“This is huge. This is overwhelming. This is far bigger than anything you’d find in the UK or Europe.”
At the end of a long day in the Chinese countryside, we returned to our hotel. I recall hearing the Communist regime in China still operates an ear in every village, no matter how remote. To be honest, I hadn’t taken much notice; I should’ve done. Within hours of talking with villagers beside a mega-farm, the police had seized our passports. They wanted to know who we were, what we were up to. There was little we could do.
The hotel looked after us impeccably. Realising our predicament, we were ushered into a private dining room with attentive service. My investigative team and I sat down and browsed the menu. Compassion’s permanent representative in China, Jeff Zhou, was out at reception enquiring about our passports. Suddenly, he burst in with an exaggerated smile and with a voice like he’d won the lottery! “Great news!” he exclaimed, “We’ve got new friends for dinner!”
Behind Jeff stood a burly man and two ladies; they were from the mega-farm. It seemed the Communist ‘ear’ had worked particularly well. Suddenly things felt uncomfortable, out of control.
With smiles and welcoming hand-gestures, I leapt to my feet. Taking Jeff’s lead, we pulled out seats for our unexpected guests and beckoned them warmly to the table, hiding our bemusement well. Our spontaneous hospitality seemed to diffuse things, at least for now. I reached for my business card and handed it very deliberately to our gentleman guest before introducing myself and everyone around the table.
I explained that I was from Compassion in World Farming, an international animal welfare charity; that we were on a study tour to learn more about Chinese farming methods, in particular pig rearing; Jeff translated. The burly man introduced himself as Mr Chan, head of environmental protection at the pig farm company.
I took the opportunity to elaborate on the work of Compassion internationally, not least with major food companies – many household names. I spoke about how we encourage improvements in animal welfare and food quality standards; benefiting businesses, consumers and animal welfare. Chan smiled. He told us about the environmental measures undertaken by the company; he seemed to have come with a message to deliver.
After a while, Chan rose and left the room. My cameraman spotted him at the hotel entrance on a mobile phone. Outside was a police car with flashing light.
Just when we thought things were going to get worse, Chan returned, seeming more relaxed. We carried on enjoying dinner and chatting about farming, China, England, food; even football. We toasted enthusiastically together – to new friends. At the end of the meal, Chan graciously paid the bill. He arranged for us to visit the mega-farm where we took this film. We shook hands, smiled a lot and bid our guests farewell. It had been an extraordinary evening. And yes, we got our passports back.
To get your copy of ‘Farmageddon: The true cost of cheap meat’, click here.