! to expose pig cruelty (you can view the disturbing film she took with Viva!'s director, Juliet Gellatley, here: www.viva.org.uk/heathervideo). Please fwd the link to this film to all your friends!
To a blaze of press cameras, Heather handed a giant Mother's Day to Bristol Labour MP Kerry McCarthy, asking the government to ban the farrowing crate. Kerry agreed to pass the card to Tony Blair and we are meeting with her later this month to talk about her bringing up this important welfare issue in parliament.
Next, Heather joined Viva! outside M&S' flagship London store, where she handed in another huge Mother's Day card (saying, 'This is not just cruelty - this is M&S cruelty') to the store manager. She also wore a body-worn TV screen showing undercover footage she had taken of the farrowing crate. Not only that, but all of the money Heather raises on the US TV Show, Dancing With the Stars, she is giving to Viva! to help us fund our life-saving campaigns (read more about that here)!
Media exposure has been incredible, and truly international! Our undercover pig footage was shown on GMTV (twice), BBC News, BBC SE News, BBC Live 24, Channel Five News, Sky News, ITN News (as well as on all the major channels in the States!). The campaign was the feature story of the Daily Mail on March 15.
We have lifted the lid off British pig farming and now millions of people are better informed about the cruelty inherent in this industry. We have been flooded with requests by people asking for help to go veggie!
As ever, Viva! never rests on our laurels. Watch this space for news on our future plans to help British pigs!
Why is the farrowing crate so bad?
Pigs are quite extraordinary creatures – intelligent, bright, fun-loving, sociable and extremely good mothers. Left to their own devices, females naturally live in matriarchal societies, two or three sows joining together with their piglets until the breeding season. After breeding, the boar disappears while the females remain together, often forming life-long bonds.
Producers are fond of telling us that modern pigs bred for meat have long since lost the natural instincts of their wild ancestors and therefore are happy in the filthy, overcrowded sheds to which most are condemned. Oh really? So what happens when you release factory-farmed pigs into the wild?
They explore like crazy, near and far, carrying and manipulating good things to eat, using their snout to grub out thick and tasty roots. They search for morsels on the bark of trees and lick them up with relish, overturn tussocks of grass so they can get at the roots and graze carefully on young grass. Where it’s boggy, they dig down even more deeply for sedge and tree roots, which they seem to prize above all others.
At night, their searches may take them on a journey of 15 km and over a period of six months they are capable of exploring an area as large as 25,000 acres. When it comes to breeding, they diligently gather and carry sticks and grasses to build a huge nest for their young. In other words, they behave exactly like wild pigs and if left alone, they readily adopt to the wild as successful feral animals.
Just imagine, then, what it must be like to have these powerful instincts utterly denied in factory farms. No wandering the woods at night but a concrete cell devoid of bedding and awash with excreta. And for an almost fully-grown pig, an official space allowance of less than one square metre. No shoots and grasses on which to graze but the same boring, dry pellets day in, day out. No morsels to seek out and no soil in which to root but such a strong desire to do so that they are reduced to nosing the concrete floor.
A special barbarity is reserved for breeding sows at the very time when they are at their most active.
No searching for nesting materials amidst the undergrowth, in fact no nesting materials at all for most, just perforated, bare metal. No night time explorations, in fact almost no movement at all. No singing to their new borns, no mothering, no comforting and no gentle reassurance. A metal-barred cage – a farrowing crate - only inches bigger than her body holds her captive for more than a month at a time to give birth and feed her young – and that’s about all she can do.
And it happens about 10 times during the five short years that most sows are allowed to live, before being killed for ‘low-grade’ meat. No wonder some experience the appalling trauma of almost complete mental collapse from which they may never recover.
Juxtaposed with this horrible reality is the rhetoric of those who make their living from selling pig meat. You’ve heard it all before, so many times – ‘the best welfare in the world’, ‘we love our animals’, ‘the odd rotten apple…’ and so on ad nauseam.
Here are a few facts. Almost all pig meat sold in the UK is factory farmed. The pigs you see living under metal arcs in open fields are usually breeding sows but this minority of semi free-range animals account for just 30 per cent of all sows. And their piglets are less lucky - taken away and condemned to intensive, indoor units. For most of the remaining 70 per cent it is concrete cells and repeated incarceration in farrowing crates.
This year, veal crates were banned throughout Europe. Sow stalls (but not farrowing crates) were banned in the UK in 1999 (and sow stalls will be banned in Europe from 2013). Viva! has ended the inexcusable practice of debeaking ducks and has devastated the ‘exotic’ meat market in the UK, including virtually destroying ostrich farming.
Please join our campaign: to consign the farrowing crate to the history books where it belongs!
Why target M&S?
One of the greatest exponents of rhetoric is Marks & Spencer who have built an image of a company selling high-quality, premium-priced foods where good animal welfare is paramount:
“We’ve spent years developing livestock production specifications to ensure high standards of animal health and welfare. We ensure our animals have freedom – from hunger and thirst, discomfort, pain, injury and disease, fear and distress and freedom to express normal behaviour.”
Try telling that to a sow in a farrowing crate! Despite this hyperbole, M&S still sell meat from animals reared in these deeply repugnant systems. Yes, they do sell some free-range pork products and, yes, some of their sows are kept outdoors but as a retailer which claims to be conscientious, it is unacceptable that they should draw a veil over their large scale use of farrowing crates.
Since Viva! began confronting M&S it has improved its pig welfare but there is a massive distance to go. We are determined to help it along the way by alerting customers to the fact that cruelty is still widespread in their meat and ready-made meals department. Whatever its claims, this flag-ship store is still flying its standard at half mast. Unless we can change M&S and get them to reject the obscene farrowing crate we stand no chance with other supermarkets.
This is just the starting point of a campaign to stop the use of farrowing crates entirely.
The photos of this page are not from farms that supply M&S, but do show typical farrowing crates as widely used by the company.