East Anglia (December 6, 2022) — Pressure group Animal Justice Project has filmed RSPCA-Assured pigs and piglets in Norfolk being shocked with an electric goad, slapped, crushed, kicked and thrown down trailers whilst being transported to the abattoir and between several of the RSPCA’s ‘higher welfare’ farms.
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The disturbing footage ,campaigners say, raises questions on whether the welfare of pigs during transit will be adequately protected under expected new rules the government has been promising to put in place since leaving the EU [3 - 5]. The findings have been sent to the RSPCA, Trading Standards and Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), and follows an investigation by the same NGO last year of calves being thrown down trailer ramps [6, 7].
The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which is currently in Parliament at Report Stage since it passed Committee , is set to ban live exports; however, Animal Justice Project say pledges made by the Conservative Party in its Action Plan for Animal Welfare [3, 9] are unlikely to improve the welfare of many of the 10.9 million pigs transported across the UK to abattoirs and between farms .
The scenes, captured in East Anglia by Animal Justice Project between July and August this year as part of their ‘Lives Not Stock’ campaign, show the distressing treatment of pigs and piglets during loading and unloading at several ‘Peddars Pigs’ RSPCA-Assured farms [11,12] - a company that sends pigs to Morrison’s abattoir, Woodheads, as well as that of leading food producer, Cranswick Foods in Thetford. The pigs were filmed being loaded onto an RSPCA-Assured pig haulage transporter .
On one of the days, around 3,000 piglets were loaded and unloaded at outdoor RSPCA sites in Suffolk. Handlers hit the young piglets with boards, kicked them, threw them in the air and down the ramp, and hung them upside down. This occurred in front of other handlers who did nothing to prevent the malpractice. A strong indication, Animal Justice Project says, that this abuse is the norm.
Dr Alice Brough BVM&S MRCVS, UK pig veterinarian, who watched the footage, says: “"To see piglets of only four weeks of age kicked, hit and thrown with such force is deeply concerning; not only is it entirely unnecessary, but is a clear breach of welfare regulations on what should be a ‘high welfare’ facility. Boards are to be used to create a barrier or passageway so the pigs clearly understand which direction they are to move in, they are not to be weaponised, particularly on such young piglets."
At RSPCA-Assured Limes Pigs, in Suffolk, finisher pigs destined for C & K Meats abattoir were shocked with an electric goad in the face, shoulders, front and back ends. The panicked animals attempted to escape by jumping hay bales whilst the handler shocked them in quick succession without waiting for a response. The use of electric goads is forbidden by both the RSPCA  and by Red Tractor , and legally its use must only be as a last resort, on the pig’s hindquarters when there is a clear way for that pig to move forward . In 2018 Red Tractor dropped a farm for using the electric goad . The EU Commission has noted too that electrical goads are painful and distressing for pigs , and studies overwhelmingly show it is highly aversive causing panic reactions and increased heart rate [eg 18, 19].Following such cruel handling, pigs have been found to find abattoir lairages even more stressful at the end of their journey .
Brough also says: “The footage shows thatuse of the electric goad was repeated and gratuitous, and thus constitutes a significant breach in welfare regulations.”
At two other East Anglian RSPCA farms - Deal Farm and Hall Farm, animals were repeatedly jabbed with the boards, hit on their heads and rammed with the metal transporter door. At Trees Farm in Suffolk, workers kicked a pig in the face after failing to create an effective barrier, and at Fleming's Hall Farm, handlers rammed the transporter metal door against the pigs’ faces. Pig boards and paddles were used to hit animals as standard, adding to the distress, pain and panic.
Several pigs in the footage were covered in filth with what appeared to be ammonia scalding on their back ends, according to Brough which, she says, “indicates a failure to provide enough clean, dry bedding and a dry lying area, or to manage enteric disease”. The animals also appear to be in mixed-sex groups, which goes against RSPCA standards where pigs are reared to 110kg or more. “With the ongoing pig industry crisis, many pigs are remaining on farms beyond normal finishing weight” says Brough. “These pigs are tail-docked, which one might not expect on a higher welfare farm, but unfortunately this is the norm to counteract the failure to provide an environment and care that meets the pigs’ needs.”
Aside from the physical abuse captured on the 125 hours of footage, lame pigs were also documented - one individual unable to bear weight on the leg which is a breach of transport legislation . Scrotal hernias appeared to be common.
The new Action Plan, Animal Justice Project claims, will do little to help pigs such as these. The current legislation already prohibits the transport of unfit animals for slaughter, yet last year a staggering 1.26 million animal welfare non-compliances were logged by the Food Standards Agency at abattoirs . Almost three thousand involving pigs who arrived with, for example, broken limbs, emaciation, lameness and prolapses. Hundreds of pigs were also found dead on arrival . Enforcement of existing guidelines and legislation regarding farmed animals is poor, campaigners say, according to a new report by law firm, The Animal Law Foundation , using data and insights from public bodies, including local authorities and central Government, veterinary experts, leading academics, and investigative animal protection agencies [24, 25].
Live transport has been demonstrated to pose serious threats to animal welfare. Pigs have been shown to suffer even short journeys  due to their inability to regulate their body temperatures, being mixed with unfamiliar pigs, and subjected to handling which, the NGO says, is often the most stressful part of the journey for pigs due to handling and the forced movement from a familiar environment to a new one.
Claire Palmer, Spokesperson of Animal Justice Project, said: “Whilst we welcome the long-awaited live export ban, the government’s Action Plan on the domestic transport of animals in reality will mean very little for the thousands of pigs sent to slaughter and between farms every day. Even on farms claiming ‘higher welfare’, such as RSPCA-Assured, as our footage shows. In short, the experience felt by pigs and other animals at arguably the most vulnerable time of their lives is unlikely to improve. We urge consumers to think seriously about the implications of buying meat and other animal products, and choose instead a more compassionate, plant-based diet.”
Animal Justice Project is an animal protection NGO based in the UK with over 200,000 followers and a 8-year history campaigning to end cruel animal farming practices. https://www.animaljusticeproject.com
NOTES TO EDITOR
- The Action Plan, developed in partnership with the farming industry, will introduce a limit on longer journey times, for example 18 hours for pigs instead of the current 24 hours, provide animals with more headroom, and implement rules on temperatures [27, 28].
INTERVIEWS / FURTHER INFORMATION
Claire Palmer MSc, Director: T. 07851 497 827 E. firstname.lastname@example.org
 Pig video [clean version with no text overlay available upon request]
 Email received from Alison Baldwin, Company Secretary, Peddars Pigs, October 13 2022 [per comms]
 Correa, J.A., Torrey, S., Devillers, N.,Laforest, J.P., Gonyou, H.W., Faucitano, L., 2010. Effects of different movingdevices at loading on stress response and meat quality in pigs. Journal ofAnimal Science 88, 4086–4093
 Dokmanović, M., Velarde, A., Tomović, V.,Glamočlija, N., Marković, R., Janjić, J., Baltić, M.Z., 2014. The effects oflairage time and handling procedure prior to slaughter on stress and meatquality parameters in pigs. Meat Science 98, 220– 226
 Driessen, B., Peeters, E., Thielen, J. Van,Beirendonck, S. Van, 2013. Practical handling skills during road transport offattening pigs from farm to slaughterhouse: A brief review. AgriculturalSciences 04, 756–761
 Sutherland, M.A., McDonald, A., McGlone,J.J., 2009. Effects of variations in the environment, length of journey andtype of trailer on the mortality and morbidity of pigs being transported to slaughter. Veterinary Record 165, 13–18