• DAY 340: THE LONG (BUT BRIEF) JOURNEY OF AN EU PIG FROM BIRTH TO DEATH

    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?

    piglifecycle

    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

    legofham

    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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  • DAY 338: ANOTHER PIG DISLIKES ME..BUT I FEEL I’M GETTING A LITTLE CLOSER NOW

    Aug 31 2013

    Before I go undercover into intensive pig farms I decided I ought to meet some pigs that are a little closer to be farm animals – and yet still treated as individuals.  

    So I went to visit Gill Coleman, a woman just outside London who has three rare-breed pigs that she keeps on free-roaming land and which she leaves alone to just … be pigs. 

    Would these pigs like me any better than Snout and Crackling?

    Would I get a little closer to understanding what pigs ARE REALLY LIKE?

    Would I have a pig epiphany?

    Would I be attacked again?

    Hmmmmm….

    Three little piggies (that in fact weigh 75 stone in total)

    Gill Coleman keeps three fairly large pigs, of which two are Oxford Sandy and Blacks and the other is a Kunekune who, a little like Snout from my  last pig visit, took a bit of a dislike to me. See the video above.

    What is it with me and kunekunes?

    These pigs are kept with a lot of love – Gill  treats them for any ailment, washes them regularly, feeds them fresh vegetables and fruit and lets them have the run of some small forested land, rich in smells and texture. They are too old to be eaten and she keeps them purely for enjoyment. If I was to be a pig I’d want to live here.

    But I’m interested in the cross-over between animal as pet and as food.  Eating dogs is a huge taboo, at least in the West, just as eating horses is – see the recent horse-meat scandal. But how does someone who looks after pigs for the love of it feel about eating pork?

    Gill is not vegetarian, although she is a very conscientious meat-eater, only eating the best reared meat.  A while back Gill slaughtered one of her younger pigs and although she found it incredibly difficult it was not as distasteful as she thought:

    ‘At first it was awful. I cried and cried outside the slaughter house. But we have an image of the slaughter houses being so bad and actually this one was on an organic farm and It was over very quickly and I am sure as humanely as possible. I did try some of the pork but I can’t say I enjoyed it. But I don’t have a problem with eating meat occasionally as long as it is high welfare and organic.’

    I found this both reassuring and also a little confusing for my small moral mind. Gill is about as likeable and compassionate as a person can be, these pigs are incredibly well cared for, and yet I’m not sure how I would feel about slaughtering an animal I had got to know on a personal level. Nevetheless its clear, if we had more people like Gill, the world would be a much better place.

    After a short chat Gill left me alone with the pigs.

    Gill Coleman and one her three pigs that she keeps on some land outside of London

    Gill Coleman and one her three pigs that she keeps on some land outside of London

     

    Pigging out.

    I stayed with them for a number of hours and  did something I rarely do. I just sat. Doing nothing. Pigging out.

    When the pigs slept I stared at them, watching their bodies rise and fall, their heavy breathing disturbing the hay under their snouts.  I watched them like a baby sitter watches an infant in its bed.

    When they arose I followed them from a small distance as they explored for food using their snouts to inspect every square inch of the rough ground. I watches as they pushed up against a tree to scratch themselves. I watched as they looked for physical comfort and watched as they interacted with each other – sometimes lying face to face, sometimes getting mad at each other when they had to share the water bowl.

     

    What did I learn?

    I can safely say I made NO scientific discovery whatsoever about the life of pigs. They breathe, they eat, they sleep.

    But I found the process, nevertheless, strangely educational. Moving also.

    These pigs were alive just as I was alive and… that was that.

    They behaved very much like my dogs do when they are a little calmer and more tired and do not notice I am there. They behaved a little like I do on a Sunday morning, looking for food, snoozing, scratching. They behaved naturally.

    If I had never seen an animal before in my life and I met these pigs, aside from being fascinated and scared I believe I would consider them as a young child might, knowing that they are another being and that  should I stick a sharp stick in their back I would be causing them pain just as if I did the same to my own arm.

    One does not need to be an expert in nature to know this. But one needs to be a natural human to understand this. And sometimes I think we lose what is natural about us and relation to animals. There is a lot to said for just BEING with animals and accepting our shared experience. Breathing the same air so to speak. Oink to that.

     

    Jude sleeps:

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  • DAY 333: TAKING PIGS FOR A WALK IN LONDON IS HARDER THAN YOU THINK

    Aug 26 2013
    Antonia Pugh-Thomas with her two kunekune pigs, Crackling (left), Snout (right)

    Antonia Pugh-Thomas with her two kunekune pigs, Crackling (left), Snout (right)

    Antonia Pugh-Thomas is a typical middle-class West-Londoner:  well spoken, stylish, mother-of-three and when she’s not riding a motorbike she’s walking her two large pigs in the local park.

    ‘I have a full licence for Snout and Crackling. I carry it with me at all times when I’m out.’ she says.

    She walks her two adorable Kunekune pigs (which is Maori for ‘fat and round’)  using large dog leashes and a certain amount of determination. Both pigs weigh in at over 100kg and have an independent spirit.  ‘I have  toned arm muscles’ she says. Antonia is a likeable, lively pesonality.

     

    Antonia-pugh-10

    Antonia walks her pigs with a licence, regularly going to the local park

    Antonia-pugh-11

    I’m here to meet these two pigs because I want to understand the emotional life of pigs.

    If they are so intelligent, sensitive and emotional why don’t more people have them as pets?

    Will getting to know them make me more empathetic to them as a species?

    And can you even get to know a pig?

    ‘They make perfect companions’ says Antonia who keeps them in fenced area in the garden with fresh hay and a home-made shelter system. She has trained them to sit on command and she  feeds them fruit and fine vegetarian food.  They are both beautiful creatures, with fine, clean hair and an ease about them.

    ‘One of my favourite things is to come back from work, pour myself a beer and lie on top of them whilst reading the newspaper’.

    ‘On top of them?’

    ‘They love to be close’

    Snout (left) and Crackling (right) get very excited when they know they are going for a walk

    Snout (left) and Crackling (right) get very excited when they know they are going for a walk

    Antonia and Crackling clearly have a close relationship

    Antonia and Crackling clearly have a close relationship. But can I get I make my own emotional connection?

    Antonia-pugh

    Snout sits for food

    Snout sits for food

    Snout doesn’t like me too much

    While I’m taking photos Antonia is cautious to protect me.

    Crackling, the one with black spots is less of a problem but Snout, very regal and fine in his beige coat is more dominant and naturally wants to protect his area. He is keen to show me who is boss and regularly nuzzles me. No doubt I would be unsure if he also walked into my house too.

    ‘They have quite a bite so you have to be careful.’ I had no ideas pig BIT but I was soon to find out otherwise. Perhaps that’s why they clip pigs teeth in intensive farms (without anaesthetic) ‘But they are not aggressive creatures,’ she continues. ‘Snout got attacked in a park by a dog and  just squealed in fear and it took fifteen minutes to get the dog off. He needed many stitches. Pigs are hunted not hunters.’

    I find myself rather jealous of Antonia’s bond with her pigs. They seem very unimpressed by me. Not like a dog would be. But perhaps this is exactly why pigs are smarter than dogs – they don’t blindly accept strangers.

    Antonia and Snout in the back yard

    Antonia and Snout in her back yard / garden. Hay is one of the most effective ways to give a pig comfort and stimulation.

    Antonia-pugh-15

    Cracking

    Crackling

     

    ‘Do they show their emotions?’ I ask.

    ‘oh yes,’ says Antonia, ‘they recognise me when I come back, they get incredibly excited for food, they know when they are going for a walk and they are incredibly affectionate. Crackling looks like Gordon Brown when he is mad. But they are as personable as dogs. And I’ve had dogs with them too’

     

    Walking a pig turns you into a celebrity - of sorts

    Walking a pig turns you into a celebrity – of sorts

    You'll need a licence if you want to get your own pig to walk in the park.

    You’ll need a licence if you want to get your own pig to walk in the park.

    The pigs have a fairly strong will - and weight to back it ip

    The pigs have a fairly strong will – and weight to back it ip

    Snout ignoring the dogs and joggers in the park

    Snout ignoring the dogs and joggers in the park

    Walking the pigs

    The problem is that in a short amount of time it’s not easy to immediately…. connect with a pig. Clearly Antonia has a special bond, but the barrier to friendship is not as low as with a madly waggy tailed dog.

    Antonia walks down the middle of the road with her pigs, conscientiously cleaning up the kilos of poop and stopping to speak to every incredulous passer-by. I imagine this is what it is like to be famous – apart from the public crapping.

    She lets them off at the park and they run to the grass. Joggers stop, kids scream in delight, local dogs come and sniff but the two kunekune are oblivious, they just want to eat STUFF.

    ‘Could we take a photo over here?’ I ask Antonia

    Although the pigs didn't like me too much they were very happy to hang out with kids.

    Although the pigs didn’t like me too much they were very happy to hang out with kids.

    pigs in a passage

    Pigs in a passage. I have slightly knocked knees. Someone once said the only downside of this is that you ‘can’t stop a pig in a passage’

    Crackling has a mind of his own

    Crackling in the flowerbed – he has a mind of his own

     

    Crackling has a melt down

    ‘OK, maybe you could try and get Crackling’

    I reach for the leash and try and gently pull her over.  Crackling starts to resist and whine. I know not to put up wiht this from my dogs so I pull harder. Except its not that easy with 105 kilos of pig. Crackling starts to scream and pushes his face to the ground so that I can’t take him any further. People look at me like I’m a pig abuser.

    ‘Oh, he thinks you are taking him home. He knows it’s too soon, we’ll have to keep going forward’

    What I am witnessing is a pig STROP. I’ve read that pigs have the mental age of a three year old. I didn’t realise that at times they behave like one too. This is extraordinary. But I feel like I’m seeing something here – a little of their fears and desires.

     

    Antonia-pugh-19

    Walking picks requires very large bags

    Walking picks requires very large bags

    Later on I make the mistake of trying to pose with both pigs. I feel that at 100kg myself I should be able to manage their weight. How wrong I am. I am tied in knots as they pull in different direction and then walk circles round me.   I try and give Snout a firmer tug but he shows me he’s not to be pushed around and sinks one of his teeth into my leg. Ouch.

    This is not what I had hoped for but I certainly made a connection. Of sorts. These pigs are very much alive – independent, determined, emotional and smart. They know what they want: walks, emotional closeness, apples. They just don’t want me.

     

    Controlling 210KG on string is not easy

    Controlling 210KG on string is not easy

    Personality goes a long way

    In the movie Pulp Fiction the character of Jules claims he wouldn’t eat dog because  ‘a dog’s got personality. Personality goes a long way’.

    Vincent replies ‘Ah, so by that rationale, if a pig had a better personality, he would cease to be a filthy animal. Is that true? Jules then says, ‘Well, we’d have to be talkin’ about one charming motherfucking pig.’

    Antonia is a special breed of human – she sees that these creatures as so much more than units of production and rather as emotionally rewarding individuals. But as smart and likeable as they are I don’t feel immediately charmed. However, this is less to do with the pigs and more to do with my own expectations. Why should an animal have to dance like a puppy to win us over?  I’ve no doubt if I spent more time with both animals I would bond infinitely more.

    I need to spend more time with pigs…perhaps I need to be the one charming them

    NEXT: I’m off to a small pig sanctuary outside London to ….just hang out. 

     

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  • DAY 328: AND THE MYSTERY ANIMAL IS…..

    Aug 20 2013

    pig_diagram_resize

    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?

    pigs_2063244b

    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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