Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The animals are in a pitiful condition. Many are confined to tiny pens, struggling to move; some look terrified, others have ulcerated lesions or cuts on their flesh. The corpse of a piglet rots alongside live sows. Maggots swarm over its decomposing flesh. A number of the animals are suffering from infections.
Video footage taken inside the premises of one of the largest pork suppliers to Tesco, the supermarket giant, has revealed conditions described as ‘appalling’ by animal rights campaigners.
The scenes were uncovered at Cherry Tree Farm in Attlesborough, which is part of the giant Bowes of Norfolk group. Bowes supplies thousands of kilograms of pork, bacon and processed meat to Tesco each year.
The video was shot in secret by animal rights group Vegetarians International Voice for Animals, Viva, as part of its long-running investigation into pig farming. Although there is no evidence of the company breaking any legal welfare guidelines, the scenes show the brutal reality of intensive pig farming.
Pregnant sows are held for weeks at a time in small farrowing crates – narrow metal cages only inches wider than the animal. The sows are unable to turn and can only stand up, lie down or suckle their piglets once they are born. The crates are designed to maximise productivity, and ultimately drive down the cost of meat.
Campaigners, who say their use leads to severe stress and abnormal behaviour in pigs, are calling for them to be outlawed. Pressure groups argue the conditions show that Tesco’s claims that its pork products come from animals enjoying a high standard of welfare are a ‘deception’.
Alistair Currie, campaigns officer at Viva, said: ‘The scenes inside Bowes pig farm are bad even by the low standards of intensive pig farms and provided clear evidence of animals suffering appallingly. Bowes are leading suppliers of pork to one of Britain’s top supermarket chains and claim to place emphasis on animal welfare; they should not therefore be rearing pigs in conditions like this for sale to the public.’
The findings will prove embarrassing to both Bowes and Tesco. On its website, Bowes boasts about holding RSPCA Freedom Food animal welfare accreditation, which is supposed to ensure that animals are reared free from discomfort, pain, injury and disease and have the freedom to express normal behaviour free of distress. It turns out that only some Bowes facilities are backed by the RSPCA and Cherry Tree Farm has not won accreditation.
Trevor Jarvis, chief executive of Bowes, who has examined the video, defended the standards of animal welfare at his farm. He said: ‘We care immensely about the pigs at our farm … The sores on the pigs were because the animals were ill, but they were being treated with medication. Sadly the pigs did not recover and were shot the next day.’
Jarvis said the film was made in August on one of the hottest days of the year and therefore the pigs had been wallowing in mud to get cool, as they do in the wild. He said the animals were startled by the intruder at night shining lights into their eyes. Jarvis said the dead animals were stillborn. He said the sows had given birth at night, and the farmhands had not had a chance to remove the carcasses.
He did accept that the farm was ‘out of order’ for allowing maggots to eat the flesh of one carcass. He said the farmhand responsible had been given a verbal warning.
Tesco was also shown the evidence and launched an inquiry. A spokesman said: ‘We expect the highest standards from our suppliers and they are audited regularly to ensure these are met. We take allegations of this type extremely seriously and fully investigated them, as did the RSPCA. Neither Tesco nor the RSPCA found any animal welfare problems, and we will continue to monitor them to ensure high standards are maintained.’
The RSPCA confirmed they had since visited the farm and are satisfied the problems have been dealt with.
According to campaigners, up to 95 per cent of the 16 million pigs reared each year for meat are factory-farmed, with many kept in confined farrowing crates. Bowes, which has been involved in meat production for over 40 years, is one of Britain’s largest suppliers of pork, selling meat for use in pies, sausages and processed meat.
The company, which employs more than 600 people and has an annual turnover of over £30 million, is Tesco’s major UK-based pork supplier, providing pork cuts for all of the chain’s ‘Finest’ range, processing 50 per cent of its ‘Organic’ and ‘Tender Select’ ranges and a substantial part of its ‘Standard’ range, as well as providing meat for sale at the chain’s over-the-counter service.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun