The lives of farmed animals in Britain
What sane person would look at highly intelligent animals such as pigs and force them into overcrowded concrete cells – for life? No bedding and ‘enrichment’ that is often a single, dangling chain or a deflated old football amidst the filth and squalor that makes it impossible to fulfil any of their natural instincts.
Our investigators have secretly filmed a practice which the industry tries to dismiss – the mutilations of new-born piglets. Their tails are sliced off with scissors and their four main teeth are snapped off with pliers, all without anaesthetic. It is supposed to prevent damage from aggression and stop cannibalism – things that don’t happen in the wild.
Pigs are fun loving and intelligent, but the vast majority are kept in dirty hovels on Britain’s factory farms. Most breeding sows are forced to give birth in metal farrowing crates little bigger than their own bodies, which means they can’t even turnaround for five weeks at a time and their babies are taken away long before they are even weaned. They once spent their entire lives in cages similar to these but campaigning brought that to an end.
Piglets usually grow up in overcrowded concrete cells, often paddling through their own excreta and bedding is an almost unknown commodity. They are sent to slaughter at just six months old for bacon, ham, sausages, pork meat, ribs and so on.
Who was it that first looked at restlessly strutting chickens, still little changed from jungle fowl, and crammed them five to a wire cage so small that not even one could spread her wings. These battery cages have now been replaced by bigger, ‘enriched,’ colony cages holding anything up to 80 birds, thousands of cages to a single shed. The word ‘enriched’ was not chosen by the hens.
When our investigators secretly filmed some enriched cages at two suppliers to the big supermarkets, it presented a truly pathetic sight and looked little different to the old cages – dead and dying birds and some almost entirely featherless. The rows of cages, one on top of another, disappeared away from us like a kid’s perspective drawing, accompanied by the non-stop babble of squawking hens who will never see daylight or stand on anything other than wire mesh.
Most had had part of their beaks amputated without anaesthetic, supposedly to prevent feather pulling. Birds’ beaks are rich in blood vessels and nerve endings making amputation very painful and may cause life-long suffering.
Many hens live their short, 18-month lives with broken bones because calcium is leached from them for the never-ending supply of egg shells.
We also filmed at one of the UK’s biggest free-range egg supplier and again it was a depressing sight, with grossly overcrowded sheds, a jumbled, noisy mass where most birds are simply too afraid to go outside because of fear of crossing other birds’ territories. Yet again, some were almost entirely featherless.
The sight was very similar to the inside of sheds for so-called barn eggs where none go outside and where the stocking density is often a staggering nine birds to a square metre. The choice of the word ‘barn’ is part of the deception because of its pleasant imagery – they are, in fact, system-built industrial sheds.
The hidden products of egg production are the little male chicks who are surplus to requirements and are never talked about. They obviously can’t lay eggs and are genetically unsuited to put on weight, necessary for meat production and so are gassed or minced alive in electric grinders at a day or two old – and we’ve filmed that horror, too!
Vast, windowless sheds with 30,000 or more in each one – that accounts for over 95 per cent of modern chicken production. Birds stand on litter that is not changed throughout their 42-day lifespan and as a consequence, painful ammonia burns to legs and breasts from the excreta underfoot are not uncommon.
The most extraordinary thing about these birds is what we have done to them. Through selective breeding, almost constant light to make them eat and high-protein feed we have made them grow – and grow and grow and grow. So fast, their bones are weak and break easily while their hearts often can’t cope. Many die even before slaughter from thirst and starvation because they can’t reach food and water and others from heart disease.
To survive until slaughter, they depend on the almost daily use of antibiotics, helping to fuel the growing pandemic of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. People are already dying in their tens of thousands from this growing threat – 700,000 globally. The government warns that 80,000 people could die in a single epidemic in the UK because antibiotics are simply ceasing to work, yet they still permit them to be used in most farmed animals.
Big or small producers, they’re all the same, as we proved when we recently filmed in one of the biggest, Faccenda, who supply Asda, KFC and Nando’s.
The first time we sneaked inside an intensive duck shed is some years ago now but we were the first ever people ever to do so and publicly show the misery. It looked little different to all the overcrowded chicken and turkey farms we’ve exposed but with one big difference - ducks are essentially wild aquatic birds whose whole life is geared to water. But not these birds, not in these places - no water in which to swim or preen or dabble or feed. They were filthy and many had eye problems that can lead to blindness and the sad thing is that most ducks are farmed like this.
How can this be good animal welfare? Their 10-year lifespan is reduced to just seven weeks before being slaughtered – and we filmed that too, at Gressingham Foods, who supply many UK supermarkets. It is a brutal, non-stop production line where throughput is all that matters.
Each year, around 15 million turkeys are slaughtered in the UK – 10 million at Christmas alone. It’s the same stinking overcrowded sheds yet again and every one we have filmed in, big or small, has revealed overcrowding, filth, injured and dead and dying birds. Three times we filmed inside Bernard Matthews’ and gained national coverage with turkey sales slumping as a result.
There are few sadder sights than a turkey whose obscenely unnatural weight has caused her legs to collapse. To eat or drink, she has to painfully drag herself along on her wings. There is nothing natural about modern intensive farming and nothing natural about the animals we have created to provide ever-more meat at ever-reducing prices. Farmed turkeys are now such travesties of the wild birds they once were, they can no longer even mate naturally. Birds pay an extraordinarily high price in suffering so their meat can be sold at a price lower even than tomatoes.
Sheep and lambs
Behind their pastoral image lies an industry that has made life for many animals short and filled with pain, disease and fear. Sheep may be free range but they are not free from interference.
Around one million lambs die of hypothermia each year – one fifth of all those born. The reason is a commercial determination to bring ‘spring lamb’ to market earlier and earlier in the year. Animals that would naturally be born after the worst of the winter has passed are now often born in December and January.
The cold, gales, driving rain and lack of grazing produces a desperate struggle for both mother and baby simply to survive. Increasingly the baby is becoming ‘babies’ because of manipulation with the ewes’ natural reproductive cycle – twins now being commonplace and triplets far from being a rarity. More babies exacerbate the situation..
Dairy cows appear to be the polar opposites of other factory-farmed animals, munching grass in a field, happy and content. In fact, the dairy cows is probably the hardest working of all farmed animals.
In a complete perversion of nature, she is impregnated very early in life and then again shortly after giving birth and spends most of her life nurturing a growing baby inside her while simultaneously producing obscene volumes of milk – up to 70 pints (40 litres) a day. The strain produces constant, painful diseases such as mastitis, lameness and laminitis. A modern dairy cow is unlikely to survive beyond three or four lactations – a fraction of her natural life – before being slaughtered for cheap meat products.
As with humans, the simple truth for cows is – no pregnancy and birth, no milk and to keep the flow going, she is forcibly impregnated every year but never mothers her offspring. They are all taken away a day or two after birth – year, after year, after year.
If her baby is male, he obviously can’t produce milk and is the wrong breed to put on weight as beef animals do. He is therefore the trash of the dairy industry and 100,000 or more are killed straight after birth every year while others are kept fir just a few months for veal or cheap beef.
One of the most stressful undercover exposes we have ever done was to film a beautiful little bull calf being shot in the head while still bleating for his mother. Not a rogue farm but one that supplied Cadbury for their milk chocolate.
The latest twist to this cycle of abuse is the ‘culling’ of badgers in a cynical claim that this will end the epidemic of TB, a disease that is a direct result of a mass production process that comprises cows’ immune systems, making them susceptible to a host of diseases.
Many people see goats' milk as the kind alternative to cow’s milk – and that's what the industry wants you to believe. The sad truth is that there is little difference between the two – castrations, disbudding, separation of mother and kid and death and disease everywhere. We know this because we have filmed on goat farms, one of them who supplied Delamere Dairies, the UK’s biggest distributor. And just as with cows, males are surplus to requirement and are killed almost immediately or are sold on to meat dealers.
Beef cows are bred simply to eat, get big and die. They gain weight quickly and are ready for slaughter at only 11 to 12 months old. During the first week of their lives they are usually castrated and have their horn buds chemically burnt out without anaesthetic. Many will be moved indoors to be fattened even more ahead of slaughter. As with dairy cows, we are slowly heading in the direction of ‘zero grazing’ where animals spend their entire lives in crowded sheds.
Watch our Cruel Britannia exposé and compilation of undercover footage: www.viva.org.uk/cruelbritannia