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UK Anniversary

14 Years of Progress: Celebrating Animal Advocacy in the UK

Just in time for the fourteenth anniversary of Animal Equality in the UK, Executive Director Abigail Penny recalls some of the team’s most impressive accomplishments. In this Q&A, discover how investigations, media coverage, and legislative work have fueled the fight for animals across the nation.
Abigail Penny, Executive Director, Animal Equality UK

Q: Is there a particular investigation release from the UK that impacted you most? Why?

A: Watching the footage captured by our brave investigators is always both incredibly jarring and immensely powerful. These scenes of suffering fill me with sadness, but equally give me the strength to keep fighting for a kinder world for animals. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to ensure that these animals’ stories are told to the world and to make sure that they did not suffer in silence, nor in vain. 

It’s always difficult to look the animals in the eye and witness their misery. Like my team around the world, and our many supporters, my heart breaks for every single animal trapped in the cruel animal agriculture system – whether that’s a salmon being eaten alive by lice or a calf torn away from his mother. 

calf crying out for her mother who is separated from her by a fence

But I ask myself each time: if it’s this difficult for us to observe their pain, what must life be like for the animals who have to experience it? How tragic that billions of animals will live and die without experiencing the joy of a hug or the feeling of sunshine on their backs, having only been stuck in a filthy shed or a crowded cage. 

One investigation that particularly impacted me was an exposé that we released from within a pig farm in Scotland. We filmed horrific incidents of pigs being beaten to death with a hammer, having their tails cut off without anesthesia, and mother pigs struggling with painful prolapses and untreated infections. 

Leg,Snout,Flooring,Event,farmed animal

The farm was operated by a senior pig industry figure, Philip Sleigh, who was at the time of filming a Government-appointed Chair of the Standards Setting Committee for industry accreditation scheme: Quality Meat Scotland. 

Our findings were released by The Times and led to a burst of extensive media attention, with Scotland’s most widely-read newspaper even sharing the story on its front page. The farm lost its certification and was dropped as a supplier – it eventually closed down as a result of our work.

Blue,Mammal,Pink,Ingredient,Dish,Cuisine,Domestic pig

We submitted a complaint to the authorities, but the court case was riddled with chaos and confusion. In the end, the Crown Prosecution actually lost key video evidence. The case was dismissed, allowing the worker and owner to walk away free.

It highlighted what animal advocates have known the entire time: farmed animals are too often failed by the animal agriculture industry in life and again by legal representatives in death. It shows that animals can count on us and us alone; the only way of stopping their suffering is by boycotting animal products entirely.

Q: How would you describe the landscape of animal protection efforts in the UK? How is it unique?

A: Over 200 years ago, the UK introduced the world’s first piece of animal welfare legislation; we have proudly declared ourselves a ‘nation of animal lovers’ ever since.

Animal agriculture practices have transformed dramatically since then, growing and industrializing at pace. And, in many areas, laws in the UK have struggled to successfully keep up with the changing landscape. 

Even when laws are in place, they are far too often flouted, with farms seeing few penalties for their non-compliance. I noticed time and time again that our investigations revealed chickens crammed into overcrowded cages, cows unable to walk or stand, pigs routinely having their tails cut without anesthesia, and hens having their sensitive beaks ‘trimmed.’ We had irrefutable evidence that laws were being broken, yet the farmers saw little more than a slap on the wrist. 

UK Investigation into Chicken farm

We partnered with The Animal Law Foundation to dive deeper into the ‘Enforcement Problem,’ producing a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind report into the issue, and we discovered that fewer than 3% of UK farms are inspected by a regulatory body each year on average. Just 0.33% of complaints lead to a prosecution. 

We’re now calling for all UK farms to be licensed, to ensure the enforcement framework is more robust and to allow for greater public scrutiny of these sites. We’re also urging the Government to provide subsidies to support farmers’ transition away from animal farming, future-proofing their livelihoods in the process. 

While the UK may stand tall, proud of its animal welfare legislation on the global stage, we still have a long way to go to ensure these laws mean something in practice and not merely on paper.

Q: Animal Equality in the UK has captured footage that has been featured in top news channels, such as the BBC. One investigation release, which focused on the dairy industry, was featured in a Panorama special. What was your first thought when you saw this footage on the BBC?

A: This was a truly humbling and precious moment for the Animal Equality in the UK team, and for the animals who we advocate on behalf of. To see harrowing footage that we captured of cows being hit in the face with shovels, kicked in the stomach, and separated from their young calves on prime-time TV, watched by millions of people, was deeply moving. 

So many people are still not aware that cows need to be impregnated in order to produce milk, and that it is part and parcel of the dairy industry’s operations to separate mothers from their babies, simply so their milk can be bottled and sold on supermarket shelves. To see thousands of people take to X / Twitter to declare their disgust and desire to try plant-based was incredible. 

Newspapers reported afterwards that these consumers weren’t simply paying lip-service to the issue, either; they used their purchasing power for good. Days after the programme aired, supermarket shelves for plant-based dairy alternatives were bare as shoppers were stocking up on animal-free versions, ditching dairy for good. 

We still receive emails from people who thank us for shining a light on this cycle of cruelty and for opening their eyes to the suffering endured by cows and calves for dairy.

Q: What was it like to see the suffering of farmed fish—as captured by Animal Equality investigators—on a BBC Countryfile episode? 

A: Scotland is one of the world’s biggest exporters of salmon, and the UK is responsible for slaughtering around 70 million farmed fish every single year. There is scientific consensus that they feel pain, yet they have so few laws in place to protect them, and they suffer terribly during their lives.

Blue,Fin,Salmon-like fish,Fish,Oncorhynchus,Ray-finned fish,Fish products

Naturally migratory animals, Atlantic Salmon would travel many miles in the wild. Despite this, the industry cruelly confines them in crowded, underwater cages, where they cannot carry out many of their most natural behaviors. 

Millions of fish die every year on farms because the unnatural conditions lead to disease outbreaks and lice infestations. Others die due to predation, warming waters, rough weather, and violent industry ‘treatments.’ In 2022, we exposed the record-level on-farm mortalities taking place, and 2023 is looking to be even worse, with 10.9 deaths on farms already reported.

These deaths are particularly tragic when you consider that salmon are carnivorous animals. With every salmon killed, approximately 150 other smaller fish are caught in the wild and used as salmon feed. What a catastrophic and utterly needless waste of life, especially when so many plant-based alternatives are readily available on the market nowadays.

I personally pitched this story to BBC Countryfile and was pleased to see that the shocking footage shared by Animal Equality was aired to millions of viewers. Covert images showed fish being eaten by lice and tankers being filled with dead fish, and the BBC report highlighted that a staggering one in four fish die before even making it to a slaughterhouse. 

As a result, thousands of people signed our petition calling for the Scottish Government to no longer allow planning permission for new fish farms – a critical ask when you consider that this destructive industry is due to double over the next decade. We must do all we can to prevent future generations of fish from enduring the same miserable fate.

I’m incredibly proud that our team of advocates has jump-started this conversation and pushed the plight of fish into the public narrative. We have a long way to go, but this is truly pioneering work.

Q: What message do you have for someone in the US who wants to make a difference for animals today?

A: There are plenty of reasons to hold hope for the future, and I am optimistic that, together, we will create a more compassionate world where animals are no longer exploited for human consumption. 

If you are in a position to, please consider donating to our life-saving work today. We rely on the generosity of individuals like you to fund our investigations, legal advocacy, and public awareness campaigns. Your contributions will be used to positively impact as many animals as we can.

You can also help by volunteering and signing up as an Animal Protector. By taking small actions regularly, we can have a huge impact. Ultimately, people’s power is the way forward, and we are stronger together! 

And, of course, if you aren’t already plant-based, please replace animal products with compassionate foods. You can end their struggles by switching today.

Rescued hen held by Animal Equality volunteer


With rich emotional lives and unbreakable family bonds, farmed animals deserve to be protected.

You can build a kinder world by replacing animal food products with plant‑based ones.