Warning: Graphic content throughout this article.
Two farm workers have been sacked after a film revealed pigs apparently being beaten to death on a free-range farm supplying Morrisons and Tesco supermarkets. Other animals were sick or paralysed, but left untreated, footage appeared to show.
The RSPCA suspended the farm from its Assured scheme after The Independent notified it of the scenes of cruelty.
Secret filming over eight days at the “high-welfare” farm in Norfolk appears to have captured a worker bludgeoning a pig with an iron bar for 23 seconds while the animal screams.
The worker then apparently leaves it alive for nearly two minutes before returning and again attacking it.
Four days later a female worker is filmed also using an iron bar to beat a pig, which is thought to have died as a result.
The footage by Joey Carbstrong, a former gang member-turned-animal activist, as part of a documentary film, called Pignorant, about how the animals are killed in the UK. The video was shot in June last year but has only just emerged.
Using blunt trauma to kill pigs is illegal in England and Wales. Most are killed in controversial carbon dioxide chambers.
A vet, who branded the beatings “illegal and inexcusable”, said the footage also showed other pigs had respiratory disease.
Harford Farm is part of the Norfolk Free Range group, which – just weeks after these scenes were filmed – was given RSPCA Assured endorsement. At the time the farm was supplying food giant Pilgrim’s, and it “finished” pigs for the meat to be sold as “high welfare”.
Waitrose used to be a customer of the farm but severed ties with it four months before the beatings took place.
Tesco did not respond to requests for comment but it’s understood the supermarket giant no longer buys from the farm.
The employees caught attacking the animals were sacked after The Independent alerted the farm and the National Pig Association (NPA) to the video clips.
The footage also showed many of the pigs were unwell or dying, suffering coughing and chronic diarrhoea, according to Mr Carbstrong.
“They were not seen by a vet during the filming, and 104 pigs died over two weeks. Dead pigs were left out to rot for days and cannibalism was common,” he said.
He said he saw and filmed a paralysed pig and numerous animals with large hernias.
Dead pigs that had not been disposed of were scattered throughout the site, he claimed.
In the office was a small poster stating that blunt force trauma is illegal, he added.
Veterinary manager Prof Jill Thomson, of Scotland’s Rural College, said: “To see a pig to beaten to death like that is truly shocking. The pig was paralysed and should have been either taken into hospital accommodation for appropriate care and treatment or humanely euthanised by means of a legal and acceptable procedure appropriate for the size of pig.
“Under UK legislation and welfare requirements that underpin the recognised pig assurance schemes, the actions shown in the video are totally illegal and inexcusable.”
She also confirmed that several pigs showed signs of respiratory disease.
Just weeks after the pigs were beaten, the RSPCA – unaware of the footage despite a “thorough assessment” – admitted the farm to its Assured scheme. The farm’s membership was later suspended when the charity was shown the footage.
A Norfolk Free Range spokesperson said: “We have been disgusted and distressed by the actions of our employees depicted in the footage; it is not acceptable and not representative of the way in which we look after our animals.
“As soon as we were made aware the individuals involved were instantly dismissed.
“We are compliant with all recent farm inspections but are of course cooperating fully with the investigation being conducted by RSPCA Assured and will be implementing a full review of our business to ensure this does not happen again in future.”
An RSPCA spokesperson said: “The behaviour shown falls significantly below the high standards we demand of our members. It is completely unacceptable for any animal to be treated in this way.
“As soon as we were shown the footage, we reported it to the Animal and Plant Health Agency - a government body that is fully equipped and resourced to investigate and take action.”
A Morrison’s spokesperson said: “We care deeply about animal welfare, and the video footage is shocking and unacceptable.”
The supermarket said it had been in contact with both Pilgrim’s, which bought pigs, and Cranswick which bought the farm, and that it had been told an urgent investigation was under way.
A spokesperson for Pilgrim’s UK said: “We pride ourselves on the highest standards of animal welfare and as such the behaviours observed in the activist video are shocking and inexcusable, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.
“We can confirm that Harford Farm has not supplied any animals into Pilgrim’s UK for more than a year, having served notice in February 2022.”
It’s understood, however, that some animals from the farm were still sent to Pilgrim’s during the notice period, the final ones being supplied between July and September. The farm then disposed of its remaining livestock.
The National Pig Association said: “The behaviour depicted in the footage is wholly unacceptable and cannot be condoned in any way.
“It is also not representative of the care pig farmers provide to their animals across the country on a daily basis.
“NPA is aware that the individuals involved have been dismissed with immediate effect and we await the outcome of the subsequent investigation conducted by the various assurance and enforcement bodies.”
A spokesperson for Cranswick, which took over the farm after the beatings had happened, said: “We are shocked by the footage we have seen, and cannot condone the behaviour of the farm workers or the conditions of the pigs shown.”