We don’t know how many investigations have been conducted inside British factory farms and slaughterhouses, but it must run into the hundreds. Together, they have shed light on industry-wide, systemic suffering, such as the pressure sores on pigs who are confined to farrowing crates, lameness in chickens who are bred to grow too fast, and eye infections suffered by factory-farmed ducks who are routinely denied access to water. These investigations also reveal commonplace and deliberate abuse, including workers kicking, dragging, throwing and punching animals, burning them with cigarettes, and using them as balls in a sick game of baseball.
But before we get our boxers in a bunch, the thing we all need to understand about these hundreds of cases of cruelty and abuse is that each is just a single bad apple in an otherwise unblemished industry. Now, if you wouldn’t mind moving along, the industry has got its piles of cash to count.
The Four-Step PR Plan
There is a tried-and-tested process used by farmers, their lawyers, industry bodies and even the government, to take the sting out of any exposé and make sure nothing really changes for animals. It goes something like this:
- Assure the public that we take the welfare of animals very seriously
- Take action! Launch an immediate investigation!
- Downplay events. It’s not that big a deal and maybe it didn’t even happen
- If all else fails, fire a poorly paid, replaceable worker. It was definitely all his fault.
And now here’s that plan all jazzed up with some lovely shiny examples…
Step 1: “We Really Care About Our Animals”
It might appear that those who harm, cage, mutilate and send animals to their deaths don’t really care about animals. So, let’s put that record straight.
- At a Yorkshire slaughterhouse, Animal Aid filmed workers kicking sheep in the head and face; taunting them with knives; and lifting them by their ears, fleeces and legs and throwing them into solid structures. A spokesperson for the slaughterhouse said: “Bowood Lamb makes animal welfare its highest priority.” Well, that is a relief.
- When Animal Equality filmed at a Scottish salmon farm and discovered horrific methods of slaughter and no external oversight, the government stepped in with its now-classic one-liner: “The UK has some of the highest animal welfare protections in the world.” (Just not for fish.)
- And when workers at a Carmarthenshire dairy farm were filmed punching and kicking cows, and hitting them with metal shovels, there could be no doubting the severity of the abuse. And yet the farm’s lawyer kept a straight face when he assured the world that “the farm owner continues to invest in the health and welfare of his herd.”
Step 2: “You Can Trust Us to Find Out the Truth”
Thankfully, in step 2, the authorities step in. You can be sure that they will investigate and they will deal with it, so you can stop worrying your pretty little head about it now. For example…
- After our very own recent KFC farm investigation, a spokesperson for Moy Park told The Guardian: “Claims such as these are treated incredibly seriously and we immediately reviewed the footage along with independent audits and veterinary reports.”
- After a 2017 investigation by Animal Equality into shocking conditions inside pig farms, all of which had been approved by Red Tractor, that industry accreditation scheme took swift and decisive action by immediately suspending one of the farms. (And then, almost as quickly, reinstating it when it turned out that everything was hunky dory after all.)
- And in 2021, a Viva! investigation into two RSPCA Assured fish farms revealed workers “throwing live trout and kicking them to the ground as they struggled for air”. Never fear, Test Valley Trout Farming is here. They said: “We have agreed to a full review of all processes and procedures with immediate effect, so that we are able to clearly demonstrate every aspect of our fish production comes up to the exacting standards expected.”
I think we can rely on these people to do the right thing, don’t you?
Step 3: “Nothing to See Here”
Or, as we like to call it: What? Are you still hanging around? We’ve already told you that we care about animals and that we’ll take the right steps. What more do you want from us?
Strap in, they’re about to get belligerent.
- Back to our own recent exposé of a chicken farm that supplies KFC. When snookered by the evidence, the farm threw up its hands and admitted that, yes, a “small number of birds may die”. Nice deflection, Moy Park. We saw the paperwork at the farm so we know that the small number in question happens to be a rather big number: 13,634 to be precise. That’s the number of birds who die on that one farm every 40-45 days.
- And check out this for an ill-advised PR response. When a Viva! investigation at a Leicestershire pig farm found appalling suffering, malnutrition and feral cats eating the rotting carcasses of deceased animals, its spokesperson simply told the national press that the farm had done nothing wrong. That’s it. That’s the full statement. Oh, apart from a “farm source” adding that the entire investigative film had been falsified. Looks like someone has taken a leaf out of the Shaggy “It Wasn’t Me” Playbook.
- Flat-out denial, even in the face of unequivocal filmed evidence, is surprisingly common in this industry. When Animal Aid filmed inside a slaughterhouse in Essex, it found workers kicking, beating and punching pigs in the face, and deliberately burning them with cigarettes while laughing hysterically. The firm’s lawyers came out swinging like a man who had been drinking Special Brew in the park on an unseasonably warm Wednesday afternoon. They said that the slaughterhouse “would not accept all or any of the activities on this video relate to their premises”. (And then they undermined their own position by saying they had sacked two staff members. D’oh. In case you’re interested, those men were later jailed.)
Step 4: “Look, We Got Rid of the Bad Man. Let’s All Move On”
If the story just won’t die down, drastic action must be taken. No, not the kind of drastic action that sees genuine contrition and a determination to change for the better. Nope, the kind of drastic action where a worker gets jettisoned.
- Back at Bowood Lamb, the slaughterhouse owner admitted that the actions of “one of our slaughtermen” fell below the standard required and that he had duly been fired. Ah, there he is, the one bad apple. Except there were FOUR workers involved and each received suspended prison sentences for their part in the abuse.
- In 2021, Animal Justice Project filmed animals being slapped, punched and kicked at a farm near Bath. The farm’s owner was “horrified” by the footage, which showed “moments” of unacceptable behaviour by a staff member. The bad man was fired and all that was left to do was to reassure the public that the “rest of the staff care deeply for the animals”. Yada yada yada.
- And although we could go on and on, let’s wrap up with the one where workers at a Lincolnshire pig farm were filmed laughing as they abused the animals there. As you might expect, the owners were shocked to see the evidence. Like many other farm and slaughterhouse owners, they had absolutely no idea that this was happening on their own premises, under their very noses. Of course, they fired the workers involved. What else would someone who really cares about animals do?