Undercover footage suggested some animals were suffering painful hernias “as big as footballs”, and all were fed antibiotics considered “last resort” by the World Health Organisation, it’s claimed.
Animals on the 20,000-pig farm are supplied to the Herta brand, which makes frankfurters sold in five leading UK supermarkets.
The company, 40 per cent owned by Nestlé, claims to be “more respectful of the environment and animal welfare”.
But the secret video, shot by French activists, appears to reveal farmers breaking a series of welfare laws.
Weak piglets, considered unprofitable, were apparently slammed on the floor, where those that did not die immediately were said to writhe in agony.
Mother pigs were kept in sow stalls that are illegal in the UK because they prevent the animals from turning around.
One worker was seen “raining blows on a caged pig that squealed in pain”.
Last year, Waitrose dropped all Herta products after “deplorable” conditions were revealed, including pig cannibalism, caused by overcrowding.
Slamming piglets on concrete floors happens in the UK, too. Earlier this year, Tesco said it was ditching a “high welfare” Aberdeenshire supplier when a criminal investigation was launched into why pigs there were hammered to death.
This time, hidden cameras were placed on the farm in northern France over two months by animal-welfare group L214, which is filing a complaint against it for animal abuse and mistreatment.
The footage appears to show:
- animals living on concrete floors
- pigs “covered with faeces”
- sows kept in stalls so small they cannot turn around – legal in France but banned in the UK
- sick or injured animals with hernias “as big as footballs”
- animals gnawing on metal bars in sheer frustration
- sows and piglets beaten
- piglets having their tails cut off without anaesthetic – done routinely against regulations
- piglets’ teeth being clipped with pliers
- male piglets castrated without anesthetic by tearing of the tissue, which is banned
- rotting bodies dragged around and thrown into fly-infested dumps.
Investigators said it was clear many animals were in pain.
Other illegal practices allegedly included pregnant sows in cages not having permanent access to water; animals having no rooting material, and equipment and floors being filthy.
The activists said they found the farm was using colistin, an antibiotic of “last resort” which Waitrose and Marks and Spencer ban in their supply chains.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says its use on pig farms contributes to increased antibiotic resistance.
Apramycin and lincomycin were also being used, which are defined as “critical” and of “high importance” respectively by the WHO.
Herta says its suppliers are “committed beside us to improve farming conditions”.
“This is the second time footage has revealed the depravity and neglect behind Herta’s promises of high welfare,” said Connor Jackson, chief executive of Open Cages, which received the footage.
He said UK retailers’ lack of vigilance allowed low-welfare imports, and consumers were unknowingly buying meat from animals that were “beaten, tormented and pumped full of antibiotics”.
“Waitrose did the right thing by dropping Herta, and we are urging Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda and Iceland to do the same.
“Selling animal products reared in conditions that would be illegal in Britain suggests animal welfare is not a top priority for these companies.”
He said the farm has been charged with animal abuse and mistreatment over last year’s revelations and would face court next year.
Morrisons declined to comment, and Iceland did not respond to requests to comment.
Tesco told The Independent it was urgently investigating the claims with Nestle.
An Asda spokesperson said: “We take animal welfare extremely seriously and as soon as we were made aware of these claims we launched an investigation with the supplier.”
A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “Animal welfare is extremely important to us and we’re investigating with Herta.”
A Nestlé UK spokesperson said: “We do not tolerate animal welfare abuses anywhere in our supply chain. The scenes shown in this video are unacceptable. We have contacted Herta to ask them to investigate this farm as a matter of urgency and take the necessary action as needed.”