PART ONE: Inside the slaughterhouse | Viva!

PART ONE: Inside the slaughterhouse

Viva!'s investigation

Between February and June 2000, Viva! investigators observed sheep, cattle and pig slaughter at three British abattoirs and took video footage. Details of our video footage and testimonies from Viva! investigators follow.

i) Description of video footage:

Pig slaughter

Forge Farm Meats Ltd, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, 26.05.00

A group of pigs are ushered into the stunning pen. The first is stunned for three seconds. The tongs hit him on the eye and he squeals. He is shackled up. The second pig slips out of the stunning tongs and is then stunned for two seconds. The tongs are not positioned accurately - they are placed on his chin and forehead. The third pig is stunned for three seconds before being shackled up.

One pig is seen regaining consciousness and kicking out on the slaughter line.

Pigs are then plunged into the scalding tank and placed into an automatic rotating drum to have their bristles removed.

Mr DT Havard, Caerphilly, Wales, 06.06.00

In the stunning pen, the first pig is stunned for four seconds. The second is stunned for two seconds but then he slips out of the tongs and squeals. He is stunned for a further two seconds. Another is stunned for one second before he slips out of the tongs and is then stunned for a further two seconds.

One pig starts writhing and kicking on the killing line. Another struggles so violently that she slips her shackles and falls into the blood pit below. Our investigator is asked to stop filming. The pig is next seen back on the shackles, covered in blood.

Sheep slaughter

A ewe gives birth at market. If our investigator had not intervened, she would have been transported to the slaughterhouse and would have given birth there. Her lamb does not survive.

Palmers Wholesale Butchers, Upminster, Essex, 07.02.00

A sheep on the killing line struggles violently while she is bleeding to death.

Eid el Kabir illegal public slaughter at Stains, nr. Paris, 16.03.00

Sheep from the UK are exported to France each year for the Muslim festival, Eid el Kabir.

A sheep struggles as her legs are tied together.

A young sheep cries out. He is lying on the floor in the middle of the crowds with his legs tied together.

A sheep is lifted by two legs and put on the killing table, struggling.

A sheep is killed. The knife is sliced backwards and forwards 9 times.

Cattle slaughter

Palmers Wholesale Butchers, Upminster, Essex, 07.03.00

A bullock slips as he enters the stunning box. He struggles as the head restrainer is clamped over his neck. Having been killed, the bullock's head is sliced off and hung on a hook.

Shechita (Jewish) slaughter (filmed officially at a Manchester abattoir)

A bullock's head is extended and the head lifted upwards by a chin lift in an upright pen. The slaughterer cuts his throat by slicing across it, backwards and forwards, 13 times. The bullock jerks away from the knife as far as he can and his facial reaction shows pain and great aversion. The cow does not collapse immediately (the filming ends before he does).

ii) Testimonies from Viva! investigators

Sheep slaughter

Palmers Wholesale Butchers, Upminster, Essex, on 07.02.00

"Sheep were being walked from the lairage into the stunning pen and the guy who actually stunned the sheep was quite young. When he stunned the first ewe, the stunning tongs were only held on for five seconds and he actually put the tongs on the cheek bone instead of behind the ears. The ewe fell to the ground and was shackled and all of this was done in sight of the other ewes. As the shackle hoisted her up, she began to kick out - she was clearly still conscious. She went through the rubbery doors to where the slaughterman was waiting to cut her throat.

"I walked from the stunning pens through to the cutting room or sticking room as they call it. Ewes were hanging up bleeding to death and the blood spurted everywhere. The sheep were struggling and writhing in pain and the smell was indescribable. Blood was splattered all up the slaughterman's arm and he was laughing. I stayed and filmed for about an hour."

Cattle slaughter

Palmers Wholesale Butchers, Upminster, Essex on 07.03.00

"I walked into the slaughterhouse once again and this time three bullocks were waiting to die. I put on the white coat, hat and boots and waited in the office until the Meat Hygiene Inspector came in and said, 'They're ready for you now'.

"I followed him in and there was the first bullock waiting in the crush. His face was filled with panic and fear as the bar was pressed down hard across his neck. The stun operator walked round and put the gun to his head and there was a bang. The body which had been so full of life fell to the floor. It seemed to take far too long to shackle him up and hoist him round to the slaughterman.

"The other guys who worked there laughed and joked as the slaughterman plunged the knife in and blood splattered everywhere.

"I'll never forget the third bullock, he was terrified and he struggled to get out of the crush. He could see the other two bullocks hoisted up with blood gushing from their throats and he cried out in terror.

"The bar was repeatedly held down on his neck but there was no way he was giving up the right to his life without a fight. The guy with the gun put it to his head but the gun didn't seem to work right and although he fell to the floor he kicked and cried out. Then he moaned and I knew he had not been stunned properly.

"Blood was all over the floor from the other two bullocks and one was actually having his head cut off. The third bullock was eventually hoisted and his throat was cut and I was splattered with hot blood."

Pig slaughter 1

Forge Farm Meats Ltd, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, 26.05.00

"I could hear the pigs squealing as I drove up to this slaughterhouse and I could see chiller lorries being loaded with dead carcasses.

"I put on the obligatory coat, hat and boots and took a deep breath as I walked in through the rubbery doors. There were pigs hanging up bleeding and the men who worked there were all laughing and joking. I walked through to where the pigs were stunned. The pigs struggled to get away as their turn for stunning came. They were being stunned with electric tongs which had spikes in them. The boy who was stunning them only looked about 19 and he couldn't even put the tongs in the right place. By the time each pig had been shackled up, s/he appeared to have regained consciousness.

"The boy doing the killing was also young and he laughed and joked as he cut each animal's throat. The pigs struggled like hell - they were plainly conscious. Blood splattered across my face but I just wiped it with my sleeve and carried on filming.

"I heard this awful noise and I turned round and I saw two pigs who had come out of the scalding tank being thrown round and round in a rotating drum. I was told that this was to remove the hair from the pigs. It was a bizarre and horrific sight."

Pig slaughter 2

Mr DT Havard, Caerphilly, Wales, 06.06.00

"On the day we visited there were sheep and pigs being killed. The sheep had already been killed when we went in and the men in the slaughterhall were busy pulling their skins off and disembowelling them.

"Outside all the sheep skins were laid out on the ground, waiting to be ferried away. The stench was appalling. Inside huge metal bins were the sheeps' heads - all being sprayed blue because they're classified as 'specified risk material' under BSE regulations.

"Inside the lairage there were several groups of young pigs in muddy pens. They were only divided from the slaughterhall and the killing rail by a rubber curtain so could smell and hear what was going on.

"The Meat Hygiene Inspectors were not present when the stun operator began electrically stunning the pigs. I couldn't believe how quickly he took the tongs off the pigs' heads - each stun only lasted about two seconds and sometimes if a pig was trying to get away the tongs slipped off and he had to start again. He didn't always catch them in the right place - one pig was tonged right on her eye. As he stunned the animals he told us that two of the young pigs waiting to be killed were his 'girls' - he reared pigs for meat in a shed at the back of his house in his spare time.

"We went back through into the slaughterhall to watch the killing. The slaughterman laughed and joked as he plunged the knife into each animal. Some of the pigs were clearly regaining consciousness - they were writhing and struggling on the shackles. I thought how terrifying it must be for them to be hanging up by one leg and staring into the 'blood pit' below whilst their companions bled to death on either side.

"Two pigs struggled so violently that they fell off their shackles and into the blood pit below. They were hung back up again covered in blood. We watched this happen to one of the stun operator's 'girls' - she was clearly conscious as she fell and we were asked to stop filming. He laughed as he shackled her back up and joked, 'I'm gutted about that I am.'

"One slaughterman jokingly put the nose and ears from a dead pig over his face and posed for a photograph. I wondered what 'pranks' took place when no one was watching.

"I saw 18 pigs in the lairage that day. I watched 5 pigs who appeared to regain consciousness while bleeding to death."

We are convinced that the abattoirs which we have visited are not rogue outfits but are typical of abattoirs throughout the country. This is because we visited three random abattoirs and discovered welfare abuses on each occasion. In each case, workers were aware that they were being filmed and were therefore on their guard. But sticking to 'best practice' is not always possible where live animals are concerned. Animals are not inanimate objects on a factory production line and when they are frightened, they will not necessarily behave as the system requires them to. Accidents can and do happen and animals suffer as a result.

Testimony from Gabriele Meurer, MRCVS

Gabriele Meurer is a German vet who worked as an official veterinary surgeon at Woolley Brothers abattoir in Sheffield for four months between September and December 1997. She left the country feeling completely disillusioned and now works in abattoirs in Sweden. She spoke out about her experiences for the first time in a letter to Viva!:

"The OTM cattle (over thirty months) were treated particularly badly. All OTMs were slaughtered and their carcasses were incinerated because of BSE. These animals had no value at all.

"Often there were too many cows on a lorry. Some could hardly walk. The ramps were much too steep and slippery and occasionally a cow fell. Sometimes she could not get up again and was forced to do so by being beaten and kicked - if I did not prevent this which I did.

"No animal likes to enter the lairage. So they were pushed, beaten, kicked. Electric goads were used practically all the time. There was no bedding in the pens and nothing to eat for the animals who stayed overnight. Sometimes there was no drinking water for the cattle who ended up standing in the gangway between the pens because too many animals were taken in.

"The men were pushing, beating, kicking and using electric goads all the time. Almost no animal would walk into the stunning box by its own free will.

"Most animals get diarrhoea because they are so frightened, so they and the whole place are covered with shit.

"Many animals are bleeding and have open wounds and bruises. The slaughtermen bang the gates which fall down from above on the cattle's back all the time. The place was terribly noisy.

"A big problem is the lack of time. A certain number of animals have to be slaughtered each day and so there is no time for animal welfare. Time is money.

"The problem is worst with the pigs. The slaughtermen are in such a hurry that they often don't put the electric tongs in the correct position on the pigs' heads. The pigs get only half or insufficiently stunned, wake up while they bleed and are obviously still alive and conscious when they plunge into the boiling water.

"Sheep are stunned just as badly.

"To stun cattle correctly is not an easy job either. It asks a lot of skill on behalf of the slaughterman. Not many animals stand still. They are all upset, some frightened to death and some move violently. The animals are never given time to calm down. Some of them won't calm down no matter what you do.

"Sometimes the slaughterman misses, wounding the animal terribly instead of stunning it. It may happen that the second shot cannot be done immediately and the animal is suffering terribly for quite some time. There should be two guns available that are in order. Unfortunately this is not so all the time.

"What I hated most of all was the slaughter of pregnant animals. There is no animal welfare for unborn ones at all. I have seen these creatures kick inside their dying mothers. They probably drown to death. When the maternal blood stops flowing they - as I believe - start breathing. Do we have to slaughter pregnant cows? Can't we wait until their calves are born? This is unbelievably cruel.

"Very young calves are slaughtered in Britain. There is hardly anything to eat on these animals. I completely condemn the slaughter of young calves and even older ones. Can't we give them some time to live? Are we that greedy?

"Stunning chickens and turkeys electrically is also deficient. Many birds are not stunned at all when their throat is cut.

"Pigs and many birds die on the lorry when it's hot outside.

"The way animals are slaughtered in Britain, in Sweden and probably anywhere else is disgusting."

Testimonies from slaughtermen

During May 2000, Viva! spoke to slaughtermen across the country about their work. Their comments reveal the grave concern which those working inside abattoirs have about both animal welfare and meat hygiene regulations.

John, West Midlands

Currently working in a pig abattoir.

When they get the pigs in a confined space, there's a lot of distress. You wear ear protectors but that's nothing. You can just hear pigs squealing all day. All day.

"They only keep the tongs on the pigs for a couple of seconds. I'd say about three seconds. Usually they just put 'em on and then as soon as them on the floor, then they're on to the next person who shackles them.

"I suppose they just get what they can (laughs). When it comes to the last two or three they're just darting about so much, I suppose it's harder to get them than it is when there's a pen full.

I've always said you're just treated like a robot. That's it, as long as you do your job, as long as you don't moan then everything's alright but once you open your mouth, they seem to have it in for you. You're seen as a troublemaker."

Keith, East Sussex

"In today's slaughtering, all the skill has been taken out of it. There's not one man who could dress a whole animal.

"Everybody's in such a hurry these days. The animal's got to go through the market, have its ear clipped, get loaded onto a truck and then herded straight in to be killed. By the time the animals arrive they're so stressed out they don't know what they're doing or where they're going. They're so stressed out they don't bleed out properly.

"I'm not working now but I'm still in contact with a lot of the lads. In this day & age you're just a number on a line system. It's more like a car production line."

Nick, Northants

Employed in the slaughter trade for 10 years - now a self-employed butcher.

"Our place was terribly designed. Sometimes the pigs would slip off the chain where they were being bled out and you'd be expected to go in and drag the dead pig out. There'd be congealed blood and it would be all slippery on the walkway and other pigs could've fallen down on top of you. Some people were injured.

"Sometimes with the cattle you'd shoot them and then you'd have to shoot again. You'd have to hang right over the shooting box because the animal would still have fallen. If you shot the animal right you'd hear the thump of their head - you could tell from the way they fell. If you missed the brain the animal would lift its head back up and look at you and then you'd shoot again. Some blokes were better at it than others.

"When you stun the first pig, you have to keep the tongs on after they go down so that the other bloke can shackle - otherwise the legs start kicking. So one chap's got the tongs on and the pig's on its side and another one is trying to shackle and then another pig brushes past the tong and gets a shock. If that pig's wet cos the stockman has hosed it down then another pig will touch the pig and get a shock. They'll all start squealing and panicking. They come out stiff as a board cos of that - cos their stress levels rise.

"We had some cruel buggers behind the line - if there were no lambs waiting that had already been bled they'd put 'em up alive. It would happen when the two slaughtermen on killing were given pressure by the blokes on the dressing line to hurry up. They'd be kicking and rolling about - exactly how you would be if you were shackled up.

In these big plants the animals are scared out of their wits. They're herded inside & penned in with animals they don't know. The noise is horrendous. There are chains flying about and saws buzzing away."

Tony, Hampshire

No longer a slaughterman but still in the meat trade. He buys meat in bulk and sells it to butchers.

"To the best you can do it it's humane but it's still killing. Even when I started 30 years ago there was a stigma attached to it - when you said you worked as a slaughterman.

"If the electric stunner didn't work, the animals would start thrashing about and falling on the floor. A bloke would shoot 'em and they'd go straight through the same system.

I got a trapped nerve in my back - that's why I got out.

"The pride isn't there in the dressing any more because its all done mechanically. The standard isn't as high as it used to be."