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Cruelty at pig farm prompts investigation
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AFS (Red Tractor) promises action

The exposure of systemic cruelty to animals at a Norfolk pig farm by animal rights group Animal Equality has prompted an investigation by both the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and Assured Food Standards (who run the famous Red Tractor scheme). A two-month undercover investigation assembled 200 hours of footage, over 300 photographs and records of conversations in which evidence of severe breaches of animal welfare standards was uncovered.

The group recorded evidence of:
  • Beatings in which pigs sustained facial and other bodily  abrasions.
  • Piglets being thrown through the air and kicked.
  • Piglets being left dying or dead both within pens and inside feed.
  • Routine teeth clipping of piglets between 24 and 48 hours of birth.
  • Killing animals by swinging their heads against concrete floors.
  • Throwing still-live animals into the 'dead-bin'.
The 600-acre Harling Farm in Norfolk is accredited under the Red Tractor scheme, and Stephen Brown (whose family have owned the farm since 1920) is said to be cooperating with investigators. Animal Equality, which supports a vegan lifestyle, has declared that its findings provide ‘shocking insight into the British pig industry and demonstrate that regardless of whether a farm is labelled as ‘Quality Assured’ there exists pain, suffering and exploitation on a massive scale’.

In light of the fact that the abuse took place at an accredited farm, questions have been raised about the level of scrutiny inherent in the Red Tractor scheme. Chief Executive of Assured Food Standards David Clarke defended the scheme, insisting that it maintains the ‘most robust inspection regime in the world’. Mr Clarke also condemned the behaviour shown in the footage, highlighted the immediate response from AFS when alerted to the problem on Friday, and called for the prosecution of those responsible if the allegations are proven. “We are reviewing our systems in light of the lessons learned here and will almost certainly revert to more unannounced inspections.” he added. Harling Farm has been removed from the Red Tractor scheme with immediate effect.

The National Farmer's Union (NFU) have also strongly condemned the behaviour in the footage. Commenting, a spokesman said “The NFU is shocked and appalled by the scenes contained within this footage. We do not condone any behaviour of animal cruelty or neglect. British farmers work to high standards of animal health and welfare and the NFU is working with Assured Food Standards, who regularly carry out independent inspections of their Red Tractor Assured farms, to better understand this situation. We will comment more fully once investigations are complete.”

Echoing the NFU's stance, an RSPCA spokeswoman added that “The RSPCA was disgusted by the apparent deliberate animal cruelty being inflicted in the footage, which has been reviewed by one of our farm animals scientists. It is one of the worst cases of animal abuse we have seen. Within hours of receiving the footage on 10 February 2012 two RSPCA inspectors and a chief inspector attended the farm to check the welfare of any animals there. We are treating this matter extremely seriously and a full and thorough investigation has began."
 
“As with any other RSPCA investigation, if evidence of deliberate cruelty and/or suffering in contravention to the Animal Welfare Act is found, a file will be passed to our prosecutions department to determine whether or not to start legal proceedings. While the investigation continues it is not appropriate for us to make further comment as it could jeopardise a possible future prosecution.”

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