April 13, 2024

Undercover footage of pigs at a Devon farm showing them exposed to “unimaginable suffering” has prompted calls for legal action against the owners.

The film crew said the video of pigs being kept in filthy, cramped conditions – featuring instances of cannibalism and malnourishment, as well as animals with untreated, bleeding wounds and hernias – was filmed at Cross Farm in Holsworthy, owned by WJ Watkins and Son.

In one clip, a screaming pig was trampled on and bitten by her pen-mates and apparently died in front of the crew from Glass Wall Films.

A spokesperson for WJ Watkins confirmed he was aware that covert filming took place on the farm in October, but declined to comment further, referring the Guardian instead to the National Pig Association (NPA).

In one pen the pigs appear unable to move due to overcrowding. Photograph: Advocates for Animals

On the basis of the footage, filmed across four non-consecutive nights, the solicitors firm Advocates for Animals has sent a letter of complaint to Heart of the South West trading standards alleging “several potential breaches of the law” at the farm, which is part of the Red Tractor scheme, used to mark food produced to a “high standard”.

In 2017, Animal Equality investigated the same farm, estimated to hold 12,000 pigs, and said they found animals living in leaking, dilapidated buildings covered in slurry and forced to lie in their own waste, as well as two pigs with large hernias left in pens with other pigs, pregnant pigs kept in barren, concrete pens without any enrichment, and pigs that had had their tails docked.

Christopher Shoebridge, from Glass Wall Films, said: “We were interested to document how animal welfare has improved over time on British farms, and so we visited a farm where improvements had been promised. It was a huge shock to us that, far from being improved, things were just as bad, maybe even worse than before.

Pigs were found with untreated hernias. Photograph: Advocates for Animals

“How many thousands of pigs have been forced to live like this over the last six years? How many have been cannibalised or trampled to death, or left to die in this squalor? Not even one pig should be kept this way. The suffering there is unimaginable, and it has left our crew deeply traumatised.”

The documentary makers said that pigs’ corpses spotted on 25 October were still present on 29 October, by which time they were decomposed and part-eaten, cannibalised by other pigs.

The footage shows pens apparently flooded with liquid faeces, spilling out into the walkways, and a pen where the pigs appear unable to move due to overcrowding.

The film crew also went into a farrowing (birthing) unit, where it found dead and dying piglets. Dying piglets were also found in a feed bag and a bin.

A mother pig kept in a cage in a farrowing unit. Photograph: Advocates for Animals

The letter from Advocates for Animals to trading standards states: “Our client is shocked and saddened at what the footage reveals and is appalled that potential breaches of welfare law appear to be taking place on a routine basis at Cross Farm.”

A new documentary on Amazon Prime, Pignorant, claims to expose the “widespread deception” relating to the UK pork industry “in a country that claims to have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world”. Also using undercover filming, it seeks to expose the use of CO2 to gas pigs prior to slaughter.

An NPA spokesperson said: “Whilst we acknowledge that some of the elements depicted within the footage are not examples of best possible practice, others are either not an accurate portrayal of that particular farm due to the questionable authenticity of some parts of the recording, or are simply a representation of standard pig production, sometimes with inaccurate narration.

“The farm in question has cooperated fully with numerous investigations and found to be compliant with all requirements.”

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