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Hidden footage captured at pork mega-farm Bickmarsh Hall reveals pigs living in filth and suffering from injuries.
Words by Claire Hamlett
A new undercover investigation of U.K. pork mega-farm Bickmarsh Hall reveals pigs living in unclean conditions and suffering from lameness and injuries. Animal rights group Animal Justice Project gathered the hidden footage over a three-month period from cameras secretly installed at Bickmarsh Hall farm. Located in Warwickshire, the farm is a supplier to leading producer Cranswick Country Foods that markets pork to retailers including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons.
Content warning: this story contains video and images depicting animal suffering.
Bickmarsh Hall is one of the largest pork operations in the U.K. with more than 8,000 pigs. The farm is approved by Red Tractor, a U.K. certification scheme setting the standard for 95 percent of the pigs farmed in the country. “This farm is the epitome of squalor, and unfortunately represents the norm for a large proportion of Britain’s pig farms,” said former industry veterinarian, Dr Alice Brough, of the images.
The footage shows one pig with a rectal prolapse — which can be caused by fast growth or other physical problems such as diarrhea — being eaten by other pigs in the same pen. A small pig is shown lying on the floor, apparently too lame to move, being trampled and chewed by other pigs.
According to Animal Justice Project, a worker checked on the pig, only to leave them there for more than 10 hours before finally dragging them by the feet out of the pen.
Most of the pigs appear to be covered in feces, with no bedding on the hard floors of the pens, which is not required by Red Tractor standards. Staff were filmed hitting and shouting at the pigs on several occasions. Dead pigs and piglets were piled inside open dumpsters, some of corpses showing signs of injury and bleeding.
Nursing sows were filmed lying on the hard floor inside farrowing crates. These are still legal in the U.K., with sows permitted to be confined in them for up to five weeks.
Red Tractor’s website states that it requires its pig farmers to “work tirelessly to maintain a rigorous set of standards that keep animal welfare at their core.” Several potential breaches of these standards appear evident in Animal Justice Project’s footage, including failure to maintain conditions that enable animals to keep clean, storing dead animals in a way that prevents them being reached by rats and other scavengers and giving prompt attention to sick or injured animals. Animal Justice Project also says that an electric prod called a goad was used to move pigs by a truck driver at the farm, which is prohibited by Red Tractor.
“Consumers are promised the world when it comes to their food choices, with Red Tractor … offering public-pleasing assurances and high welfare claims,” said Claire Palmer, director of Animal Justice Project. “On Bickmarsh Hall farm, pigs were living in filth and feces, left to suffer and confined inside concrete cells.”
Red Tractor told Sentient Media that it immediately carried out an unannounced inspection of Bickmarsh Hall farm after viewing the footage. “Taking all available evidence into account, Red Tractor found the farm in compliance with animal welfare standards,” said a spokesperson. “However, given the original concerns, Red Tractor wrote to the owner to set out specific requirements designed to ensure standards continue to be met in future. Red Tractor’s work continues to enforce compliance at the farm in question. We will conduct further unannounced inspections at that farm over the coming weeks, to ensure that the standards (and the specific requirements in our letter) continue to be met.”
Cranswick Country Foods also said it made an unannounced audit of Bickmarsh Hall after seeing the footage, according to the Mirror.
Red Tractor-certified farms have been investigated several times in the past by animal rights groups, with mixed outcomes. The entity suspended a dairy farm featured in an episode of the BBC’s investigative show Panorama in 2022, where cows were filmed by the group Animal Equality being kicked and hit with shovels. The farm was later recertified.
Another Animal Equality investigation in 2020 revealed chickens at a Red Tractor farm operated by producer Moy Park being deprived of water and killed by having their necks crushed if they were considered too small to be profitable. In that case, neither Moy Park nor Red Tractor found any breaches of welfare standards. In 2021, Red Tractor terminated the membership of a pig farm where activists filmed dead pigs left inside pens and others visibly ill.
Animal Justice Project has also sent the footage from Bickmarsh Hall farm to the Trading Standards and Animal and Plant Health Agency, in addition to sharing it with Cranswick and Red Tractor.
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