Sep 02 2013
    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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    Aug 20 2013


    Four legs, oink oink, ketchup, british policeman

    Not so mysterious at all.

    Or is it?

    How much does the average person know about the average animal that they eat so regularly for their average breakfast?

    I’ve decided that over the next few months I will tell the life of a typical pig from birth to death and the welfare issues associated with it. At this point I hear the click of departure to other blogs and to more entertaining animal fodder. Kitten dances to ABBA. Monkey sticks finger up bum.

    What a smell....

    What a smell….

    But pigs can be sooo cute too...

    But pigs can be sooo cute too…

    mini pigs


    But I want to strike a deal. If its true that the prevalence of intensive farming depends largely on ignorance (or denial) of what happens behind closed doors then the last thing I want is to make you turn  away. You clearly CARE. Who will listen if not you?


    I’m not travelling to India to see pigs attacked with hammers. I’m not going to tiny farms in remote Laos. I’m heading to good upstanding EU countries that are subjected to strict welfare laws far more rigid than in China or India or Brazil (where they kill far more pigs than in Europe). In return I hope you’ll carry on reading.I don’t want to seek out gore, I don’t want to show pictures of death or slaughter or one in a thousand cruelty. I want simple truths about what happens to a  EU pig from birth to death. Should we not know?

    Every year around 1 billion pigs are killed. Nearly half are killed in China but a large proportion of the rest in Europe, with Germany being the biggest consumer.

    I will witness for you the life of one of the many millions of EU pigs. I will describe my emotions with honesty and I will show the good side of European farms as well as the not so good.


    Two problems

    1) The first problem is that 90% of pigs that are farmed in Europe are intensively farmed. Which means living their lives indoors for a few months before they meat, I mean meet, their end. I’ve no doubt that many of you are vege/vegan or organic meat eaters. But clearly if I’m to do justice to a TYPICAL EU pig I have to spend a fair amount of time looking at typical intensive farms.

    2) The second problem is:  how on earth do I get access?


    Happy Pigs

    But first I’m going to go and meat, I mean meet, some happy pigs. I’m off to visit a wonderful woman in London who has two pet pigs and who knows about the animals and also abotu farming.

    This may sound ridiculous but I figure if I don’t know pigs as individuals – what they are LIKE, then how can I begin to understand their emotional journey? A pig in Fulham is not an intensively farmed pig – but that is the point.

    Come with me as we get to know pigs in all their guises.

    If he thinks he's going to get access to me with that business card he's having a a laugh.

    If he thinks he’s going to get access into intensive farms he’s having a laugh

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