Undercover footage at French pig farm shows ‘abusive’ conditions
The unit, which supplies the Herta brand, had been cleared by French state vets and claimed to be addressing concerns
French veterinary officials have been accused of publishing “falsely reassuring” inspection findings after undercover footage at a farm appeared to show pigs in conditions that continued to breach regulations following allegations of abuse in December.
The farm is a supplier for the Herta brand of frankfurter, part-owned by Nestlé, which is sold by most major UK supermarkets.
In December 2020, the French NGO L214 released undercover footage that appeared to show pig cannibalism and other serious issues at a farm that supplies the Herta pork brand. The brand is 60% owned by Spanish food company Casa Tarradellas and 40% by Nestlé.
These allegations prompted Waitrose to suspend sales of Herta products and Nestlé to pause supply from the farm to Herta, pending investigations. Separately, the Allier regional government launched its own inquiry.
On 16 December, Allier effectively cleared the pig breeder of any mistreatment charges. Its statement said: “In general, the inspection concludes that the farm is in good condition and that there are no major non-conformities.”
New undercover footage, however, said to have been filmed in January 2021 and released on today, appears to show pigs in conditions that continue to breach French regulations, L214 said. Infringements cited by the NGO include: the absence of any hay, straw or other bedding, no apparent fresh water, pigs with docked tails and unsuitable flooring.
EU law governing pig welfare stipulates they “must have permanent access to” rooting materials “such as straw, hay, wood, sawdust, mushroom compost, peat or a mixture of such”. Pig tail docking is outlawed in the EU, other than in exceptional circumstances.
Vets contacted by the Guardian and who watched the undercover footage also raised concerns.
Vicky Bond, a UK vet and director of the Humane League, described the pigs’ conditions shown in the footage as abusive and said UK consumers were “often unaware that we import products that fall below UK animal welfare laws”.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Alfonso Senovilla Labrador, a Spanish civil service vet, said although the video was not as bad as some he had seen, there were several welfare infractions he would have noted as part of an inspection.
“The most important ones are the lack of water for some animals,” he said, as well as overly-wide slatted flooring gaps in which pigs could trap their feet.
In another area, Senovilla noted that a newborn piglet’s legs were trapped by a different type of floor slatting. Without help, he said, the piglet probably died. Senovilla also pointed to areas in the pig barn that were in “an excessively dirty condition”.
Walter Sánchez-Suárez, a vet and consultant to US NGO Mercy for Animals, said he was struck by the poor hygiene, inadequate flooring and apparently “systematic” tail docking – a procedure he described as painful.
Tail docking, he said, aimed to prevent pigs biting each other’s tails to relieve the stress “typically caused by poor environmental conditions and management practices”.
Sánchez-Suárez said the apparent shortages of water and enrichment materials – items meant to relieve pig boredom – should have seen the farm “deemed as non-compliant with the current EU laws”.
L214 has begun legal action against the French state for “the failure of the veterinary services to fulfil their mission”.
In a statement L214 said: “Contrary to what the veterinary services claimed in a press release issued 16 December 2020, [the pig farm area] violates the regulations on a multitude of points: systematic cutting of tails, untreated injured animals, lack of water for many animals, lack of materials to occupy the pigs, [parts of a] roof collapsing in one of the buildings.” The “easily observable non-conformities” should, it said, have been noted and sanctioned.
The NGO further claimed that the “falsely reassuring” inspection findings led to Herta reinstating the pig breeder as a supplier, and to Waitrose restocking Herta products.
A statement to the Guardian from the Allier regional government, where the pig breeder is based, said that while there had been some welfare issues, they were being resolved.
The statement said although the inspection “did not reveal any major non-compliances”, there were “minor or average non-compliances justifying a formal notice to the farm, communicated on 17 December, asking it to bring itself into compliance”.
It added that a visit by inspectors this week showed “the operator has indeed initiated the expected corrective measures”, and was installing watering equipment and enrichment materials, replacing floor grates and reducing the number of pigs in each pen.
Responding to questions from the Guardian, Herta said in a statement: “This farm was suspended from the Herta supply chain following allegations in December. An investigation was carried out including an onsite audit by French authorities who found there were ‘no major non-conformities’ and that the farm complies with legal and national standards. The farm was therefore restored as a supplier.”
In a statement, Nestlé said it was “strongly committed to improving animal welfare in its supply chain”, and that it condemned any mistreatment of farm animals. It was in close contact with Herta, it added, and continued “to support all efforts to drive up farming standards”.
Waitrose said it has again suspended pork products from the Herta brand while it investigates the new footage. Other major UK supermarkets stock Herta pork products and they are available online.
The Guardian approached one of the owners of the French pig farm, who did not wish to comment.
L214 Site Link – https://www.l214.com/