Filmed Pig Abuse Calls Humane Labels into Question
We’ve seen similar footage before. This time the appalling scenes of animal abuse come from two farms that raise pigs for a company certified by Red Tractor and by the RSPCA (Freedom Food label). The labels assure consumers the animals were treated humanely.
The video footage below was released by Animal Equality, an activist group whose undercover investigation of two “pig units” set off a furor involving Red Tractor, the RSPCA, and the East Anglian Pig Company (who own the Little Thorns Weaner Unit and the Didlington Piggery investigated by the activists).
After the month-long undercover operation, Animal Equality spent another three months sifting through the evidence before making it public. As soon as it was notified, the RSPCA visited the Little Thorns Weaner Unit and has been following up. They withdrew their Freedom Food designation from Little Thorns (Didlington was not certified) but according to Animal Equality are not planning to prosecute.
The RSPCA criticized Animal Equality for not providing them with the footage before going to the media and for taking four months to make it public.
This concerns us greatly. It is vital that if anybody or any organisation has concerns about animal welfare that they inform us immediately, otherwise they could potentially be allowing continued suffering.
Red Tractor was equally incensed and published this statement:
It is entirely inappropriate that we should learn about welfare concerns months after the alleged events took place. If anyone has any concerns they should always inform an appropriate authority immediately. Failure to do so has the potential to be a serious breach of animal welfare.
The Red Tractor scheme does not tolerate any animal mistreatment. Any contravention of our standards can result in the immediate suspension from the Red Tractor scheme.
Red Tractor Assurance has already reviewed its systems since a similar incident two months ago.
The East Anglian Pig Company’s Web site is “Under construction” so carries no official position. However, the newspaper EDP24 reported the staff involved in the abuse are facing disciplinary action. The company condemned the abuse and said, “The RSPCA has confirmed that there are no grounds for prosection.”
Labels’ Integrity in Question
The furor is understandable. The integrity of Freedom Food and Red Tractor labels is at stake, and all farmers end up being viewed with suspicion. Stung by criticism of its handling of the footage, Animal Equality came out swinging. Here is part of its response:
We would also like to highlight that the RSPCA visited both farms two weeks prior to the release of the Animal Equality’s investigation, and both farms were given a ‘clean bill of health’ by RSPCA inspectors. This was stated by EAP to the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-17804243
Further disturbing information that we can reveal is that Jim Burling; the current Pig Production Manager of EAP, is also a current member of the RSPCA Pig Standards Working Group: http://www.rspca.org.uk/sciencegroup/farmanimals/standards/pigs
This fact deeply concerns our organisation, as it indicates that the RSPCA carries a biased opinion on issues related to animal farming.
The responses of RSPCA and Red Tractor may not allay concerns of carnivores who want to be assured the animals they eat have been treated humanely. On the other hand, as a vegan organization, Animal Equality is not in the business of reassuring meat eaters. Their mission is to stop all exploitation of animals, for any reason. Their values statement makes it clear they see no neutral territory when it comes to farm animals.
We are an abolitionist group. Our goal is the abolition of animal use, but we do not support welfare reforms, or changes in the way animals are exploited, to achieve this. Reforms in animal treatment have shown to benefit exploiters by increasing efficiency and profit, as well as encouraging the public to feel more comfortable about consuming animal products.
Finding Common Ground
Andy Bellatti, a Seattle-based dietitian, chides the food activist community on the “dietary tribalism” that separates, among others, “the Paleo folks, the vegans, the raw vegans, the low-carbers, and the fruitarians.” He says that each group engages with its own tribe “and, occasionally, points out how one or more of the other tribes has it all wrong. Meanwhile, Big Food continues churning out a litany of highly processed junk, young children are developing Type 2 diabetes (once known as ‘adult-onset diabetes’), genetically modified crops — and the pesticides they’re engineered to resist — are seemingly everywhere, and food support for the poor is seriously threatened.”
In an instance like this one, rather than argue over when and how abuses should be publicized, animal welfare organizations and caring consumers should stand together to stop the violence and inhumanity of industrialized animal farming.
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Photos of Little Thorns provided by Animal Equality; third photo from Thinkstock