Dearest reader, I won’t even link to the video I saw on Sunday morning. I don’t want you to see it. The content is so vile, so disgusting, so heart-wrenchingly violent, merciless and cruel that I actually cried. If you want to see it, feel free to search, but I won’t ever be watching it again.
Let me explain. Recently on my Facebook page, I saw that Red Tractor had posted the following comment:
We recognise your concern and are dealing with this issue as a matter of urgency.
The behaviour shown on the video has no place within the assurance scheme and we completely condemn it.
As soon as we were alerted to the issue on Friday …of last week we immediately removed the farm from the scheme on the basis of the video evidence and we have had an inspector on the farm during the weekend.
UK pig farmers have some of the highest standards in Europe and such incidents, although rare, simply cannot be tolerated. We are saddened that all of the hard work that our farmers do to uphold the standards could be undermined by one isolated incident such as this. If the allegations are proven we would encourage prosecution of those responsible.
We are reviewing our systems in light of the lessons learned here and will almost certainly revert to more unannounced inspections.
Red Tractor Assurance
Still not having a clue at that stage, then, I made the fatal mistake of searching out the video for myself. Shot undercover at Harling Farm in Thetford, Norfok, by Animal Equality, the footage shows the most unimaginable cruelty: piglets being crushed and left to die and being thrown by their ears into the air before crashing down onto the concrete floor, animals being kicked in the face and in one scene that will haunt me for the rest of my years – a pig being beaten to death by a man with an iron bar.
Shocking and heartbreaking
And more shocking? Harling Farm is a Red Tractor approved farm, the very same Red Tractor Assurance that say this:
When you choose Red Tractor, you’re choosing high animal welfare standards. Our veterinary and food industry experts are constantly refining these standards to promote the health and welfare of animals in farming.
And I’m sure most of the time that’s true. I’ve read comments from lots of Red Tractor farmers who are equally shocked and disgusted by this footage and who work very hard to provide the highest standards of welfare for their livestock.
Now I’m not a namby pamby ‘knit your own yoghurt’ meat avoider, oh no. I love my meat. I love bacon and sausages and a crispy chunk of pork belly, but I WILL NOT buy it if I know that animal has suffered. I think I could probably live without joints of pork and maybe even sausages (there’s always lamb and beef), but we do like bacon – it’s the one thing I don’t think I could give up. And having visited Jimmy’s Farm and seeing how wonderfully happy his intelligent, quirky piggies are, living their happy outdoor lives, I’d LOVE to be in a position where I didn’t have to buy anything other than top quality, high welfare, free range bacon. BUT it’s more expensive. Six rashers of Jimmy’s Farm bacon weigh in at a hefty £4.12 (and that’s the cheapest, streaky bacon) – our Saturday morning bacon sarnie would cost quite a bit. And a lot of people would say that’s a good thing – if we want well treated, happy animals who are despatched humanely, shouldn’t we pay properly for that? None of us should be demanding meat that’s dirt cheap – it’s just the farmers and the animals who inevitably suffer.
So what choices do we have as consumers? What of the big supermarkets – what are their standards when it comes to pork? The first thing to say is that they all realise it’s something that people feel strongly about. The UK already has the most stringent animal welfare standards in Europe, and many insist on much more than this.
I spoke to Asda (purely because I know their head of food PR and she was kind enough to help with my research) and they told me that they believe ‘Red Tractor branded meat products are still the best way to ensure the meat comes from a high welfare standard farm.’ They also said ‘at Asda we take animal welfare very seriously and we have recently been recognised by the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) for our efforts in raising animal welfare standards.
‘On our fresh pork products we are working with the SSPCA (Scotland’s Charity for animal welfare) to raise the welfare standards of pigs produced on our Asda PorkLink farms in Scotland (the vast majority of our fresh British pork is reared in Scotland) and all of our supplying PorkLink farmers are now regularly inspected by SSPCA inspectors.
’All of the pork that features in the Asda bacon range comes from pigs reared on farm assured farms and although we do not currently have an outdoor reared range of bacon we are constantly reviewing our range and we will reconsider introducing an outdoor reared range of British Bacon in the near future.’
Tesco say: ‘British pig farmers have had to meet some stringent welfare legislation which has been put in place over the past decade, including a ban on stalls and tethers, which have been shown to severely restrict natural behaviour.’ BUT Tesco doesn’t just sell British pork products. Still, they say, ‘at Tesco, we have a policy of insisting on equivalent standards wherever we source from, so regardless of country of origin, no Tesco brand pork or pork products will come from systems which use stalls or tethers.
‘At Tesco, we sell pork and pork products from 5 key different production systems:
Standard and Value pork
On Tesco’s farming website, there are details of the standards kept for each of these five systems.
Waitrose source all their pork products from the UK. They sell a large range of free range and even rare breed pork products, but even their most basic Essential Waitrose pork comes from ‘outdoor bred pigs reared by a dedicated group of farmers based predominantly in East Anglia. Working exclusively for Waitrose, our pig farmers operate within producer groups to produce the most tender, succulent pork under the highest standards of welfare and animal husbandry.’
‘The pigs are bred from boar and sow lines selected exclusively for Waitrose for their vigour, excellent eating quality and suitability for outdoor breeding. All Waitrose breeding sows are free range and live their entire life outdoors, with access to straw-filled arcs and tents on free-draining sandy soil. The piglets are born outdoors and at farrowing, each sow is given her own individual hut for raising her litter until weaning at four weeks of age. The growing pigs are then transferred indoors to bright, airy straw bedded sheds, with natural lighting and fed a natural, cereal-based diet.’
‘All Waitrose farms are registered with either Assured British Pigs (ABP) or Genesis and Freedom Food (FF), the RSPCA Farm Accreditation Body. ‘
If you’re confused by pork and bacon labelling, check out CIWF’s handy guide
And in a sad footnote to this whole horrendous incident, the farmer was found dead yesterday.