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Organic outdoor pigs raised at Eastbrook Farm in Wiltshire. Photo: helenbrowningsorganic.co.uk/
Organic outdoor pigs raised at Eastbrook Farm in Wiltshire. Photo: helenbrowningsorganic.co.uk/
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Taking the 'Pig Pledge' for happy, healthy, outdoor farming

Alastair Kenneil

4th August 2014

The factory farming of pigs is organised animal abuse, writes Alastair Kenneil, and it imperils the environment and human health. But in the UK we have the choice to buy meat from pigs raised humanely under the open sky. Will you take the Pig Pledge today?

Read the label before you buy! We in the UK are fortunate to have a labelling system that allows us to choose pork that has been raised in the open. Look for outdoor, free range or organic labels.

If you think pork sold in this country has been raised outdoors in spacious fields dotted with 'pigloo' huts, the odds are four to one you'd be wrong.

Only one fifth of the pork consumed in Britain has been raised in this way.

The rest is from animal factories, here and abroad, where the animals are so overcrowded, stressed and unhealthy that they need antibiotics just to keep them alive.

Taking the 'Pig Pledge'

Tracy Worcester's campaign - 'Take the Pig Pledge to buy meat from farms not factories' - asks people to join a worldwide movement to avoid buying pork from animal factories, and instead buy high welfare pork from supermarkets, butchers, farmers' markets or online.

This way we can all help put an end to this cruel, polluting and dangerous system. It's a call to collective action to end animal factories and to support 'real' farms, where the animals are healthy, have plenty of space to behave naturally, whose waste is a valuable part of the crop cycle, and who don't need antibiotics because they are hardly ever sick.

Somewhere in the back of most peoples' minds are images of rows and rows of pigs in steel cages, tormented by frustration and stress, filthy, diseased and miserable.

But we have learnt to turn these images off, and to disconnect them from packets of food in the supermarket - like the attractively packaged bacon, sausages, sliced ham, pork chops and spare ribs that invite us to grab them from the shelf.

Maybe it's time to put our brains into gear again. For the shameful practice of animal factories can only continue if we continue to buy its products.

Don't expect government to enforce welfare standards, or limit antibiotics or the noxious gases from the overcrowded sheds, the only possible way out is for people to reject the system by buying high welfare every time we buy pork products.

Antibiotic resistance - an increasing threat

Antibiotics are being squandered by over-use (30% of all antibiotics in Britain are being given to pigs almost entirely in animal factories), and as a result more and more diseases are becoming resistant.

The Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, like many before her, has raised the issue with government, and this time the Department of Health has announced it will publish its antimicrobial resistance strategy soon. As Davies commented last year,

"Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat. If we don't act now, any one of us could go into hospital in 20 years for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can't be treated by antibiotics. And routine operations like hip replacements or organ transplants could be deadly because of the risk of infection."

In the USA it's legal to constantly feed antibiotics to factory animals to promote growth and 80% of all antimicrobials are fed to animals. It's not that bad in the UK yet, but powerful economic interests would love to push us in that direction. 

It remains to be seen whether there will be any meaningful regulations to reduce the use of antibiotics in animal factories, or whether the government will just come up with 'voluntary guidelines' that the industry can ignore with impunity.

Profits before animals and people

But for now there are no plans in the pipeline to limit their dangerous over-use of antibiotics, or to force them to comply with animal welfare laws that say pigs must have straw or similar material, and must not have their tails routinely cut, or to stop them from sickening local residents with toxic stench and contaminating watercourses.

In any case it seems that animal factory corporations are immune from regulations intended to protect us and the animals from the 'Farmageddon' that they are inflicting on us - in the eyes of regulators, corporate profits come first.

This gives the agro-corporations an unfair advantage over ordinary farmers. Almost half the breeding sows in this country have been lost in the past twelve years because small producers cannot compete with an industry that reduces its costs by breaking welfare laws and polluting the air and water.

The environmental lawyer and campaigner Robert Kennedy Jr's observation "they cannot produce a pork chop cheaper than a family farmer without breaking the law" is true for the majority of animal factories that supply the shelves of shops and supermarkets in Britain.

Outdoors and healthy

Even though only one in five pigs in Britain is raised outdoors, that's still way better than most countries where it is rare indeed to see pigs in the countryside - roaming over grass leys, foraging and rooting, wallowing, walking and running distances that add up to several kilometres a day, behaving naturally, and fit and healthy as a result.

We should do everything we can to preserve this heritage of local breeds raising their young outdoors with plenty of space in the fresh air and sunlight, their waste forming part of the crop cycle that grows their feed.

And to do that, read the label before you buy! We in the UK are fortunate to have a labelling system that allows us to choose pork that has been raised in the open. Look for outdoor, free range or organic labels.

Try buying 'high welfare pork' from an average supermarket in Europe or the US and you will see how lucky we are that consumer demand has led to method of production labelling of pork in more than two thirds of the supermarkets in Britain.

This allows us to make shopping choices that support the kind of humane and sustainable farming that has formed our landscapes and has been part of our rural culture for generations.

 


 

Alastair Kenneil is a campaigner with Pig Pledge, a project of Farms not Factories. As a former hill farmer raising sheep in Argyll, he became aware that animals thrive out of doors in a natural environment, and committed to the virtues of sustainable farming. He later became a film-maker, working on TV documentaries about remote communities around the world and their distinctive cultures for the BBC, Channel 4 and Discovery.

Take the Pig Pledge now!

 

 

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