DAY 340: THE LONG (BUT BRIEF) JOURNEY OF AN EU PIG FROM BIRTH TO DEATH
As promised, I want to tell you the story of a typical European pig from birth to death.
Yippeee! I hear you say. Break out the popcorn and red wine.
Well, I’m not interested in over-dramatising I’m afraid. This won’t be the most grim story I can find but nor will it be Babe’s happy holiday to Spain. I want to give a genuine account that lies somewhere between blood and banality.
The greatest engine of factory farming is consumer ignorance. If you care about animals (and eat pork in particular) you owe it to yourself – and to the pigs – to know what goes on and make up your own mind.
To tell this story will require considerable access.
This will lead to ethical decisions you may disapprove of– I will have to go undercover, I will have to fabricate and if not I will likely have to find my way into small farms by a method other than the front door. This is not me, but for now it be my mask. I am not going to try and expose any individual or farm, rather I want to give a PERSONAL reaction. I feel this is better than just rattling off facts and figures. My account will be subjective but I hope informative and at the very least from the heat of the fire.
Empathy, not sympathy, is all I need from you.
– What is it LIKE to be a pig in these situations?
– What do the pigs feel on their short journey from birth to death?
– What might they want or fear?
– Can you imagine it?
But Martin, are you going to save any pigs? Isn’t that what the blog’s about?
As mentioned before I’m not going to put any pigs in my rucksack. The best I can do is to continue NOT eating meat and inform people of the facts.
For obvious reason I won’t be able to follow one particular pig (he’s kind of shy and called Jeffrey ) but I want, rather, to describe a typical journey of an EU pig. I have picked a route that takes piglets from birth in the Netherlands down to Spain (around Catalonia) for fattening and then on to southern Italy for slaughter. This route is real and it is happening NOW.
The story I will tell will be of salami and sausages and big legs of ham that dry in shop windows. This is not the story of bacon (that typically comes from Denmark). But both stories have similar welfare issues and can to an extent be substituted one with the other.
At the end, I will look at the process of buying pork and what the various labels mean– and for this I will look at the various supermarkets of Britain, which I assume are not massively different from other EU countries
– If you do choose pork how can you be sure you are eating the least amount of pain?
– What is the relationship between ‘organic farming’ and welfare?
– Do labels mean anything?
But why focus on intensive farming you miserable bastard?
90% of pigs in the EU are intensively farmed so it’s only fair.
But, my dear reader, you are lucky. The EU is subject to strict welfare regulations that are improving all the time. Factory farmed pigs here have a better life than in many other countries, notably China and often the US.
Nevertheless there are various welfare implications it is worth briefly touching on:
Intensively farmed pigs…
…spend a life entirely indoors
…live in crowded conditions on solid floors without any bedding
…have little or no mental stimulation (they may get a metal chain to play with)
…mostly have their teeth and tails clipped as piglets and nearly always without anaesthetic (this is to prevent tail biting caused by frustration)
…are normally castrated at a few weeks old, also almost always without anaesthetic.
…sows (mother pigs) are kept in confined cages so they cannot turn around for prolonged periods of time for both gestation (pregnancy) and farrowing (giving birth and feeding)
Pass the wine and popcorn! I can’t wait. Don’t tell me how this story ends!
Spoiler: IT ENDS WITH A SAUSAGE (as the vicar said to the actress)
The politics of sight
Ultimately this is a story about the politics of sight as much as the politics of food. Factory farming is out of sight. Let’s see how hard it is to SEE what goes on and whether witnessing it changes my feelings.
I’m flying off to Spain to intercept the path of the pigs there.
The Netherlands is notoriously hard to get access and has very similar intensive farm conditions to Spain where I am more likely to get access. I actually have done a shoot in an intensive pig farm in the Netherlands some years ago so I have some personal experience. I have my ‘business cards’ and my all in one bio suit ready.