Pigs were found eating each other alive or with gaping wounds in scenes of “extreme neglect and abuse” at a farm certified as “high quality”, campaigners have claimed.
Animal-rights activists filmed cannibalism, bodies left on the floor, and pigs covered in dirt in crowded pens at the farm in Northern Ireland.
One activist said: “This farm has some of the worst neglect and abuse I have ever witnessed in my life.”
Within hours of the footage emerging, the farm was suspended by the Red Tractor scheme, which says its members provide “safe, traceable food that’s farmed with care”.
The farmers’ union condemned the activists for risking causing panic in the animals by going into sheds without permission.
Campaign group Meat The Victims said its members saw pigs at the McGuckian Limited farm in Ballymena with gaping wounds in their hind legs, which had been slowly gnawed by others in the pen. They also photographed dead animals on the floor. Some photos were too harrowing for The Independent to show.
Tuesday Goti, one activist, said the experience was “absolutely harrowing”. She told Metro.co.uk: “One of the pigs actually had a hole in both of her sides and she was being cannibalised.
“They were eating her while she was alive. She didn’t even have the strength to scream. She was just softly whimpering and there was nothing we could do but watch that.”
Casper Hilt, another member, wrote afterwards: “Before we all went inside the one shed to do the actual lockdown protest, I got the chance to briefly scope some of the other sheds on the facility. I just opened the door, didn’t step in, took some pictures and videos and then closed the doors and moved on.
“There were dead bodies everywhere, both inside the sheds and lying around outside on the ground.
“And again, clear evidence of cannibalism happening, with several bodies half-eaten.
“These are babies forced in to insanity and cannibalism.”
Andrew Goti, a spokesman for Meat the Victims, said that as a general principle, mother pigs were typically kept in a farrowing crate where they could not turn around for more than half the year.
“They are impregnated, they have their litter of piglets who will suck on their teats. They can be terribly uncomfortable but they can’t get away. They can’t enjoy their natural behaviours of rooting and foraging,” he said.
The group of people who entered the farm said they came to an agreement with the farmer and police to take away one pig, which they took to an animal sanctuary.
Mr Goti told The Independent they had not broken in, as the doors were unlocked and there was no gate.
Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) said it was investigating the findings.
Speaking on behalf of the farm, the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) said it recognised animal welfare was important but it could not condone the group’s tactics, adding that the claims did not reflect standards on family-owned pig units across Northern Ireland.
“As a body representing farmers, the UFU will never condone or seek to justify poor animal welfare standards. It has discussed this case with DAERA and the body that certifies standards in the industry.
“The UFU backs any official investigation undertaken on legitimate animal-welfare grounds.
“If what has been claimed proves accurate, the UFU will not seek to justify it. But it cannot accept the tactics of breaking into a farm, causing fear to individuals and seeking to hold them to ransom for a publicity opportunity. The ‘end justifies the means’ defence simply does not hold water. If there were legitimate concerns, there are avenues through which these could have been raised.”
The union said the protesters’ actions risked causing still births or triggering panic.
A spokesperson for Red Tractor said: “We were shocked by the images we saw; protecting animal health and welfare is one of our top priorities and we take any breaches to our standards very seriously. We launched an immediate investigation to fully understand the extent of the issues on the farm and to substantiate the claims.”