We arrive at Challacombe farm to find a happy, inquisitive pig. It’s quite small and not too intimidating. It follows us as we walk to the farm building, trotting happily along, only stopping occasionally for a pleasant head-scratch. It’s a single happy animal having a natural existence.
You might not know it, but that’s not the existence of most UK pigs and the labelling of pork is deliberately designed to mislead you.
If pork is labelled ‘outdoor bred’ it comes from pigs born to sows living outdoors. The piglets spend four weeks with their mother outdoors before being taken indoors for 16 weeks for fattening before being slaughtered. Does spending four weeks outside merit the word outdoor when it’s only a fifth of your life? And 20 weeks of life from birth to bacon?
If pork is labelled ‘outdoor reared’ then the pigs have spent about eight weeks outside before being taken inside for the next 12 weeks. Does spending eight weeks outside merit the word outdoor when it’s only two fifths of your life? I don’t think so. I think ‘Factory meat’ would be a better description, ‘from baby animals kept unnaturally indoors’. The problem is that they’re the well-treated ones.
While we are consumed with tackling the current coronavirus there’s another pandemic causing millions of deaths; that of African Swine Fever (ASF). It’s been in circulation for over 100 years, has no cure and is almost 100% fatal, with the animals bleeding to death internally. The unofficial numbers of pigs slaughtered in China because of ASF is 200 million in a year. The Dutch bank Rabobank estimated that more than 40% of China’s 360 million pig population have died from, or been killed to stop the spread of, ASF.
Countries think that we need to invest heavily in ASF vaccine research, enhanced biosecurity, disease surveillance, animal movement controls and much more to ‘protect the pork sector and jobs in the meat industry’. There’s already a 12-storey bio-secure hi-tech pig farm in China. It’s a world away from this happy pig.
In the future, when scientists understand animal consciousness much better, they will be horrified to look back at the conditions factory farm animals were kept in.