Viva! Campaigns Director Justin Kerswell looks at the laws governing the treatment of our farmed animals, but more depressingly, how those rules are rarely followed or enforced…
So why don’t the authorities do something?” That’s the question I get asked more than any other when a Viva! undercover investigation hits the headlines. And it is a very good question indeed.
Recently, I wrote to government department Defra to ask how many prosecutions there had been for farmed animal cruelty in Britain in the past 12 months. ‘We have no idea’ was the answer that came back. Central government, the nation’s decision and law makers, have absolutely no idea if existing laws to protect animals are working because they don’t collate or record that data. Just a simple oversight? Sadly not! British farmed animals have almost no legal protection that can be enforced and prosecutions are rare to non-existent. Prosecutions cost money and this, combined with a lack of laws, benefits corporate factory farmers who would otherwise be permanently in court. So, while politicians claim Britain has the best animal welfare in the world, farmed animals are failed by the system at every step of the way.
The government routinely claims that farmed animal welfare is robustly protected by its Codes of Recommendations for each species. Farmers need to be aware of what these codes say, but can ignore most of them because they are not legally binding. While the codes do include some laws, they are very loosely termed. Even this scant protection was recently under threat. It was only because Viva! banded together with six other animal groups in April this year to defeat plans by the government to dump statutory welfare codes, which would have essentially left the industry policing itself.
It seems that as long as you ensure a farmed animal has sustenance, they have little other protection. Even when a law is broken, it doesn’t guarantee prosecution. A few years back, our undercover investigators filmed the painful illegal disbudding of baby goats without anaesthetic at a farm in Staffordshire. The farmer himself admitted he was operating outside the legal guidelines, but received no more than a slapped wrist from the authorities. They don’t act because it would open up almost every farm in Britain to prosecution.
Turning a blind eye
Recently, we filmed shocking scenes of suffering on two pig farms – one confined piglets in cages while at the other we filmed cannibalism.
On both farms we saw sows confined in restrictive ‘rape racks’ awaiting insemination – cages almost no bigger than their bodies. The law says they should only be kept like this for a few hours, but our investigators filmed them in the early morning and it appears that they may have been left like this overnight.
We reported both findings to the relevant local Animal Health authorities. We detailed where we believed the law was being broken, sent photos and footage and offered to co-operate with any prosecution. And then we waited. The silence was deafening. To date we have had no word, not even an acknowledgement.
We know that they launched an investigation because the Daily Mail, who ran our exposè on the battery piglets, received confirmation of it. But how serious is an investigation that has no interest in talking to the people who made the complaint and backed it up with powerful evidence of cruelty?
One of the owners of the farm even boasted that they had been given the all clear, saying that they had been visited by a government vet, local authority officials and an assurance scheme assessor. She boasted: “Everything was found to comply with legislation.” In other words, keeping piglets in cages in Britain, although cruel and unusual, breaks no laws. So much for legal protection!
However, it isn’t just the authorities who repeatedly fail farmed animals. What of the much-promoted assurance schemes? One of the farms is Red Tractor approved and supplies Morrisons. Consumers are constantly told that ‘You can Trust the Tractor’. We proved that wasn’t quite true.
Following our exposè, and outraged reactions from both the public and Morrisons’ own customers, both the supermarket and Red Tractor fell over themselves to condemn the use of piglet cages. They said that the cages had been removed with immediate effect after they ‘stepped in’.
So, legal protection of farmed animals in the UK is bad – but it just got worse. In December last year, the RSPCA announced they were no longer going to prosecute illegal hunting and farmed animal cruelty cases, but will in future simply pass cases to – you guessed it – those very authorities who very rarely prosecute. The situation is likely to get even worse as cuts to local government budgets deepen.
However, the worst excesses of factory farming, from restrictive farrowing crates to gassing live day-old male chicks, is completely legal. In fact, factory farming could not thrive without the confinement, mutilation and premature deaths of hundreds of millions of farmed animals. There is little point alerting the authorities to the everyday horrors of intensive farming as they can’t do anything about them, even if they want to.
Forget about transgressions of the official recommendations, nothing appears to happen when laws – few as they are – are broken. It’s a worrying thought that even if all these claims of high animal welfare were true, the poor creatures would still end up facing the horror of
Neither national or local authorities have any interest in really protecting animals – they do have one champion and that is you. Being vegan is the only way to effectively end animal suffering.
Viva! is asking people to Face Off the British meat industry. Find out more at www.viva.org.uk/faceoff