Secret abattoir video shows 'sickening' abuse of animals
Charity's secret video shows pigs being kicked and stamped on – prompting
calls for CCTV cameras in all abattoirs
The government is calling on nearly 370 slaughterhouses in Britain to install
surveillance cameras to help enforce legislation against cruelty to animals,
following a controversial campaign run by animal rights activists.
The Food Standards Agency plans to override objections in the meat industry
to the move by saying breaches of the law are "unacceptable" and
enlisting the support of consumers and supermarkets for the campaign.
The move, to be discussed by the agency's board on Tuesday, represents a
victory for the animal rights charity Animal Aid, which installed secret
cameras in seven abattoirs across England. The charity said it had footage
of pigs being kicked, stamped on and inappropriately stunned. Sainsbury's
said it had suspended its contract with an abattoir in June as soon as allegations
were made. It had resumed beef supplies last month once it was satisfied
improvements had been made: "We have the highest standards of animal
welfare and we are working with all suppliers across all species with a
view to them all installing CCTV."
The abattoir owners said "comprehensive" measures had been taken,
including CCTV installation and retraining of all staff with responsibility
for handling animals.
The charity claimed undercover footage revealed "serious systemic problems"
in a total of six abattoirs, including substandard treatment of pigs, sheep
and cows before slaughter and improper stunning. The campaign group gave
only one abattoir a relatively clean bill of health.
Tim Smith, chief executive of the FSA, told the Guardian he found images
on the film "sickening". While he said he would not condone how
the footage was obtained, he described Animal Aid's campaign as "a
good thing" that had triggered a major rethink over accountability
in the meat industry. "From our perspective, what we were seeing was
evidence that allowed us to go directly back to the food business operators
and say: 'It doesn't really matter how this footage was obtained, or how
it came into our presence … look at the footage, and here is what
the FSA as the enforcer in this area thinks,'" he said.
Five of the slaughterhouses filmed by Animal Aid were later investigated
by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It dropped an
attempt to prosecute a company in Devon and some of its employees after
concluding there was no prospect of a conviction.
The department believed there were legal problems over the admissability
of evidence obtained undercover by a freelance investigator employed by
Animal Aid. He allegedly trespassed on the property to conceal a camera
and obtain footage. Animal Aid, which will release a report into all seven
slaughterhouses shortly, is refusing to identify the investigator. However,
the Guardian has established his identity – he is a 49-year-old former
hunt saboteur with a long criminal history.
Defra has now dropped all attempts to prosecute the abattoirs. It said in
a statement it had dropped the prosecutions after becoming aware of similar
legal precedents where courts had refused to accept "unlawfully obtained
Nearly 280 slaughterhouses in England, Wales and Scotland slaughter pigs,
sheep, goats or cows and another 88 poultry.
Smith said of the undercover film: "You wouldn't want that sort of
evidence being presented as any way normal, or any way being condoned by
any regulator." He added: "The very disappointing bit –
and I take Animal Aid at their word – is the number of [slaughterhouses]
they entered resulted in the hit rate that they got … it was an unexpected
He added that while his agency could not compel abattoirs to install CCTV,
he was backing a move to actively encourage them to do so: "We looked
at the cost [of installing CCTV], and it didn't seem to us to be disproportionate,
compared to the reassurance that the customer of that plant might get,"
he said. "If I was a major retailer in this country and thinking what
I was going to give my customers that … the best animal welfare standards
were being used, then I would be putting [CCTV installation] in the specification
for meat procurement."
Jamie Foster, a solicitor at Clarke Wilmott LLP, who represents four of
the abattoirs targeted by Animal Aid, said that where footage suggested
failings, remedial action was taken. "Each of the abattoirs took that
footage extremely seriously and they had to work through it with the FSA,
the regulator," he said. "All the allegations have been fully
dealt with by the authorities to ensure there isn't any concern."
Foster, whose legal submissions were instrumental in convincing Defra to
drop its prosecutions, questioned the methodology employed by Animal Aid,
which he said was breaking the law and failing to abide by statutory requirements
governing how government agencies collect surveillance material.
He said that Animal Aid's investigator was recently "caught and escorted
out" of another abattoir that he represents in the south-west of England.
The investigator, who uses the pseudonym "Joe", was unavailable