• DAY 389: CHASING PIGS ACROSS SOUTHERN EUROPE

    Oct 17 2013
    Pigs look out of a truck on their way through france and Italy to slaughter

    Pigs look out of a truck on their way through france and Italy to slaughter

    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.

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    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.

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    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?

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    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.

    The truck loaded with hundreds of pigs

    The truck loaded with hundreds of pigs

    The police pull over the truck on the motorway just after we cross into Italy

    The police pull over the truck on the motorway just after we cross into Italy

    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.

     

    The watering system runs out of juice

    The watering system runs out of juice

    How NOT to fill up a 600litre water tank when the pigs have run out of liquid.

    How NOT to fill up a 600litre water tank when the pigs have run out of liquid.

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    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.

    Unloading the pigs late at night in a temporary rest area. The unloading is almost more stressful than the journey. 24 hours laters they are loaded up again for another journey

    Unloading the pigs late at night in a temporary rest area. The unloading is almost more stressful than the journey. 24 hours laters they are loaded up again for another journey

    Pigs in close captivity often fight. Wounds on the body are common, especially if they have to fight over limited water supplies

    Pigs in close captivity often fight. Wounds on the body are common, especially if they have to fight over limited water supplies

    And the inevitable tragic ending ... Shakespeare would have been proud. Only one pig died - either trampled to death or from sickness or stress. Transport companies are only prosecuted if it can be proved the pig was sick when loaded, not if it gets sick en route.

    And the inevitable tragic ending … Shakespeare would have been proud. Only one pig died – either trampled to death or from sickness or stress. Transport companies are only prosecuted if it can be proved the pig was sick when loaded, not if it gets sick en route.

    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

     

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  • DAY 387 (over-running): HITCHING WITH PIGS ALONG THE RIVEIRA

    Oct 15 2013
    Julia and Alberto waiting by the side of the motorway. And waiting. And waiting

    Julia and Alberto waiting by the side of the motorway. And waiting. And waiting

    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.

    The continuing pig journey. I'm following pigs that travel from Spain down to Italy for slaughter

    The continuing pig journey. I’m following pigs that travel from Spain down to Italy 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?

     

    Alberto takes photos of the trucks when they stop for petrol (or their obligatory rest stop for the drivers.) Strangely the drivers are very accepting of the work Animals Angels do. Often they sympathise with their work but are forced to break some laws by their employers

    Alberto takes photos of the trucks when they stop for petrol (or their obligatory rest stop for the drivers.) Strangely the drivers are very accepting of the work Animals Angels do. Often they sympathise with their work but are forced to break some laws by their employers

    Julia and Alberto inspect a truck

    Julia and Alberto inspect a truck

    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.

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    A chicken puts it's head through the plastic grating.

    A chicken puts it’s head through the plastic grating.

    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’.

     

    A horse swells up in transport.
    Horse meat, unlike in the UK is not an issue. They just eat the stuff.

    Horse meat, unlike in the UK is not an issue. They just eat the stuff.

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    A horse swells up in transport.

    A horse swells up in transport.

    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.

     

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  • DAY 385 (nearly there!): THIS LITTLE PIGGY WENT ON A REALLY, REALLY, REALLY LONG JOURNEY

    Oct 13 2013

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    ‘Live export’ is a term that occasionally rears its bruised head into the ‘animal loving’ media.

    Reports typically contain pictures of sheep crammed into trucks bound for countries outside of Britain where the rules for slaughter are less savoury than our own.

    Since most people know what it’s like to be stuck on a tube in rush hour or a bus with no air conditioning the photos receive sympathy.

    And those who’ve flown Ryan Air are appalled.

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    But what people don’t always understand is the enormity of the issue and why so many animals travel so far.

    • Why do pigs have to travel at all?

    • Why can’t pigs born in Holland stay in Holland?

    • What’s so good about Italy for slaughter?

    • And if Italians do insist on foreign meat can’t they get it sent over dead? After all you can get a lot more bacon into a truck than you can pigs and bacon doesn’t shit everywhere.

    The answer has very little to do with freshness and everything to do with money.

    Tokyo train pushers

    Tokyo train pushers

    Who cares about live export?

    If you remember, we’re tracking the life of a typical EU pig: he gets born in Holland in a nice little metal crate, is transported to Spain at a few weeks old and after fattening for four months on slatted floors then goes on to Italy to be slaughtered.

    And the point of this?

    To know how much pain is involved in a standard plate of EU bacon (or any pork meat) and what choices we can make to avoid being part of that.

    And if you think that Britain is above all this, you should think again. Later, I’ll be going into all the main British supermarkets and tracing their pork products and explaining what sort of life the pigs had. You’ll be surprised.

    The problem with Europe

    Whether you are pro-Europe or against it, the setting up of the free trade agreement was a catastrophic moment for farm animals.

    Before that moment animals travelled to the nearest slaughterhouse within their country. Crossing the border was costly and complicated.

    But as regional structures dissolved farmers were able to dispatch animals to whichever slaughterhouse was paying the best price that particular week. Animals became exposed to the often shrill winds of continent-wide market forces with little welfare protection.

    Pigs, by EU law, are allowed to travel up to 29 hours before having to be unloaded. And once they’ve been unloaded for 24 hours they can go another 29 hours.

    That’s a pig of a journey.

    Especially for an animal that is typically 5 months old and is often standing in its own shit in crowded conditions sometimes in brutal summer heat. But it’s good news for the ‘middle men’ who set up the deals between the farmers, the transport companies and the slaughterhouses and who hold the real power as they preside over their map of Europe flickering on their computer screens.

    In countries outside the EU they don't have it so good...

    In countries outside the EU they don’t have it so good…

    The welfare problems are further entrenched by the fact that countries become specialized in production – Holland breeds a lot of pigs, Spain is cheap for fattening, Greece has it’s fair share of slaughter houses.

    This means that efforts to change welfare laws are up against vast economic systems.

    A recent and ongoing campaign to cap live-export journeys in the EU to 8 hours (which would effectively mean that no animal in Britain could be exported at all unless sheep from Dover had their heads chopped off in Calais …or flew concorde to NY) has struggled because it would mean winding down international supply chains. Although even the most hardened EU commissioner admits it would be nice for animals to get to their death quicker, in this economic climate no-one can justify giving the pigs a shorter ride.

    ...then again nor do the people

    …then again nor do the people

    How bad can a journey be?

    In the next blog I’m meeting up with a charity called Animals-Asia and I’m going to travel from Spain to Italy, following trucks on their journey, stopping the drivers and seeing exactly what it’s like for the pigs. That should be rather lovely – along the french riviera and all that.

    When I was 12 I went on a skiing trip with my school to Austria. It was a 23 hour journey and it was brilliant. I really fancied the girl sitting in front of me and stared at the strands of her hair falling over the seat without eating or drinking.

    How bad can a ride be?

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  • DAY 319: HOW DO I SAVE FARM ANIMALS? THOUGHTS PLEASE!

    Aug 10 2013
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    LIVE EXPORTS – a horrendous cause of animal suffering around the world.

    This morning I’m about to head off to a demo in central London against the live export of animals for slaughter. Organised by Compassion in World Farming. Sheep and cows stuck in small trucks for many hot hours. Maybe I’ll get there by going on the tube – to get into the mood so to speak.

    Excuse the lack of blog updates recently, I’m working frantically behind the scenes to start my work on farm animals whilst tying up all the wild animals. So to speak.

    Next week I’m due to travel abroad to visit some farms undercover of which I will update you soon.  Oh and I’m still due to watch Earthlings…been avoiding that a little. Its on my computer.

    There is one big question swirling in my head which I wanted to spill onto the page and get your feedback

     

    HOW DO I SAVE  FARM ANIMALS?

    60 million+ animals a year killed in farms. What possible difference can I make?

    Here are my thoughts. But feedback please before i go off in the wrong direction.

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    ANSWER 1) WITH DIET AND CONSUMER CHOICE.

    I’ll be looking carefully at what sort of impact a vege or vegan diet has on  our bodies, soul, the environment…and of course, the animals. But as usual filtering it through my fairly small brain and loose fingers for ease of reading. Do I need to become Vegan? I’m scared. I know I shouldn’t be but I feel I’m looking over the edge of a high (and fairly unstable) tofu cliff.

     

     

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    ANSWER 2) ANIMAL LIBERATION:

    I’ve been told that liberating farm animals almost certainly ends up in jail time and multiple escaped cows wandering on motorways – in which case one of you will have to liberate me from prison. I’ve made a decision NOT to go down this route as much as you want to read about me running away from a high security farm with a pig under each arm chased by Giles with a shotgun (actually I just spoke to someone about this who WAS chased by a captive-bolt gun weilding farmer). I will however look at rescuing battery laying hens.

     

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    ANSWER 3) RAISING AWARENESS:

    One of the best things I can do is tell a story of what goes on in farms. This is not saving animals per se but its still  the most useful action I can take. The ENTIRE  industry relies on people turning a blind eye to suffering on farms. To the slaughter, live export, rearing, separation. We ignore it and believe the pretty picture on the packet of healthy cows in a green field.

    But here’s the issue: there’s no point me preaching only to vegans, and there is no point doing writing something so grim everyone turns away – like they have always done. So I’ve decided I’m going to look at ‘respectable’ EU farms – not grim siberian slaughterhouses or egyptian market places  – and tell the story of  one animal only.

    I don’t want to shock, I just want to illuminate.

     

    Which aspect of farming is most cruel?

    Which farm animal do people most relate to?

    What story should I tell?

    How can I make a difference?

     

     

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