• 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 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.

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    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.

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    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…

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    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.

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    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 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 348: ENTERING A PIG FARM UNANNOUNCED. OOPS

    Sep 11 2013
    I was getting more and more troubled by what I was seeing. And smelling. And it wasn't coming from me.

    I was getting more and more troubled by what I was seeing. And smelling. And it wasn’t coming from me.

    We smelt it before we saw it. The aroma was familiar  – syrupy, warm, sickly – and it oozed through the gaps in the windows.

    Manuel turned off the engine. ‘This one looks OK’.  Two long white buildings sat in the dusty hillside a few hundred metres away. He didn’t mean it was a nice pig farm – he meant I might be able to get inside without anyone seeing .

    We waited for a moment. No wind, no noise, no life. The only motion was waves of heat coming off the tarmac.  But inside hundreds of pigs would be packed in upon the hard slatted floors.

    ‘Are you sure there is no person inside?’

    ‘It’s too hot. They are probably asleep, or in a bar…or it’s just left empty’.

    When animals are treated as units of mass production then welfare (and ultimately quality) is compromised in the hunt for productivity and profit. This is the flawed equation at the heart of all intensive farming. Pig production is no different. Staff cost money.

    Outside the farm we found a large container full of dead pigs with one baby pig squished underneath them. Perhaps they had been sick. Good to know that someone was tending to the dying.

    Dead pigs piled up outside a spanish pig farm waiting collection

    Dead pigs piled up outside a spanish pig farm waiting collection

    A dangerously simple plan

    The plan was simple: go in, don’t get caught, take some photos, get out. Spread the images on the blog.

    But Manuel was not keen to come inside so suggested I go in alone. This wasn’t wonderful but it made sense. This was my journey so my risk. I decided on a rough plan that were more informed by childhood experiences of retrieving a football kicked over the fence than much else –  I would enter by walking to the very corner of the building, climb over the wall where I was least visible, have a snoop round and get out before my mum found me. If necessary I could go to the sewage pond and crap myself.

    My escape route would be diametrically opposite to the road that was going into the farm. If a car came I would then head through the woods, up and over the hill and track back to the road. Either that or I would sit down and cry.

    Although nervous I felt strangely emboldened by having seen the misery of the pigs the previous day. Did this give me any right to go in? No.  These pigs need to be acknowledged  and I felt I was protected by that imperative. I was wearing a moral cloak of invisibility. Or was it a checked shirt from GAP that stood out painfully against the hillside?

    This was the most space I had seen pigs given for a while

    This was the most space I had seen pigs given since being here.  Not too bad.

    Inside the farm

    Before I knew it I was over the wall and tucked in an SAS crouched position. I had to stop myself from making a pistol shape with my fingers. This is real, Martin, wake up.

    I peered  round a wall between the two long buildings.  A long alley-way  between the buildings lead to a half-open door that I guessed went into  the pig enclosure. Thee door was fully visible from the incoming track. If a car came and I was inside the pig enclosure I would have to run out of the door in full view. The windows were blocked up. Hmmm. Screw it, I’ll go for it. Spanish prison can’t be as bad as being in a pig in a shit dump.

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    After some initial fear the pigs were keen to make contact with me but I didn’t touch any for fear of cross-contamination

    I heard a grunt then a cough. Then another cough. I stepped back but realised it must be a pig. Many pigs have chest infections in intensive farms. I scuttled over to the door and pulled it open.

    At first the conditions did not look too bad. Maybe two hundred pigs, perhaps a month or two old being fattened for slaughter. They squealed a little in fright and retreated against the back wall but then quickly settled down. There was the usual slatted floors, metal bars and intense heat but I was vaguely surprised by the space they had been given. I saw one pig with a badly swollen ear that hung down to its side.

    Dead, sleeping or hopeless? Let's play the game!

    Dead, sleeping or hopeless? Let’s play the game!

     

    I moved through the half-darkness taking photos all the while  listening if a car might come. Pigs pushed up to the bars to meet me but I made a point of not touching them for biosecurity reasons. Barriers still existed between us. One young pig lay lifeless on the floor. Asleep, dead or hopeless?    Perhaps there’s a game show in that I wondered…  Is this pig dead??? $1 million is yours if you play ASLEEP, DEAD OR HOPELESS with me, a slightly over-excited host in a pink leather coat. Thin humour provided distance.

    The conditions in the final pen were horrendous.

    The conditions in the final pen were depressing. Something tells me the pigs felt the same.

    I then moved onto the next shed. Darker in here. Adult pigs this time, but compressed into a small space so they could hardly move. Maybe fifteen or more pigs in a pen only ten foot by ten. Their long backs pushed up against each other and  covered in a black slime. More coughing. Eyes peered at me, white circles on black faces as though they were dressed in war paint. I hardly dared look at the eyes as if the pigs might think I would help.

    cramped conditions

    horribly cramped conditions

    4Y1A1793

    That was enough. It was time to get out.

    I retraced my steps and clambered back over the wall. I met Manuel and slumped back into the car. I felt relieved and physically exhausted but for the moment not much else.

    ‘Please don’t mention my name on this blog, Martin’

    ‘Of course not. Woudl you like to be a woman?’ It seemed  a strange question to ask. ‘Perhaps a priest?’

    Manuel smiled. ‘Just change my name’

    It was not until that night that emotions began to surface. Often new experiences filter down, juices rearrange in the gut and feelings bubble up later.

    But I was about to go into another three farms – also unannounced  – and the final visit was not quite as safe or predictable as I was expecting. Perhaps that is what got to me.

    In the next blog.

    I love the faux rustic mottled effect in here... Is this Farrow and Ball?

    I love the faux rustic mottled effect in here… Is this Farrow and Ball?

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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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  • 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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