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Investigation Inside Red Tractor-certified Pig Farm Supplying Tesco Reveals Dead Piglets and Caged Mother Pigs

Animal Equality UK’s eight-month investigation into Cross Farm in Holsworthy, Devon, reveals a string of abuses, both legal and illegal.
09/07/2024 Updated: 11/07/2024

Alongside award-winning photographer, Aitor Garmendia, Animal Equality investigated Cross Farm, a Red Tractor-assured farm supplying pig meat to Tesco.

Owned by WJ Watkins and Son, the farm confines an estimated 12,000 pigs. On the breeding site, pregnant and mother pigs are confined in ‘farrowing crates’, small cages in which pigs are unable to turn around. The female pigs repeatedly give birth to piglets that are ultimately destined for the UK pig-meat market.

Dead piglets, caged mother pigs, and decaying corpses

Across six visits in October 2023, January 2024 and June 2024, our team – joined by Animal Equality’s Executive Director – gathered over 100 hours of footage. We found:

  • Piglets ‘thumped’ and killed against concrete walls;
  • Piglets having their tails cut off and their teeth ‘clipped’, without anaesthetic;
  • A piglet thrown by workers across the shed;
  • Dead piglets throughout the farm. Paperwork reported that piglets had died from starvation, sickness, or after being crushed;
  • A bin full of dead piglets and rotting corpses on the barn floor;
  • Mother pigs in cages showing repetitive behaviours, a sign of psychological distress, such as bar-biting. One pig, who had attempted to turn inside the cage, became caught beneath the metal bars, suffering deep, bloody wounds as a result;
  • Mother pigs suffering from red, raw leg sores and vulval prolapses;
  • And filthy conditions in the barns, with cobwebs and dust present throughout.

Having visited Cross Farm personally on several occasions, I witnessed the suffering of these animals first-hand. I looked caged mother pigs in the eye and their deep sorrow will stay with me forever

Abigail Penny, Executive Director, Animal Equality UK

Cross Farm: A repeat offender

Cross Farm won the National Pig Award in 2016 and 2017 and earlier this year Adrian Russell, a Director of Cross Farm, was in the running for an elected producer seat for the National Pig Association Pig Industry Group. While unsuccessful in obtaining a seat, Adrian boasted of ‘having worked for 30-plus years in the pig industry’.

This is not the first time that Cross Farm has been exposed for poor practices. In 2017, following a tip-off, Animal Equality filmed pigs kept in leaking, dilapidated buildings covered in slurry and forced to lie in their own waste. The team also recorded two pigs with large hernias left in pens with other pigs, pregnant pigs kept in concrete pens without any enrichment, and all pigs had their tails cut.

In March of this year, another organisation – Glass Wall Films – released footage from within Cross Farm. Captured in late 2023 the footage shows dead piglets and decomposing bodies, pigs engaging in cannibalism, caged pigs suffering from untreated wounds, and cramped, filthy conditions.

Formal complaint to authorities

Animal Equality has engaged law firm, Advocates for Animals, to submit a formal complaint to Trading Standards and the Animal Plant and Health Agency. We believe that there are several potential legal breaches with regard to the treatment and killing of piglets, seemingly untreated injuries to pigs, the presence of piglet carcasses, inadequate enrichment provisions for pigs in cages, and unsanitary conditions throughout the farm.

The potential breaches to animal welfare laws seen in the footage captured by Animal Equality is very concerning

Taylor Mcleod, Solicitor, Advocates for Animals

“Not an isolated incident”, say experts

Animal Equality’s investigations have evidenced time and again that animals farmed for their flesh suffer greatly on farms, and experts agree.

According to Dr Alice Brough BVM&S MRCVS, a swine veterinarian that worked with commercial pig producers across the UK between 2015-2019, “most of what we see here is typical of the industry as a whole… very little of UK pig farming is suitable for the eyes of the public”.

Eva Read, PhD candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science, agrees. Having conducted research on commercial standard pig farming in the UK and studied vocal communication of emotions at a pig farm in France, she too is familiar with typical British farming practices.

This footage is distressing, not because it is an example of extreme but rare horrors that are possible in UK pig farms, but rather because it is not rare. I see here standard practice and that is what should motivate us all to demand better.

Eva Read, PhD candidate, London School of Economics and Political Science

An lack of legal enforcement

In 2022, Animal Equality and The Animal Law Foundation released a first-of-its-kind report examining ‘The Enforcement Problem’. Through Freedom of Information requests, they discovered that fewer than 3% of the UK’s 290,000 farms are inspected on average each year by a regulatory body and 0.33% of complaints lead to a prosecution. Their report also details that nearly three-quarters of pigs have their tails cut off routinely on farms – a physically and psychologically painful practice carried out without pain relief to prevent pigs from tail-biting. Tail-biting occurs when pigs become stressed and is exacerbated by inadequate space and a lack of enrichment.

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