Sep 2nd
    The short painful journey of a typical EU pig bred for food and raised in standard intensive systems.

    The short painful journey of a typical EU pig bred for food and raised in standard intensive systems.

    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?

    Typical conditions in an intensive pig farm - pigs are reared indoors in cramped conditions with very little stimulation

    Typical conditions in an intensive pig farm – pigs are reared indoors in cramped conditions with very little stimulation


    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)


    young pigs in a factory farm

    young pigs in a factory farm

    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.

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    1. “A robin redbreast in a cage
      Puts all heaven in a rage.

      A dove-house fill’d with doves and pigeons
      Shudders hell thro’ all its regions.
      A dog starv’d at his master’s gate
      Predicts the ruin of the state.

      A horse misused upon the road
      Calls to heaven for human blood.
      Each outcry of the hunted hare
      A fibre from the brain does tear.

      A skylark wounded in the wing,
      A cherubim does cease to sing.
      The game-cock clipt and arm’d for fight
      Does the rising sun affright.

      Every wolf’s and lion’s howl
      Raises from hell a human soul.

      The wild deer, wand’ring here and there,
      Keeps the human soul from care.
      The lamb misus’d breeds public strife,
      And yet forgives the butcher’s knife.”

      Extract from Auguries of Innocence, William Blake 1757-1827 Visionary, poet, engraver, philospher

    2. thank you for this. I now see William Blake was a veggie. I had no idea…

    3. I know you know this, Martin, but lots of people don’t and it’s interesting: The ham in the photo is a jamón ibérico, jamón de la sierra, not from intensive rearing.That kind of pastureland is called dehesa; the cork oaks and huge-acorn oaks are laid out like a million-mile orchard and the grass beneath is all sprinkled and starry with wild flowers and there are a few horses, some cows, some goats with their goatherds, but thousands and thousands of black pigs. (They remind me of the little black pig who made friends with Pigling Bland. What was her name?) http://tiyurl.com/kzfvfrq The cork is harvested every five years; afterwards, the trunks are red, as though bleeding, but then they go black and then grow new bark. The acorn oaks look similar, but have these huge, shiny acorns which are what makes the special flavour of the ham. In the U.K. and France people always fed their pigs on acorns, but these ones are much bigger and shinier and pointed; they don’t taste as nasty, either. Another lovely thing is that the trees are pruned to have three main lateral branches, which allows just the right amount of sun and shade.

      One of my best ever moments was when I was driving along a quiet lane – I think in northern Huelva – between drystone walls and meadows and I suddenly saw a black mummy pig cantering through the high, flowery grasses in the dappled sun and shade, followed by her family, a gang of about fifteen tiny black piglets, all charging along behind her, galloping as fast as their happy legs would carry them. Gosh, it was nice.

      These pigs aren’t killed so young (if they’re for ham, I mean) and preparing the hams is skilled work and is done in the special “caves” where the sierra wind and cold helps to dry and cure them, for up to eighteen months. http://www.ruzcam.hostei.com/Jamones.html If I wanted to eat meat, that’s one I’d eat. If you do want to taste it, you need to ask for Jamón Ibérico de Bellota; that means they’ve lived and eaten in the dehesa and haven’t been given any other food. http://www.jamonesyvino.com/cms.php?id_cms=6

    4. actually a good point Kate. Yes, some spanish pigs are raised in Iberia outdoors for traditional ham – and I shouldn’t have used that photo. Thank you. However they are in the minority. There are also serious welfare implications for many Iberian pigs (according to an expert I spoke to) including rings through the nose to stop them rooting (the nose is the most sensitive and essential part of a pig’s connection to the world), a lack of feed at certain times of the year when there are not so many acorns and incidents of castration without anaesthetic. Then of course there is still the live export issue. But I have no doubt there are also some great farms too. It’s just worth being aware of all the issues.

    5. (Bellota=acorn)

    6. Oh God, that’s agony, I didn’t know about rings in their noses, but of course, in pastureland.. One can see the temptation. In more thickly forested land, or the very steep parts that are left rough, rooting is fine, but hungry hogs could wreck the pasture.
      No, I wasn’t arguing (this time!) I can easily believe there are many bad sides, though not compared with intensive. I just thought people would like to know about it and to see the beautiful dehesa; also, to make the point that people who savour good food and drink of whatever type, know that nothing can replace the soil, air, water, food and skills that produce the best and original quality.

    7. Just be careful.

    8. I havent eaten meat for over three years because I was shocked by the treatment of animals on intensive farms, cheap meat in the supermarket is directly linked to intensive farming and animals enduring these barbaric conditions. Not eating meat is the only way to be sure you arent part of this terrible suffering. A diet that doesnt include meat is great, its healthy and nobody died. Even animals living out in fields in the sunshine and enjoying their lives dont want to die for your quick snack and why should they. They deserve their lives as much as I do mine.

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