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Pig investigations

UK pig farms – 2019

In Spring 2019, Compassion visited two UK pig farms to investigate the use of farrowing crates to confine sows. The film below, narrated by Dragons’ Den entrepreneur, Deborah Meaden, presents the findings of this investigation.

Please note: this film contains scenes of animal suffering that you may find upsetting.

It’s hard to comprehend. Mothers forced to nurse their young through bars, unable to turn around. Confined in cages for weeks on end, until their piglets are taken away.

The conditions you see in this film are totally legal in the UK today, and represent the miserable reality endured by over 250,000 British pigs every year.

The restrictive farrowing crates our investigators witnessed are typical of systems in use across the UK, and in most EU countries. These cages are used to confine sows for up to five weeks at a time – from before they give birth, until their piglets are taken away.

Pig in restrictive stall

Whilst imprisoned in farrowing crates, these sensitive, intelligent animals are unable to express many natural behaviours. They can’t walk, let alone build nests for their piglets or forage for food.

Instead, they bite the bars, chew with empty mouths, and scrape at the floor, frustrated. They can even endure painful wounds and sores on their legs, feet and shoulders, caused by slipping or lying on the slatted floors.

Piglets with docked tails

This little piggy had its tail sliced off – just like over two thirds of Britain’s pigs. Tail docking is carried out to prevent pigs biting each other’s tails – a behaviour that’s much more common in intensive indoor systems. The piglets receive no pain relief.

slatted floor pig pen with dead piglet

This little piggy was too weak to survive. Farrowing crates are intended to reduce piglet deaths but, with caged mother pigs producing less milk, the weaker piglets are left at risk.

close up of pig face through metal bars

No animal should have to give birth, or rear her young, in a cage. Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, the suffering continues. It is time to End the Cage Age.

A huge thanks to Compassion Visionary Deborah Meaden for her continued support of our End the Cage Age campaign and for providing the narration for this investigation film.


Polish pig farms – 2017

In 2017, we sent undercover investigators into Polish pig farms to reveal the true horrors of intensive breeding.

Over 90% of the sows our investigators saw were not only trapped in narrow steel cages, but also forced to face a wall – unable to turn, unable to see what was behind them or what was about to happen to them.


Shockingly, the investigators also witnessed a farmer beat a terrified sow, who was unable to escape the abuse from within her crate. The farmer said this is common practice, to ‘persuade’ exhausted sows, who have just given birth, to eat their food.

For weeks on end, the mother pigs were confined in these cages. In pain, weak from lack of movement, and unable to interact with their piglets when they wanted. They struggled to stand up and lie down, and would often slip on the floor. Moreover, our investigators found new-born piglets suffering from hypoxia (oxygen deficiency) who were simply left to slowly die.

Dead piglet.jpg

Factory farming hasn’t always been common in Poland. Twenty years ago, small, family farms covered the landscape – and our investigators did visit one traditional farm.

There were no crates; piglets were sleeping in deep hay; sows and piglets were able to interact. And, when a human approached, the mothers could act on their instinct to protect their young. The contrast with the fearful animals witnessed elsewhere was stark. It put the suffering and deprivation of nearly a million caged Polish sows into terrible focus.

EU pig farms – 2013 – summary

In 2013 Compassion visited 45 pig farms across the EU. We went south to Italy and Spain; south-east to Cyprus; west to Ireland; and east to Poland and the Czech Republic. On every single farm we found the laws put in place to protect pig welfare were being flouted – the suffering was hard to witness.

We believe aspects of the Pigs Directive are being blatantly ignored all across the EU, inflicting illegal cruelty on millions of intelligent and sensitive animals. There are over 140 million pigs in the EU at any one time. Sometimes the scale of the challenge we are facing seems overwhelming.

Spanish pig farms – 2013

In January 2013, Compassion in World Farming carried out an investigation into pig farming in Spain. Investigators visited 15 farms. What they uncovered was shocking.

Undercover in Spain's pig farms

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

EU law requires farmers to provide enrichment materials to allow pigs to engage in their natural investigation and manipulation activities. Yet our investigation proves that many farms still house pigs in squalid or completely barren conditions with no ‘manipulable materials’, like straw in any of the pens.

I thought many of these pigs would end up in the large waste bins found on site, and on further inspection these bins were often full with both the old and the young.

EU law makes it illegal to keep sows in stalls beyond the first four weeks of pregnancy. Yet, evidence suggests that pigs are often kept confined inside sow stalls for far longer than the four weeks.

In almost all farms that we visited, all pigs had their tails removed, almost certainly without pain relief, despite EU rules forbidding routine tail docking... In a few of the farms we visited, dead pigs were left in bins at the farm gate.

These are possibly some of the most barren, poorly managed farms I’ve ever seen. Something I will never forget seeing.

Italian pig farms – 2013

In early 2013, Compassion in World Farming’s former 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.

despite EU law requiring farmers to provide enrichment materials, such as straw, we found all the pigs were housed in barren conditions with no manipulable materials to satisfy their inquisitive minds. 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.

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.

Hundreds of pigs were in this vast shed. I could barely hear my colleague in here such was the noise.


Irish pig farms – 2013

Compassion in World Farming’s former Investigation Unit has uncovered the worst abuses of pig welfare in the EU to date.

In the spring of 2013, our investigations unit visited five Irish pig farms. The conditions they found were beyond our investigators’ worst expectations.

The Lonely Night

This video contains harrowing scenes that may cause distress.

The farms were situated across three counties (Cork, Waterford and Kerry). We fear it is likely that they are representative of a large section of the Irish pig farming industry.

At the same time as this investigation was taking place, Ireland held the EU Presidency – and the Irish Government was making a show of taking the lead on animal welfare. Meanwhile, some of the most horrific cruelty we’ve yet uncovered was going on under its nose.

Our investigators found pigs forced to live in fly infested pens, inches deep in excrement. They were covered by scratch and bite marks, a result of the cramped, barren conditions, which cause aggression, frustration and can even lead to cannibalism.

Although illegal, tail docking was routine, and a number of the pigs had open wounds caused by tail biting, another sign of frustration. Some were so bored they had begun chewing on the carcasses of dead pigs, whose bodies had been left in the pens.

We also found weak and emaciated pigs left to die in corridors. Those who had been transferred to ‘hospital pens’ had been abandoned. Those who had already died, young and old, were dumped in large 'Dead bins'.

This is not an issue that only affects Irish consumers. 75% of Irish pig meat is exported, and 30% of that is destined for the UK.




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