• 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

    pig-in-livestock-truck

    ‘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.

    ryan air

    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?

    Photo-4-Pig-Rudi-Roels

     

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  • DAY 364: VIDEO: WHEN PIGS WAKE YOU AT 3AM

    Sep 28 2013

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  • DAY 362: VIDEO: STRANGE FEELINGS ON EXITING A SLAUGHTERHOUSE

    Sep 26 2013

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  • DAY 361: UNDERCOVER IN A SPANISH SLAUGHTERHOUSE (part 2) Still no photos!

    Sep 25 2013

    happypigs

    Entering the Spanish slaughterhouse was similar to entering an upmarket motorway hotel: polished, pleasant but bland.

    The entrance was  fronted by a main office with a  carpet that had never seen a drop of blood. Well-dressed administration staff sat at tables with computers and clean white paper. One had a meat sandwich on her table. No doubt the pork inside was not from the ‘kill floor’ but had made it’s long circuitous route via processing plant, packing station, supermarket and fridge . The very same route that separates death from food in our culture. The route I was about to shortcut by opening the next door to the kill zone.

    A man in a white jacket with very well spoken English took us down some steep metal steps. I wondered if was he from PR? How do you do PR for a slaughterhouse? I guess the whole of the meat industry is PR …

    ‘People think it will be world war 3 down here. But really it is very calm. First I will take you to the dirty zone’. I was nervous but kept up my banter with the guide. He was very upbeat, he could have been showing me around a perfume factory. I secretly pressed the ‘record’ button on my iphone that was in my pocket in anticipation for the noises: banging, slashing, screaming.

    He opened the door.

    woman-happiness

    Into the ‘dirty’ zone

    The so called ‘dirty zone’ was in fact a vast hall where pigs were being efficiently unloaded off the back of a truck into small holding bays. There was no screaming. It was eery and calm.

    Everything was rigid and rectangular – the architecture, the spaces, the ramps, the doors.  Each pig came in as an individual: some small, some large, some fat, some thin, some afraid, others not, but crammed into the tiny space it was hard to tell them apart. Sprinklers systems then washed off their dirt so that those that came from rougher farms were indistinguishable from those that did not.

    ‘The water relaxes them’ our guide said, ‘We want them all calm. Some people think meat tastes better when the animal is anxious. We know that adrenaline makes the meat worse so we want them to feel at ease’ I was disconcerted by this, just as I was by the relative quiet of the pigs.

    I learnt later that the ‘dirty’ zone is technical terminology for the area of the slaughterhouse where the animals enter the plant and the ‘clean’ side where the meat goes out. The precise point where the two intersect is technically where the skin is ripped off the dead body. The principle purpose of this divide is for food safety – the animals come in with all sort of dirt, vomit, faeces etc and must go out safe to consume – but the divide also creates a neat psychological separation between the animal as  a being and as a commodity.

    Pig becomes pork, dirty becomes clean, pain becomes forgotten.

    By entering the dirty side we were entering the side of life and, of course of death. This is the side is where animals arrive as individuals, where they are stunned (or in this case gassed), where they are hung upside down and are spiked in the throat, where they are drained of blood and then shortly after lose their lives. Only once they lose their skin do they lose all visual identity of what they once were. When the meat enters the ‘clean’ side we are on the side of supermarkets, consumers, packaging and we can safely leave behind all those things we associate with animal life: pain, emotion, fear and also hope.

    family-picture1

    The pigs were then ushered into a long thin corridor at the end of which a vast metal arm with a panel on the end came down and separated off the front eight or so. These were then guided up a ramp where a man at the top loaded three at a time in to a small container. The door closed, the container rotated, and a gas containing mostly carbon monoxide was released.  Two minutes later the pigs were dumped out, unconscious and limp, but still alive.

    Manuel whispered into my ear. ‘This is the point where I have seen a few wake up’

    I tensed in anticipation but each pig seemed to stay asleep as they were strung up by a single leg on a huge metal rig.

    A line of pigs now hung from the conveyor belt and slowly moved forward. This was the back bone of the whole slaughter house. This conveyor belt formed a track that took the animal all the way through to the meat packing. I followed its slow methodical progress round a bend where I saw the first recognisable aspect of a slaughterhouse. A man held a long sharp knife and with great precision dug it deep into the throat and quickly stepped back as blood gushed out into a long metal trough beneath him. The room was hot, it was steamy and its floor was very very pink all over. The man moved back and forth in a monotonous dance, dig, retreat, gush, dig, retreat, gush…

    calm

    The wrong reaction?

    But I was suprised and somewhat dismayed by my own reaction. I was not horrified. I was not disgusted. I was vaguely interested.

    How was it that all this compassion I had been trying to uncover for the last year wasn’t kicking in?

    Why did I not care more?

    Was I too overcome to feel anything?

    I think I know the answer but I am not entirely sure. On one level I was relieved that these pigs, who’d had such a miserable life, were now meeting a fairly painless death.

    But on another level my cultural normalisation was kicking in. I was seeing the pigs, that hung limply from the metal chains, as meat.  As normal meatI turned round to see where the pigs came in – alive – and where they pigs now hung – dying and couldn’t quite get my head around where the change happened. My culture and my compassion were not talking to each other. I found this confusing.

    But I was relieved to notice that the dead pigs were out of site of the live pigs coming in. Pigs are smart. Pigs understand what is happening but not if they can’t see it or hear it

    And then something disrupted the carefully orchestrated anaesthesia . One pig got loose from the ramp and escaped from the predetermined route, ran down a new path meant  for workers and and then for a moment appeared in a large doorway that looked over the killing zone. I glimpsed at it as is stood confused but a moment later it was retrieved, sqeualing intensely, and put back on its proper path to death. In that instance of escape, it was for one last second, an individual again. I saw it’s eyes and face and then it was gone.

    Our guide was unfazed.

    ‘We never ever want the conveyor belt to stop because then no one on the line can do any work and the whole slaughterhouse is dead. Things have to keep moving. Come this way and I’ll show you where we process our meat.’

    Manuel whispered into my ear a little later.

    ‘I saw it’s eyes,  it looked at me. I saw the fear in its eyes’

     

     

     

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  • DAY 360: UNDERCOVER IN A SPANISH SLAUGHTER HOUSE, PART 1 (no photos!)

    Sep 24 2013

    Anot

    Going inside a spanish slaughter house was not what I expected.

    I anticipated a hollywood movie of blood, gore and bacon galore. Rambo meets Babe meets Freddie Kruger .  I was not expecting to feel RELIEF. I was not expecting to see PRECISION. I was not expecting …. cleanliness. I was almost disappointed.

    But then I realised – this was the most disturbing thing of all. Death (and such a quantity of it) reduced to the dull psst of piston and swish of knife. The monotony and rhythm was both strangely awe inspiring and deeply deeply disturbing.

    There are no photos in this blog – I was impossible to take any – so instead I have used images of sunny farms to remind you that everything is alright.

     

    An idyllic farm

    Dear teacher, may I have an brief extension for my homework?

    Is that really the time? Day 360? OMG. How time flies. Only 60 billion animals killed since I started and I’ve saved a few hundred (sort of).

    I have some terrible news for your sore eyes: I may over run by a few weeks.

    If you were just about to run to the fridge to get your ham sandwich I apologise. This story will be over in exactly a month, October 26th to be precise.

    That is because on that date Ann and I are having a huge American wedding because our ACTUAL marriage in London earlier during the year  had to be muted as life was so frantic – I had to keep one eye on a barely-breathign photography business, deal with family issues and try and keep some money coming in.  Ann is the hero in this and I’m forever indebted. I hope you will forgive a few extra weeks because during the year I simply couldn’t afford to spend every day with the animals. If I try and save a dog on my wedding day I think Ann may rightly call everything off. And yes, Mango is due to come over to the UK but more on that later.

    OK, enough about weddings and back to slaughter houses.

    Not a smooth segway? That is because the stuff that goes on in those clean white buildings is that stuff that doesn’t FIT into our lives. It forms an essential part of the chain of events that lead to almost every meal we eat and yet it also totally and utterly removed.

    idyllicfarm3

    Happy Lego land and the house of blood.

    The pure white block building sat on the end of a clean straight street on the edge of town with simple hedges around it. The sun was sharp.  The scene had been designed by a five year old on his play set – or more likely in his virtual online world – except he had forgotten to include birds and people and clouds.  All was dentist-like, polished, ready, swept clean, white walls, doors with numbers on them. Where was the pain? I heard no noise.

     

    ‘Oh my God, is this where the pigs go in?’ I said to Manuel approaching a vast sliding door with the number 3 written vast above it.

    No. This is where the meat comes out’ said Manuel.

    Slaughterhouses are the missing piece of a very familiar jigsaw puzzle. When we are children we know what pigs are – those cute round pig things in the field – and we know what pork is – that stuff you eat with chips. But we don’t until sometime later know that pigs BECOME pork, that animal and food are one and the same.

    And yet as we grow older we still suffer the same blindness. The slaughterhouse is conceived as a huge sausage machine if you will, animals go in one side and perfect sausages come out the other – the type that you see dogs run down the street with in their mouths – and inside the point at which life becomes death is contained and silent.

    Going into a slaughterhouse is for me like going into the heart of this project. This is where man’s ultimate control over animals is exercised and choreographed. This is the missing piece of the jigsaw. What really happens at the point where animals are turned into food?

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    An ikea office with many knives behind it

    To get into the slaughterhouse we had first to meet the men – and women –  who run it.  We were ushered into a front room that was all clean ikea furniture, grey mottled office carpets, white blinds over the windows. The office was so non-descript and typical that it was  extraordinary, as if a set for a film.  And only a few feet away, behind polite doors they were about to kill 1500 pigs that day

    ‘We are a very small slaughterhouse, we rely on quality not quantity’ said the manager proudly. He was small and had the manner of a doctor or lawyer: efficient but empathetic. Why would he not be normal and kind? His daughter was with him, in her thirties, she was the same in manner and worked there too. No doubt they had a harmonious family life. This is what slaughterhouses do – they manage death so our emotions don’t have to.

    I was nervous. I didn’t like being undercover or lying about my reasons for being there and found myself clenching my hands very hard. My nails dug into my thumb and when I looked down mid conversation I saw I had cut into my skin and a small trickle of blood came out and was about to drip onto the floor. I quickly sucked my thumb, panicking that I would leave a mark. This was not a place for blood. That was a few feet away through the door. The father and daughter seemed happy to show me around and got me some white overalls and a small hat and took me through the door…

     

     

     

     

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  • DAY 354: PLEASE PASS THIS ON.

    Sep 18 2013

    Please pass this on.

    The more human eyes on this the less pigs bellies on tables.

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  • DAY 351: A CLOSE CALL AT PSYCHO FARM

    Sep 13 2013
    Are we going into Space soon? Check out my little rocket capsule!

    Check out my little rocket capsule! Are we going into space soon? I’ve been waiting a while…

    A number of you have written comments about how awful the Spanish are at treating their pigs.

    I want to make something clear.

    I have nothing against Spain in particular (despite the bullfighting, galgo abuse, pig misery and dog chaining). This is a WORLD-WIDE issue. Many many other EU farms will be of the same quality if not worse and further afield they almost certainly are worse.

    I am in Spain because it is easier to get access here than elsewhere. Please do not boycott Spain in your hearts or in actions. Boycott intensive farming and spread these images and blog to make the case for the better treatment of pigs – and all intensively farmed animals – worldwide.

    But perhaps throw your Spanish salami out of the window.

    These cold metal bars taste divine. (pigs will chew on metal like this when bored and stressed)

    These cold metal bars taste divine. (pigs will chew on metal like this when bored and stressed)

     

    Pigs snapped through a window of another farm we passed

    Pigs snapped through a window of another farm we passed

     

    RSPCA FREEDOM FOOD?

    I want to draw your attention to an undercover video that has been sent to me that allegedly shows the reality of so called ‘FREEDOM FARM’ RSPCA assured farms.

    Please decide for yourself.

    I will be tackling the thorny issue of labeling later  but in the meantime if you want to be sure your meat is not cruel it is worth knowing exactly what organic farm it came from or it might be easier to not eat pork at all. The body movement of some of these pigs in the video  – with limp back legs – is exactly as I found some in Spanish pig farms

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzwXtvu39Js

     

    A close call at Psycho farm

    I have visited some more farms undercover and also by direct entry. I won’t bore you with too many details other than to say I’ve seen some fairly regular welfare issues including dead piglets, pigs unable to stand up, a lot of bar biting (caused by stress and boredom) and a lot of pigs stuck in stalls with sores on their side where they are forced to lie down in the same position.

    Oh look, little brother is STILL asleep. (a problem with genetically engineering large litters in a small space is that crushing is a constant threat)

    Oh look, little brother is STILL asleep. (a problem with genetically engineering large litters in a small space is that crushing is a constant threat)

    Ah, they're taking him away. At last !(mother watches as her crushed piglet is removed)

    Ah, they’re taking him away. At last !(mother watches as her crushed piglet is removed)

    sores on the sides of pigs are common in sow stalls

    sores on the sides of pigs are common in sow stalls

    But the final farm I visited was not as I expected.

    Late in the afternoon, and emboldened by a number of successful entries, I was confident I could get into a large farm high up on a hill overlooking a small town. Slightly delapitated and set against the lowering light it had the vaguely sinister air that Bate’s ‘mother’ from Psycho would have enjoyed.

    We drove up the hill. I got out and peered over the wall.

    To get inside without going through the main gate involved climbing over a huge old wall and going down a steep rough hill to join a number of metal steps that would leave me exposed in the cetnre of a large complex of buildings and a good distance from any exit.

    Why did I assume no one was there?

    I clambered over the wall and down the steep slope through long grass where I met some old metal steps. I felt I was in a video game, a first person shooter, moving through enemy territoty.

    In the first shed I saw one pig was unable to use its back legs. It dragged itself through the shit and muck on its front legs whilst others repeatedly knocked it over.

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    Ham sandwich anyone?

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    Rise and shine kids! It’s another fun day down at the farm

     

    For the sake of emotional clarity I have to say that this and the other few incidents I have described of injured pigs (the youngster with the bitten ear) are the ONLY times I have seen acute suffering. The rest of the time I am witnessing a empty existence – far more painful in the long term but without the peaks of intense misery.

    I crossed the open courtyard and saw a pair of rubber boots sat by a door. A hose pipe snaked along the floor and round the boots and then into the open door. The water was running.

    I paused, considering my options. If I went back up the steps I would be in direct view of the person that might be there. If I climbed over the main gate someone might see me. Foolishly, perhaps, I went into the next farm house. It was then that I heard the pre-arranged warning signal from Manuel

    Panic. Total panic. A car was coming into the farm. The plan was to retrace my steps and then run into the woods but in the fear I went to the nearest wall by the main gate and jumped over. I have no idea if the man who belonged in those wellies was behind me but he would not have caught me at the speed I was going. However I ran directly to where the car was coming. But I was lucky. As I went over the wall the car turned round a small corner and drove down the other side of the farm.

    I met Manuel in the car. ‘Let’s get out of here now’

     

    A dark flower is unfurling

    That evening I lay in bed looking at the small images on the back of my camera.

    Throughout this year the more suffering I have seen the more engaged I have become. It has been empowering to look and then in a small way, act to help. When people say ‘isn’t it awful for you?’ I have to explain it is often, strangely, the opposite.

    Yipee! I've been born in a farm...I  don't want to even look I'm so excited

    Yipee! I’ve been born in a farm…I don’t want to even look I’m so excited

    ...oh... that's IT?

    …oh… that’s IT?

    But now I feel something new.

    The faces of the pigs have entered the darkness of my night …. So so many animals staring silently out of the confines of the pens and me so powerless to do anything. Am I feeling guilt for all the years of meat eating or is it something elese? Is it a weird sort of mourning? The pain is muffled inside me– it is not shock, not even anger, a sort of awful realization that this is something very sinister and on a very VERY big scale.

    If you are kind enough to have read my blog from the start you will remember my rather hapless 24 hour walk around London looking for animals in distress.

    I discovered little apart from a load of men in Epping forest looking for sex (I suppose also animals in need ), a few hedgehogs (not looking for sex, or maybe they were?) and also the truth of how hard it was to find – and touch – animal suffering on the surface of a city. I ended up outside London zoo at 5am trying to listen for animal roars but in the breaking dawn I was moved by the fact I could hear nothing.

    All those captive animals but no noise.

    Going inside these small dark farms in Spain has been like going into London zoo before the gates are officially open. I find myself in a place I should not be (and yet should be) and I am witnessing a world of human power over other animals that is without pretence or marketing.

    And now I have also entered a dark place inside myself and have found something silent and compressed. A dark flower is unfurling in my heart and I am not sure if I want it to grow.

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  • DAY 346: GOING UNDERCOVER INTO A SPANISH PIG FARM – PLEASE PASS THESE IMAGES ON.

    Sep 08 2013

     

    A sow in a gestation crate singing opera. Actually...being fairly miserable

    A sow in a gestation crate singing opera. Actually…it’s a fairly sad song I think

    Oh dear, I feel my blog has failed again. The photos are looking grim, very grim, and I fear I may lose you my dear readers.  Are you still there?

    Hello? (echo….echo).

    So far the trip to Spanish pig farms has been revealing, depressing and down right terrifying. The only time I normally go undercover is to pull the duvet over my eyes. This time I have a walky-talky, dark clothes, a satellite map and a  nervous tick in my heart.

    The photos you will see and the words you will read over the next few days will be an honest reflection of the conditions in many modern Spanish pig farms – and many places in the rest of Europe for that matter . This is because the farms I am visiting are entirely picked at random and I have no idea what is what.

    I would like to you to pass these pictures on to as many people as possible. This is the life of the vast majority of pigs in Europe – and much better than many pigs in the rest of the world. Awareness is our best ally.

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    Google Maps are a Spanish pig’s friend

    Manuel, my friend and assistant, has an astute plan to penetrate the intensive farms dotted around Catalonia.

    Some farms have been contacted by phone and we have asked if we can write an article about ham for an airline magazine  – the ones that agree are more likely to be the better farms – for others Manuel has scanned google maps and found thousands upon thousands which we can visit ourselves.

    In other words, make our own way in.

    It is truly astonishing just how many farms  are ‘secretly’ in the hillsides. One of the wondrous feats of modern farming is the sheer quantity of animals that we eat yet don’t see. Every year, billions upon billions of creatures slip silently to slaughter as we sleep.

    These are just a FEW of the pig farms we quickly located on google maps. Google maps are an invaluable way of locating farms from satellite imagery. The data can then be plugged into a GPS device.

    These are just a FEW of the pig farms we quickly located on google maps. Google maps are an invaluable way of locating farms from satellite imagery. The data can then be plugged into a GPS device.

    Manuel – who, on account of having bright blue hair and being only three inches tall (see last blog) – isn’t keen to come into the farms himself so has suggested that he keeps watch while I go in through the window or side door. If I am caught walking through the darkness on my own I have my defense ready : ‘hello, I’m a British fellow and I’m looking to buy some ham.’ But the other option might be better:  run fast – the fine for getting caught can be extremely serious and I’d like to stay living in the UK.

    Pig farms are fairly easy to spot from satellite:  a long shed (or sheds) housing the pigs, a round  grey object indicating the silo storage for feed, a winding dusty farm track connecting this to the road and an open pool of some kind where the shit is dumped out. Often this looks green. Just like my own .

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    Our first undercover visit

    However, our first farm is a fairly straight forward outing. It’s an arranged meeting with a fairly large farm comprising many thousands of pigs. I pose as a journalist, Manuel as my interpreter.

    The farmer meets us by a rusting gate and is fairly likeable and keen to tell us about his farm. He soon complains bitterly about the new ‘green’ EU laws that forbid him making too much profit. ‘How will we stop competition from China and India where they don’t have such strict rules? The EU regulations are killing us’ It’s good to hear this,  but nevertheless I nod sympathetically.

    It’s not long before we’ve earned his trust and we are shown inside.

    Don't step out of line...

    Don’t step out of line…

    Capture the eyes Martin...

    Capture the eyes Martin…

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    pigs are normally very clean creatures that like to go to the toilet away from where they sleep. This is not possible in the confined crates.

    pigs are normally very clean creatures that like to go to the toilet away from where they sleep. This is not possible in the confined crates.

    The long sheds are rich with the smell of pig shit and chemicals and so humid that sweat pours down inside my shirt. Rows upon rows of sows (I assume) are held in tight crates. Unable to move to go to the toilet they simply off load under their back legs. They stand, or try and lie down, on hard concrete floors with small slat that inefficiently drain urine and faeces.

    New legislation pushed forward by Compassion in World Farming has just come into effect and it is now illegal to hold a sow in a confined crate for more than 4 weeks but apparently all these pigs are here because they’ve been vaccinated. I wonder how long they will stay. Who checks the rules are not being broken?

    There are no immediate signs of acute pain or suffering – no screams, no blood, no wounds – only a muffled sense of meaningless, confined existence. These pigs are units or production. End of story.

    A sow in a farrowing crate. She has more space here than in the gestation crate (when she is preparing for pregnancy)

    A sow in a farrowing crate. She has more space here than in the gestation crate (when she is preparing for pregnancy)

    Don't forget that pigs are sociable, smart, exploratory creatures.

    Don’t forget that pigs are sociable, smart, exploratory creatures.

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    So much fun in here!

    We go into a smaller room where we are shown, with great pride, new born piglets .

     

    Fresh. Young. Clean. Open eyed and ready for their new life.

    There is less light here and the ceiling is lower and the heat higher as if we are descending into a moral cellar. Here there is new life but already they are on hard ground.

    This is one of the better farms. 

    In the next blog: I slip into my first farm unannounced….

     

     

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  • DAY 343: THE DIRTY FACE OF SPANISH PIG FARMING

    Sep 05 2013
    The eyes have it. My goal is to capture the faces - and eyes - of the pigs in intensive farms. Perhaps that can help me - and you - relate to them as individuals better

    The eyes have it. A pig in a Spanish intensive farm that I just photographed. This pig is NOT covered in outdoor mud. I can only assume it is shit. This pig has spent its entire life on hard floors with no bedding, away from light, cramped in a small space. My goal is to capture the faeces – sorry, faces – of the pigs in intensive farms. Perhaps that can help me – and you – relate to them as individuals.

    If there is one theme to this year it is this: to connect

    If there is one aspect of intensive farming that makes it so powerful it is this: it is hidden from view

    If there one way to relate to animals it is by meeting their eyes.

    If there is one thing I ask of you it is – to keep looking. 

    For all you may read about the horrors of intensive farming, the grisly facts and figures, there is nothing so powerful – or transformative – as meeting a pig face to face that is stuck in a shit-filled dark shed with no light and little space to move.

    As a photographer I spend a lot of time focusing on subjects’ eyes. Look this way please. Yet an animal’s gaze that can be even more powerful than a human’s. Partly because they have no words – the eyes are our way in – and partly because they don’t know how to lie. The eyes are our point of connection.

    The above pig – and those below – were photographed on my first day in Spain, inside a small hut planted anonymously on a hot, dry hillside. My intention with these is not to take pictures that shock, rather pictures that communicate something of the emotional experience of being an animal in an intensive farm. It is the eyes.

    The pigs are both scared of me and intrigued. The heat is hard to bear, the floor covered in excrement and the pigs closely confined

    The pigs are both scared of me and intrigued. The heat is hard to bear, the floor covered in excrement and the pigs closely confined

    Young pigs being reared for meat.

    Young pigs being reared for meat.

    A sow, one of many, in a gestation crate

    A sow, one of many, in a gestation crate

    My goal is to go undercover into as many intensive pig farms as I can and already I’ve managed to get into one farm as a supposed reporter and two others with the help of an informed and experienced local. I cannot mention his name, so we might as well call him Manuel and assume he is vastly tall or perhaps really really small. Maybe with bright blue hair. Whatever your imagination wants.

     

    Catalonia in North East Spain is a hot spot for intensive pig farming.

    Catalonia in North East Spain is a hot spot for intensive pig farming.

     

    Catalonia (Catalunya) – the heart of Spanish intensive pig farming

    I am in Catalonia, the beautiful territory around Barcelona in the North East of Spain that slides down from the Pyrenees towards the sea. Summer refuses to leave – the earth is dry and the heat rises off the tarmac yet the sprawling hills are also rich with trees and long grass.

    But in those hills are many small secrets.

    This area is home to a vast number of small intensive pig farms that are dotted around the countryside and to the untrained eye  appear as nothing other than quaint farm buildings.  Inside they are hot and cramped and festering with thousands upon thousands of lives that pass year-in year-out without ever touching natural soil or grass.

    A prettier side to Catalonia

    A prettier side to Catalonia

    My contact – did I call him Manuel? – has been into these places before. He is a vegan. He is young. He is more morally developed than me. Of this I am sure.

    We sit down in the morning and plan our day.

    Will we get busted? Will they make me try some sweaty ham?

    Read on…and more importantly keep looking.

    A sow awaits birth of her piglets in a farrowing crate.

    A sow awaits birth of her piglets in a farrowing crate.

     

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