Last night the Sunday show screened an expose of a Christchurch pig farm using footage provided by Farmwatch New Zealand. I was part of the investigation which resulted in this show and thought I would provide a more personal perspective on this story. I will also do my best to respond to comments on this post over the next few days so feel free to ask any questions.
First, here is a video which our organisation produced which gives our own account of this footage and investigation.
Secondly, a bit of context in order to clear up attempts by the minister and the pork industry to side step involvement in this story.
The Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy initially refused to go on camera for this story and when he did said the following: “I’m disappointed that this information hasn’t gone to MPI straight away. As soon as I became aware of the property I said to MPI you need to go and inspect the property.”
But MPI have already been made aware of the conditions at the farm and following our 2013 investigation MPI visited the farm and provided remedial training to staff. In August 2013 MPI visited the farm again and found that the farm complied fully with the code of welfare for pigs. In October 2013 we were told that
There are arrangements in place for ongoing monitoring of the property.
MPI have been actively involved in this farm and worked with them to the point where the buildings and care of animals were up to the standard they require. It is ludicrous then for the minister to suggest that after all of this we should once again be turning to the Ministry for Primary Industries in order to protect the pigs on this farm. The reality is that what we found is fairly typical of pig farms across the country. This farm does not seriously breach animal welfare legislation or codes of welfare because the legislation was written by and for the industry.
No doubt there will be promises to tidy this farm up and we will be told that this is a one off – a rogue farm. This despite the fact that at least two animal welfare inspectors and a registered vet had worked with the farm to get it up to standard.
Publically the industry has said this is “not a typical farm”. Privately though, the pork industry has gone to extreme lengths to shut this story down, telling the Sunday show that the footage I had filmed was faked in a number of ways. They told the Sunday that it was the activists who released the rats to make them look bad, yet the farmer himself then admitted to Sunday that he had a big rat problem. They also alleged that we: staged footage, altered footage, looped footage, and moved live and dead animals. On Friday I spent close to two hours at TVNZ proving the authenticity of my footage. It is a testament to the Sunday show that they have continued with the story despite this pressure from the industry.
The industry has already gone into damage control by attempting to place blame on the farmer who owns the farm, but they cannot deny that they have been aware of the conditions on this farm for over a year now. In fact, in 2013 New Zealand Pork responded to our investigation by saying that:
Both MPI and PigCare™ investigators found the farm to be below acceptable standards and began processes to fix the issues. The auditing and investigation processes that are in place had already identified the issues on-farm before the ‘Farmwatch’ break in.
It is worth noting here that when PigCare™ investigators found “below acceptable standards” on the farm, they only downgraded its rating from Green to Amber. I’d hate to see what a Red rated farm would look like. Apparently Amber rated farms are still able to continue using the PigCare™ label which in the light of day will hopefully display to people what a sham their whole PigCare™ label is.
In the same document they talk about ongoing monitoring across the industry in order to maintain high standards. The reality is though, that factory farming is inherently cruel and that no standards will make up for this. NZ Pork responded to the impending story by sending an email to pig farmers telling them to clean their farms up and to be on the lookout for us. Cleaning a farm just involves washing away the faeces, leaving pigs lying on cold wet concrete rather than on dirty concrete.
These sorts of tactics are typical of this industry, in 2010 NZ Pork paid private investigators Thompson and Clark to put a GPS tracking device on a friend’s car. This was in order to identify which farms we were visiting, and presumably to catch us while on a farm. Following this, I and several of my friends, had private investigators (paid by Thompson and Clark) show up at our homes and workplaces serving us with trespass notices for the farms that they knew we had already visited.
This is an industry which is terrified of the public finding out what goes on inside their farms and which will engage in any kind of dirty trick to avoid responsibility for what goes on in their farms.
NZ Pork is also describing our investigation as a “break in” despite there being no damage done to the farm. My response is to ask, if we were not “breaking into” these farms then how would the public know what was going on? It is only through the work of a small group of dedicated individuals that we have any understanding of what goes on in factory farms.
The ministry for primary industries said in October 2013 that:
There are arrangements in place for the ongoing monitoring of this property.
I can only imagine that the ministry were referring to FarmWatch because no other monitoring seems to have taken place. This is not work that I or the others I work with enjoy doing, frankly it is traumatising, difficult, expensive and risky to carry out these investigations and I am looking forward to the day that I do not have to do them anymore.
Every single time we expose one of these farms the response from the industry and the minister is the same: that this is an isolated incident and is not representative of the industry as a whole. But the thing is, I have been visiting factory farms across the country for almost a decade, and in every one I have found animals that are suffering. Some are cleaner and more modern than others, but every single one involves the intensive confinement of animals. Public opinion has clearly shifted on factory farming; I think we can all agree that no animal should be kept in these kinds of conditions.
It was my desperation that nothing was being done to help these animals which lead to me chaining myself to a pig farm in 2010. Sadly, almost exactly four years later I was once again walking through a pig farm which was as bad as anything I have ever seen. Public attention has been galvanised on this issue but this has not translated into any real gains for these animals.
No political party has made factory farming a serious election issue, and neither Labour or National have agreed to phase out or end factory farming. That means that I am going to have to spend the foreseeable future giving up my nights and putting myself through emotional torment in order to give these animals the voice that they so desperately need.
Why should the only protection for these animals come from a small group of volunteers putting their safety and freedom at risk? Why should we continue to keep pigs and other animals confined in conditions that we would never accept our own pets being kept in?
Regardless of what you are able to do, please consider supporting our organisation in the work that we do. We all pour a lot of our own money into this work and are constantly broke as a result. Equipment and travel make this expensive work to carry out and any support will be gratefully accepted.
– John Darroch
lprent: See also Animal Agenda
Animal Agenda Aotearoa is a campaign to persuade New Zealand’s nine main political parties to adopt animal-friendly policies for the 2014 general election. The Agenda has 10 main points covering law changes needed to improve the lives of animals, including banning factor farming, imposing harsher sentences for animal cruelty, not testing party pills on animals and then banning the use of animals for testing.