DAY 389: CHASING PIGS ACROSS SOUTHERN EUROPE
As night falls we see our first pig truck.
Excitement is entirely the WRONG emotion on seeing a vehicle stuffed with animals but after waiting ten hours for anything you’re relieved when it finally happens. Except for a firing squad lifting their guns.
Oh, but I didn’t realise…. we then have to drive behind the vehicle until it stops.
Bring on the firing squad.
For another 3 hours we trail the sorry truck, across the border into France, into the night and through the years… before we finally pull up at a lay-by.
After doing so much undercover work I am nervous of what will happen next but the driver steps out of the vehicle and is strangely polite. Julia checks the pigs while Alberto chats amicably to the driver. I take some photos but in the dark it’s hard to make out much. The pigs seem vaguely dirty and cramped.
Sardinia…that’s a long way
Apparently the driver is heading to Sardinia – at least another 24 hours away . He says he is driving through the night to catch the 9am ferry. Julia does her calculations and works out he’ll probably miss the 29 hour limit by 2-3 hours but says ‘this is totally normal’. He has no co-driver so this is also illegal.
‘The pigs will be in there for 32 hours, is that OK?’
‘They’re not in too bad condition. Not yet at least. They are probably over-crowded but it’s not awful.’
I scan the pigs in the dark, eyes peer out at me. We decide to let this one go.
Is that it?
Stranger and stranger
The next morning we pull out at 8am to start the journey all over again and a remarkable coincidence happens. The same truck drives right past us. For the first time in my blog career a story takes a poetic turn.
‘He was lying about the ferry then?’ I ask
‘Of course’ says Julia, speeding up. ‘I have never had a coincidence like this happen. We shall wait till he gets into Italy and then we can call the police. The police in France are hopeless.’
Julia is now deeply concerned that if the truck continues all the way to Sardinia then the pigs, who would have been left all night in the truck anyway, will be travelling well beyond the EU limit of hours. Lack of food, water and rest becomes a serious welfare threat.
A few hours later when we reach Italy she calls up the local police and they intercept us on the motorway and pull the truck over.
They take the driver (and pigs) to the police station where they summon the local vet. A woman arrives wearing hugely high heels, a sweeping silk scarf and a tight fitting dress. Is this what italian vets look like? With her consent they slap a 9000Euro fine on the driver. It turns out he is breaking the law on the following counts:
1) Over crowding of pigs
2) Broken watering system
3) Lack of food
4) Lack of appropriate bedding
5) No co-driver
THIS MEANS THAT EVERY DRIVER WE HAVE STOPPED IS BREAKING THE LAW.
And the most innocuous looking of all of them has just broken five. The driver then comes up to me and just as I’m expecting him to swing a punch he shakes my hand and smiles at me. I’m really confused now – a strangely sexy vet, some very animal-friendly police, a jovial but illegal driver who has just lost the money to build the extension to his house being warm to me and 200 pigs waiting at a …. police station.
Am I in a very dark comedy sketch?
The pigs need water. The 600 litre holding tank that supplies the sprinkler system is totally empty and the driver only has a small watering can to fill it up. I watch as he pathetically tops up the system, can by can.
Unloading the pigs
The problem now is how to unload the pigs. They need to be given rest and food. This can’t be done anywhere. A dedicated, sanitised holding bay is needed. There are only a few places in Italy that can do it and we now have to drive another few million hours to find one. Give me coffee, let me buy a hat, let me read an email, sell me something, I NEED TO CONSUME. ANYTHING.
We arrive at the unloading bay at some awful time in the night and I watch the pigs being unloaded. I’m appalled. Even with Animals Angels watching and two policemen giving us an escort the unloading process is brutal. Pigs are pushed off the truck and a number fall at least 8 feet head first onto concrete. The unloading handler then kicks them to get up.
And then finally there is one pig that won’t come out. Asleep? The handler climbs into the truck and drags it out. It emerges from the darkness, face contorted, its eyes already black and bulging, it’s body rigid.
It has been dead already some hours. I’m not allowed to take a picture but when the police are not looking I snap this one. What sort of hell killed it?
‘Perhaps it was trampled, perhaps it fell ill’ says Julia. ‘We have no idea but this is sadly normal’
This was the first and last pig truck I saw. It’s story told me everything: pigs that are crammed into deadly conditions, trucks that are breaking the laws at every turn and only the most dedicated of individuals able to make the slightest different to a vast trade that sees thousands of animals spend their final hours in pain.
Don’t eat chorizo, don’t eat parma ham, don’t eat Danish bacon…unless it is certified organic.
In the next blog I will tell you why as I go back to Britain to go to every major supermarket chain to see where their pork products come from