Oct 15 2013
I am sitting by the side of a hot dusty mortorway north of Barcelona watching trucks going by at high speed. I’m looking for a pig truck to follow along the south coast of france so I can document conditions.
I am terrifyingly bored. Is this what compassion looks like?
This is the start of the route that many Spanish pigs take on their way to Italy and then down to Sicily for slaughter.
I am spending a few days with Julian Havenstein from a charity called Animals Angels along with her colleague, Alberto Diez. They make it their job to document the live export of animals and report information to the authorities. It’s an essential job – desperately essential – and yet devastatingly dull.
‘Shall we get a coffee?’ I ask.
‘A coffee? We can’t take our eyes off the road I’m afraid.’ says Julia.
‘How long might we wait?’
‘Ten minutes. Or it could be many many hours’
I want sweets, I want coffee, I want digital information, I want a shit magazine, I want a phone call. I will take a sales call from a I want something to put in my mouth, to wear on my head or to put in my pocket.
A slice of bacon perhaps?
Logos and kaleidoscopes.
Haulage trucks go by. I notice how many have logos on their sides of animals in ideal form: greyhounds sillouhetted in mid-run, bulls charging, horses galloping, icons of power, efficiency that persuade us to buy products.
So ironic that each of these animals is so downtrodden here in Spain: the Galgo abused by the Galgueros, the bull tormented by the matador, the horses consumed for their meat. This irony is not isolated to spain. All nations have a kaleidoscope view of animals that borders on insanity – we adore them, fear them, hunt them, worship them and eat them, sometimes one at the same. All the while the animal sits at the centre of this swirling confusion, silent.
Nothing captures the idea of animals as silent, passive units quite so well as a truck stuffed with creatures heading to their death.
The only welfare protection afforded is that provided by EU law. These laws dictate stocking densities, the need for watering systems and most crucially limits on travel times. But when a pig can travel for 29 hours, be unloaded for 24hours and then start all over again, ad infinitum, some of those limits are unlimited.
The questions I have on this journey are:
How well are EU laws enforced?
And how much does the typical pig suffer on its journey to slaughter?
Many animals travel this route.
Horses, chickens, cows, calves, sheep, lamb… Key welfare issues include overcrowding, lack of water, trampling, stress induced illness, excessive heat, young animals not getting appropriate food and the very real dangers involved in the loading and unloading process. Fatalities are so commonplace that a death rate of a few percent is economically factored into the cost of most transport.
We see a number of trucks, but no pigs. We trail them for a while till we get to a petrol station and then take photos. To my dismay every single one is breaking an EU law in one form or another. Julia has both years of experience in dealing with this and is a trained lawyer – so I trust her judgment completey.
‘It’s totally normal that they break the law. The problem is enforcement’
Julia shows me a photo of a horse with a vastly inflamed penis. Once again I’m reminded of my school bus journey to Austria, sitting behind the girl I so fancied for so many hours. I found it fairly enjoyable but Julia is making a key point.
‘They shouldn’t be putting male and female horses so close together, it can lead to trouble’.
The point is that laws can be broken in a multitude of ways, some subtle some more extreme, and the cumulative effect can be stressful and devastating. The problem is how can they check all the trucks and how can they enforce the law. The simple point is they can’t.
Ten hours later, and as night falls, we see our first pig truck. We trail it into the darkness. A few snouts stick out of the railings. ‘This one doesn’t look too bad’ says Julia. But I could not have predicted what was about to happen.