Campaigners are calling for more unannounced inspections after undercover footage exposed poor welfare conditions at one of Red Tractor’s assured farms.
The video, filmed by animal rights campaigners Animal Equality, showed workers at Rosemary Farm, Dunstable, swinging piglets by their back legs and smashing their heads against the wall, while others were shocked repeatedly with an electric prod.
The farm is the seventh unit in seventh months at which welfare failings have been alleged.
In a statement, Red Tractor said farmers in its assurance scheme were legally allowed to use an internationally recognised method to humanely dispatch animals which had become too ill to treat, to avoid unnecessary pain or suffering.
It was the use of the electric goad which prompted the scheme to expel the farm, in line with its rules dis-allowing their use on Red Tractor approved farms.
A spokesman said: “In common with many facets of life, the Red Tractor scheme is only as strong as its weakest link.
“On occasions a small minority of farmers may breach the rules and by doing so are cheating the system that is designed to reassure the public.
“This behaviour will not be tolerated by Red Tractor and those discovered are removed from the scheme, as was the case with Rosebury Farm.”
Campaigners claimed a lack of unannounced inspections were contributing to welfare problems, with only one in 1,000 farms being inspected in such a way.
Red Tractor said it undertook 60,000 inspections each year ‘that [we] believe to be robust’.
But World Animal Protection (WAP) suggested reports of animal cruelty at Red Tractor approved farms were becoming ‘worryingly common’, and instead called for unannounced inspections to become the norm.
“It should not be left to undercover investigations to do the job of Red Tractor farm inspectors,” a WAP spokesman said. “If consumers cannot even trust the Red Tractor to uphold minimum levels of welfare, then not only is the reputation of the Red Tractor label at risk, but that of UK farmers as well.”
East of England MEP John Flack said the whole food labelling system needed ‘starting again from scratch to give shoppers clear, accurate and meaningful welfare guarantees where they are warranted’.
He added: “It blows apart the false reassurance peddled by the Red Tractor scheme, which I see as a cosy arrangement between farmers and supermarkets to make soothing but meaningless animal welfare claims.
“The scheme claims to offer a rigorous standards check, but only one in a thousand inspections is unannounced. The rest get plenty of warning to straighten up their act.”
Red Tractor said it recognised unannounced inspections were something shoppers would like more of, and confirmed an internal taskforce had been established to examine the efficacy of unannounced inspections in compliance ‘and to blueprint their proposed implementation in the Red Tractor farming scheme’.