Four supermarkets have suspended a pig-farming company after The Independent showed them footage revealing horrific neglect and abuse, including dying pigs left among the living and workers kicking animals too crippled to stand.
Pigs even turned to cannibalism and sick animals were left without treatment to suffer in squalid conditions at Willerby Wold Piggeries in North Yorkshire.
Morrisons admitted the scenes were “appalling and shameful” and said it was urgently investigating.
One vet said it was some of the worst footage she had ever seen, with workers displaying “a monstrous disregard” for the animals – but that it was not unique among UK pig farms.
Red Tractor, the scheme that says it certifies only meat from animals that have been well cared for, dropped the farm’s membership after The Independent revealed the footage, and the farm said it was working with “veterinary advisers to address concerns”.
Morrisons was at the centre of a campaign this week targeted at investors in the supermarket, over its animal-welfare standards. Activists claimed the chain sells “Frankenchickens”, living lives of misery.
Undercover investigators who filmed inside Willerby Wold’s sheds 12 times earlier this year captured footage of pigs with bulging hernias, blood on their bodies or painful, infected wounds.
Many animals are seen in the videos covered in flies and others are left shaking from disease.
Some were so sick their intestines were outside their bodies, the footage shows, although The Independent is not publishing such scenes.
The footage was handed to the Surge animal-rights group, which said it identified 15 potential breaches of animal-welfare laws.
Dying and dead pigs were left among the living, all kept on filthy floors with excrement on, the witnesses said.
Some that were lame and too ill to get up were gnawed at by their pen mates out of frustration.
The footage shows one animal that cannot stand forced to drag itself along the ground when a worker kicked it.
Alice Brough, a former pig vet who used to carry out welfare checks for Red Tractor endorsement scheme, said: “This is among some of the most harrowing footage I have seen captured in the UK.
“Crippling lameness and longstanding infections can be seen in abundance, exacerbated by the heinous conditions in which the pigs are forced to live. Tails are chewed out of stress, despite all pigs having been mutilated at birth to shorten them.
“The stockpeople display a monstrous disregard for the sentient animals under their care, ignoring the sick and dying, and kicking paralysed pigs that cannot get away.
“The unit is squalid, the pigs riddled with disease, and the many dead are left to rot in pens with the living; this is the sort of place that will produce our next pandemic.”
Dr Brough, now an animal-rights activist, added: “Unfortunately, the serious health and welfare issues on this farm are not unique, and reflect much wider concerns across the industry.”
Ed Winters, co-founder of Surge, said: “What investigators documented here is yet another example that animal cruelty is not a rarity on farms, but is the norm. Time and time again we are told these investigations are bad apples and don’t represent the reality of animal farming, but by now undercover investigations have exposed cruelty on countless farms that are Red Tractor-certified.”
A Morrisons spokesperson said: “The footage we have seen is appalling and shameful. We are urgently investigating and have immediately suspended Willerby Wold as a supplier.”
Tesco said although the farm did not regularly supply the chain, it had suspended supply from Willerby Wold.
Sainsbury’s said it also suspended the company as a supplier while the findings were investigated, saying it had no direct relationship with the farm but it was possible a tiny amount of product was temporarily sourced from Willerby Wold by a supplier this year.
The farm was a back-up one, and any it uses are “all required to meet our high welfare standards”, the company said. “The health and welfare of our animals is extremely important,” Sainsbury’s added.
An RSPCA spokesperson said: “This footage is very distressing.
“We are concerned that there appears to be violations of the laws in place to protect animal welfare on farms. It appears to show disturbing scenes where sick, dying and dead animals are worried at by other pigs, and a lack of enrichment and bedding.
“We were not contacted about this via our cruelty line, but as soon as we received the footage, we contacted the Animal Plant and Health Agency (APHA) to urge them to look into this as soon as possible and take action.”
A statement on behalf of Willerby Wold Piggeries Ltd read: “The welfare of our animals has been the most important consideration for Willerby Wold Piggeries and continues to be so.
“Recent questions relating to our animal welfare have been raised and we take this very seriously.
“In addition to routine and spot audits, we are currently working with assurance professionals and veterinary advisers to address any concerns or issues that have been raised.”
An Asda spokesman said the chain had comprehensive animal-welfare policies, and its supplier was investigating the issues seen in the footage, adding: “Our priority is to source from producers accredited to Red Tractor or RSPCA Assured standards.”
A Red Tractor spokesman said: “We were shocked by the footage filmed at Willerby Wold Piggeries. Based on evidence from our own investigation, and the undercover footage, this farm’s membership of our scheme has been terminated.”
Willerby Wold Piggeries, which houses up to 7,000 pigs at once, received nearly £300,000 in subsidy payments under the EU Common Agricultural Policy from October 2019 to October 2020, government figures show.
Peter Andrews, of the British Retail Consortium, also speaking for Aldi, said: “Our members take their responsibilities to animal welfare very seriously and are appalled by the uncovered footage. This will be investigated, and swift action will be taken against any breaches to the high animal welfare standards our members uphold.”
On the chicken welfare campaign, a Morrisons spokeswoman said all the chain’s regular chicken is raised to above Red Tractor standards, adding: “We also actively monitor for any malpractice in our supply chain; we will never tolerate it or look the other way.”