Italian pigs investigation

In early 2013, Compassion in World Farming’s Investigation Unit carried out an investigation into pig farming in Italy. The investigation team visited 11 farms in an area famous for pig production. The conditions on all farms were deplorable and the resulting footage left even hardened investigators shocked.

Shocking maltreatment uncovered in Italy

This film contains scenes of animal suffering which you may find upsetting.

The EU Pigs Directive is a piece of legislation with the potential to provide some protection for the welfare of all the Union’s pigs. The footage uncovered by our investigation team found rules flouted on all the farms they visited.

We found all the pigs were housed in barren conditions with no manipulable materials to satisfy their inquisitive minds, despite EU law requiring farmers to provide enrichment materials, such as straw, to allow pigs to express their natural behaviours to forage and investigate. We also discovered many pigs were kept in squalid, cramped conditions with no space to escape from their own waste, which had flooded the pens.

In all farms that we visited, all pigs had their tails docked, often severely, almost certainly without pain relief, despite EU rules forbidding routine tail docking.

In some of the farms we visited, pigs had clearly been the victims of fighting. This is likely as a result of lack of space to move away from aggressors, boredom causing them to pick on each other and lack of access to feed at the same time. In one case, the injuries inflicted as a result of this fighting had resulted in one pig dying.

In a number of farms, lame and sick pigs had been left in barren alleyways, rather than be placed in a hospital area where they could recover in a pen with straw for comfort and away from other pigs that would cause them harm. Left to suffer in silence, our investigators found evidence that sick pigs were just left there to die.

The eyewitness account of an investigator

  • "In some farms animals were so densely housed that they were barely able to lie down together."

    In some farms animals were so densely housed that they were barely able to lie down together
  • "Many pigs were kept in squalid, cramped conditions with no space to escape from their own waste, which had flooded the pens."

    Pigs stuck in filthy, barren systems
  • “I was struck by their red eyes. They were so sore I’m surprised they could even open them.”

    I was struck by their red eyes.
  • "Rarely did I see a sick pig given the care and attention they required."

    Rarely did I see a sick pig given the care and attention they required
  • "And on one farm, injured and dead pigs were left in an alleyway."

    And on one farm, injured and dead pigs were left in an alleyway
  • "Many pigs were scarred from fighting."

    Many pigs were scarred from fighting.

I’d never seen pigs so deprived of stimulation, that the only thing to occupy their inquisitive nature is to play with their own waste. Using their snouts to push it through the metal bars of their pens and then back in again really hit me hard. But what else could they do – there was nothing but concrete and slats in this shed – if not for this they would be taking out their frustrations on each other and in some pens this was clearly the case, with scratches and bite marks scarring the backs, ears and tails of the fattening pigs.

Hundreds of pigs were in this vast shed. I could barely hear my colleague in here such was the noise. It was nearly feeding time and other than playing with their waste this seemed to be the only other thing to get them excited.

In other farms I saw complete lethargy – pigs cowering in dark corners bullied by pen mates or just trying to find an inch of space to escape the filth of their surroundings. Some pens were flooded with pig waste and in the darkness of the sheds it was hard to make out these animals as pigs – so blackened was their colour. Placards showing the EU flag hanging proudly at the front of the farm, highlighted this farm had received financial support from the Union; I felt sick knowing taxpayers money was pouring into this farm, when just a few yards away pigs were living so appallingly.

In other farms I visited we saw pigs less averse to a stranger in the shed. They quickly came over to investigate the investigators. Gazing up at us I was struck by their red eyes, yes red eyes. They were so sore I’m surprised they could open them at all. Sickness, like this conjunctivitis was documented in several farms and if it wasn’t this then it was constant coughing from chest infections and, in some pigs, pneumonia.

Rarely did I see a sick pig given the care and attention required. Hospital pens were often absent from sheds and any sick, injured or dying pigs were just taken from their pens and left to suffer in silence in the farm, no make that the factory’s corridor, for this was not a farm. One pig unable to walk was to be left there for 3 days before a downer truck arrived – it would be going for pet food I was told. I felt helpless right then and found it hard not to imagine what the next days were like for this pig. Working undercover often puts you into conflict with a personal response of wanting to act there and then but to have done in this situation would compromise the investigation and the need to document further cases, to show this suffering is endemic across a country. Our visit to 11 factory pig farms in Italy has shown the suffering is indeed routine and not just for this pig but hundreds of thousands of animals. I will not forget this poor pig or all the others I saw in Italian factory farms.

What you can do

  • The EU Pigs Directive continues to be flouted by many Member States. Email Commissioner Borg now to ask him to act.
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  • You can help improve life for pigs

    Your donation today could help us change the way Europe’s pigs are farmed. If you want pigs to have better living conditions with their health and welfare protected, please support Compassion in World Farming with a donation today. Thank you.

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