The British pig industry has accused campaigners of misrepresenting farming practices in the UK, as a high profile, celebrity-backed campaign is launched demanding an end to ’factory farming’.
On Thursday, campaign group ‘Farms Not Factories’ was set to launch a video showing celebrities’ reactions to what it described as ‘horrific footage of pigs suffering in intensive rearing units’, dubbed ’factories’.
Celebrities featured in the two-minute video, some of which were ‘moved to tears by the barbaric truth of pig factories’, include Dominic West, Rupert Everett, Jon Snow, Jeremy Irons and Vivienne Westwood.
Farms Not Factories said 65 celebrities were backing the #TurnYourNoseUp campaign, also including Sting, Zac Goldsmith, Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Stella and Paul McCartney, Hugh Grant, Stephen Fry, Roger Moore and Jools Holland.
Some of the celebrities were due to post selfies ‘turning their noses up online’ on Thursday, with members of the public encouraged to do the same.
Farms Not Factories said the campaign - also backed by Compassion in World Farming, Soil Association, Eating Better, Antibiotic Action and Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics - had been launched ‘in light of new information that pig factories ‘threaten our health’.
It claimed: "These factories are cramming pigs into such horrendous conditions that they need to be routinely dosed with antibiotics just to keep them alive, leading to ‘superbugs’ - human diseases that are difficult to treat because they have become resistant to antibiotics."
Tracy Worcester, founder of Farms Not Factories said the intention was to ’help bring an end to this dangerous, inhumane system and encourage the public to only buy pork from high welfare farms, such as RSPCA Assured, Outdoor Bred, Free Range and Organic.
In a statement, the National Pig Association and AHDB pork insisted footage in the video was ’not representative of pig farming practices in the UK’.
"What’s more, there is no evidence to suggest the footage used was taken on a UK farm," the statement said.
“The UK has some of the most stringent animal health and welfare legislation in the world and UK farmers regularly work above and beyond the necessary standards.”
"If Farms Not Factories, or a member of the public, were to make us aware of suspected incidents of poor farming practice it would automatically trigger an independent inspection of the farm in question."
The statement urged consumers to look for the Red Tractor, which means farms are inspected by vets and independent assessors at least five times a year.
It said the logo guarantees ‘responsible standards of animal welfare, food safety, traceability and environmental protection’ respected as some of the most comprehensive food production and preparation standards in the world’.
The industry statement also addressed the claims about antibiotic usage.
It said the pig sector takes its responsibility regarding antibiotic use ‘very seriously’, highlighting the recent launch of the NPA’s new Pig Industry Antibiotic Stewardship scheme to monitor and minimise the amount of antibiotics used in pig production.
It added: "It has been acknowledged antibiotic-resistant organisms in humans are primarily the result of antibiotic use in people, rather than the veterinary use of antibiotics.
"UK Public Health England have indicated on a biomass basis 2.4 times more antibiotics are used in humans than animals."
The filming showed sows in stalls. NPA and AHDB Pork stressed this was only permitted in the UK only when sows are being mated but said in mainland Europe, stalls are still used to confine sows for up to four weeks of their pregnancy.
Farrowing pens, also shown in the footage, help protect young piglets from being accidentally laid on by the sow, the industry organisations added.
The NPA has recently been advising members to invite non-farming acquaintances to look round their pig farms as a fresh pair of eyes, or as ’critical friends’, as the number of instances of campaigners obtaining video footage on farm has risen notably in recent months.
The National Pig Association stressed that he size of a pig farm and the welfare of animals are 'not in any way linked'.
A spokesperson said: "It is the quality of stockmanship which is the critical issue. This view is supported by The Farm Animal Welfare Council, RSPCA and extensive research.
"Economies of scale often allow larger units to employ dedicated vets as well as highly skilled stockmen whose main job is to look after the animals in their care."
The NPA also highlighted the diversity of pig farming systems in the UK, including indoor, outdoor, free range and organic.
It warned against comparisons with the US where the largest pig farms are 'a different order of magnitude' to those in the UK.