Viva! Investigation Reveals Suffering on Tesco Pig Farm
In 2004, a Viva! undercover investigation into a pig farm supplying Tesco revealed severe animal suffering and embarrassed the supermarket giant, which claims to have high animal welfare standards. On two separate occasions Viva! secretly visited Cherry Tree Farm near Norwich, owned by the multimillion pound meat business Bowes of Norfolk, and videoed what we found there. The Observer carried the story of our findings in a piece entitled "Revealed: horror at Tesco pig farm". Our investigator filmed:
- Dead piglets lying in breeding units next to their siblings and mothers
- A deep necrotic ulcer on a sow's thigh
- A pig with a severely-damaged trotter; apparently unable to stand
- Maggots crawling over the corpse of a dead piglet
- A sow with a weeping eye infection
- A sow with a half-expelled still-born piglet hanging from her vagina.
The investigator also filmed other skin lesions, animals crowded together in pens containing large puddles of water, breeding sows confined to farrowing crates (tiny metal cages so small they are unable even to turn around), animals with no bedding and emaciated, sickly piglets. Many of these scenes are sadly familiar from other factory farm investigations but the worst appear to show disturbingly low standards on this farm.
Bowes of Norfolk is a meat processing company turning over £60 million per annum and has been a Tesco supplier for 17 years. It provides much of Tesco's pork, including all of its "Finest" range, and is featured on Tesco's website as an example of one of its best suppliers. www.tescofarming.com shows pictures of outdoor pigs and describes in detail the attention paid to their needs at farrowing. It makes no mention whatsoever of pigs reared indoors. While Tesco's high end, "Finest" products may indeed come from animals reared outdoors, its standard pork range comes from classic factory farms such as Cherry Tree.
In the Observer article, Tesco said "we expect the highest standards from our suppliers and they are audited regularly to ensure these are met. We take allegations of this kind extremely seriously and fully investigated them, as did the RSPCA. Neither Tesco nor the RSPCA found any animal welfare problems, and we will continue to monitor them to ensure high standards are maintained."
Viva! considers this more PR spin. The RSPCA may not have found anything they could prosecute when they visited the farm at Bowes' request but that does not mean that standards were acceptable. Some of the pigs we found were suffering terribly and all were in unacceptable conditions. As Bowes' main customer, Tesco is indirectly responsible for those conditions. Of course, other major supermarkets also sell meat from pigs reared intensively - Tesco just got caught - but that does not excuse Tesco from responsibility.