November 20, 2020


Footage of poor standard animal welfare in Spain's pig farms released



Animal welfare campaigners in Spain released footages of newborn piglets lying in faeces, pigs with pus-covered wounds and pig carcasses in varying states of decomposition.


Spain is expected to overtake Germany as the European Union's biggest pork producer this year. In 2019, a record 53 million pigs were slaughtered across Spain, fuelling demand for products such as chorizo, tenderloin and lard across the EU and around the world.

The photos and videos published by Tras los Muros were recorded during undercover visits to more than 30 pig farms across Spain in 2019 and 2020. Tras los Muros, which translates as Behind the Walls, said the farms were in the Spanish regions of Aragón, Castilla-La Mancha and Castilla y León, which are home to around 17% of Spain's more than 86,000 pig farms.


"Some of the pigs they found appeared to be severely injured and were thought to be showing signs of issues such as hernias, abscesses, prolapses, arthritis or necrotic tissue," said Garmendia, who led the undercover team.


As Germany reels from an export ban on its meat following the discovery of African swine fever among wild boars in the country, Spain is expected to see a boom in demand for its pork. Turnover in the Spanish pork industry passed €15 billion (US$17,771,235,000) last year.


Even though the COVID-19 pandemic ushered a deep recession, sending the price of black Iberian pigs plunging, Spain's pork industry has proved resilient with consumption of fresh pork surging 8% in the first seven months of this year.


Tras los Muros campaigners said they entered some of the farms more than once to confirm that their initial observations were isolated events. After seeing numerous pig carcasses in one facility, Tras los Muros did a follow-up visit after three months and found the pig carcasses lying in the same spot. "Nobody had taken them away," said Garmendia.


Eurogroup for Animals, which is a Brussels-based non-government organisation, said the published images appeared to show several violations of the EU regulations.


"These images testify to an enormous amount of suffering that should be prevented or mitigated, according to the EU law, by good husbandry practices and common sense," Elena Nalon, Eurogroup for Animals' senior veterinary adviser for farmed animals, said in an email.


"All of the pigs seen in the footage are tail-docked," Nalon said, referring to a measure that involves amputating all or part of the pig's tail to try to protect against pigs biting each other's tails. Tail-docking has been shown to cause acute trauma and pain for pigs and is illegal under the EU law.


"Images that appear to show dead rats in the facilities and severely sick or injured pigs contrast with the EU legislation stipulating basic hygiene and appropriate, immediate veterinary care," said Nalon.


In recent years, Spain's pork industry has been backed up by millions of Euros spent by the EU in promoting pork. More than €5 million (US$5,924,000) was pledged in 2019 for a campaign approved by the European commission aimed at tackling controversies on the sustainability of pork meat, and animal welfare. The three-year campaign aims to inform the consumer under the age of 35 about the reality of production in the entire pork chain.


Trade body Interporc, which represents Spain's white pig sector, described the footage captured by Tras los Muros as out of sync with the reality in the pig farming sector. "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," Interporc said.


"Should any farm fail to meet the necessary standards of animal welfare, it is in the sector's own interest to ensure authorities take action," Interporc noted, citing an email account set up earlier this year to allow the public to lodge complaints.


"But any possible, isolated incident cannot be considered to be the reality of the sector."


The most recent available figures on inspections carried out across Spain's more than 300,000 livestock farms date back to 2016. That year saw 11,195 inspections carried out and non-compliance was detected in 19% of the visits.


Spain's ministry of agriculture gave no response when requested for comment.


 - The Guardian