Compassion’s award-winning Investigations Unit specialises in documenting the tragedies of industrial farming.
Set up in 1996, the unit often works covertly to get the real story and crucially the key evidence to help us show decision makers just why farm animals deserve better. Our investigators will often undertake harrowing assignments, with results that are hard to watch and even harder to document. Yet it is essential this emotionally draining work is carried out to bring us all closer to the realities of factory farming and help us push for the solutions required to enable farm animals to be free of confinement. Recently, I met with a member of the Investigations Unit.
Q: You must have witnessed some disturbing cases of animal suffering?
A: Yes, many. In this investigation I can recall in Italy hundreds of pigs being kept in one vast shed – destined to be hung off supermarket counters as prestigious hams. I could barely hear my colleague such was the noise. It was nearly feeding time. 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.
A: Yes, I’ve spent the past 6 months working undercover to document breaches of the EU directive for pigs in 6 key pig producing countries – Spain, Italy, Ireland, Czech Republic, Poland and Cyprus.
Q: How would you summarise what you saw?
A: Pigs living in completely barren environments, housed on bare concrete with nothing to satisfy their inquisitive minds. Pigs with tails routinely docked – a painful mutilation used to prevent tail-biting, which can occur when pigs are forced to live in barren conditions. Signs of tail biting as a result of poor conditions. Pigs living in pens inches deep in excrement. Severe injuries caused by fighting, with some pigs so severely wounded they had died from their injuries. Signs of cannibalism as a result of barren conditions and extreme boredom. Pigs left sick or injured, sometimes left to die, in corridors. ‘Dead bins’ full of pigs that had clearly lived in horrific conditions. In short, widespread breaches of the Directive and multiple incidences of cruelty.
Q: What else did you see?
A: In other farms I saw complete lethargy in pigs. They cowered in dark corners, bullied by cage mates or just trying to find an inch of space to escape the filth of their surroundings. In yet another farm I visited we saw pigs less averse to strangers. They quickly came over to investigate us, 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 pneumonia.
Q: Were the sick pigs treated?
A: Rarely did I see a sick pig given the care and attention required. Hospital units 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 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.
Q: How does this make you feel?
A: I felt helpless right then. I 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 so in this situation would have compromised the investigation and the need to document further cases to show this suffering is endemic across a country.