SPECIAL REPORT BY EUGENE COSTELLO: Calls have been renewed for EU laws regarding animal welfare to be overhauled or enforced more vigorously as shocking footage has emerged of appalling treatment of pigs on Spanish farms.
The footage, obtained by Tras Los Muros (Behind the Walls), was obtained in undercover visits in 2019 and 2020. It shows pigs left in various stages of decomposition, piglets encased in faeces and pigs covered with pus-infected sores.
It comes as Spain is poised to overtake Germany as the EU’s largest pork supplier and is being greeted with anger and hostility by organisations representing producers who appear to be more concerned with profit than documented abuses.
In 2019, Spain slaughtered a record 53 million pigs to satisfy an EU-wide demand for pork-related products including chorizo, tenderloin – secreto – and lard, to name but a few, a demand that is translated even into worldwide sales.
Tras Los Muros is an investigative project headed up by photo-journalist Aitor Garmendia, who led the undercover team to 30 pig farms in the regions of Aragón, Castilla-La Mancha and Castilla y León, home to 17% of the country’s 86,000 pig farms.
To ascertain whether these were one-off situations, Tras los Muros investigators entered farms on more than occasion, said Garmendia. At one farm where they saw numerous pig carcasses, on their next visit three months later investigators found them in the same locations in advances stages of decomposition. “Nobody had taken them away,” said Garmendia.
The Brussels-based NGO Eurogroup for Animals told the Guardian newspaper that the images appeared to show several violations of EU regulations.
“These images testify to an enormous amount of suffering that should be prevented or mitigated, according to EU law, by good husbandry practices and common sense,” said Elena Nalon, the group’s senior veterinary adviser for farmed animals.
She added that all of the pigs in Tras Los Muros‘s footage are “tail-docked”, a practice that involves amputating the pig’s tail to try to stop other pigs biting them, a practice that has been proved to cause pain, trauma and unnecessary suffering and that is illegal as a routing practice under EU law.
And she furthermore pointed out that the footage shows dead rats alongside dead , sick and injured pigs, all of which are in contravention of EU laws regarding hygiene and urgent veterinary intervention in such cases.
Trade body Interporc condemned the footage taken by Tras los Muros as as misleading and unrepresentative. “The illegal assaults on Spanish farms are aimed solely at damaging the sector using out-of-context images that do not correspond to the reality of our country’s more than 80,000 pig farms,” it said.
It is not a good look for the sector, which has received millions of euros in recent years to promote itself, including €5 million last year for a three-year campaign aimed at the under-35s to tackle ““controversies on the sustainability of pork meat and animal welfare”, sating that its aim is to “inform the consumer about the reality of production in the entire pork chain”, a nod to the growing awareness of animal welfare among the young.
The most recent government figures relating to inspections of pig farms date back to 2016, according to a written answer in Parliament two years later, which said that just shy of 12,00 inspections were carried out at the 300,00 facilities nationwide, and contraventions were found at just shy of 20% of sites.
Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture declined to comment on this report.