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Investigation: Pigs hammered to death on “High Welfare” UK farm

Animal Equality has released disturbing footage of animal suffering filmed at P&G Sleigh Pig Unit in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
April 30, 2021 Updated: June 18, 2024
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Animal Equality has released disturbing footage of animal suffering filmed at P&G Sleigh Pig Unit in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Our investigator filmed very troubling scenes as well as a number of serious legal violations on the farm, which is owned by senior pig industry figure, Philip Sleigh. Pigs raised on the “quality assured” farm are slaughtered at a nearby abattoir contracted by Pilgrim’s Pride, a large meat company that supplies Lidl, Tesco, and Marks & Spencer amongst other major restaurants and retailers.

The covert footage revealed piglets who were deemed too small or too weak killed by being slammed onto a concrete floor or hammered to death. One farmworker claimed that using a hammer to kill a pig was “as good as any bullet.” We filmed pigs showing signs of consciousness, such as gasping and wriggling, after multiple blows to the head. One piglet showed signs of life for over four minutes after the first hammer strike hit her.

We filmed how female pigs used for breeding are repeatedly artificially inseminated, then forced to give birth and nurse their young in cages so small that they can’t even turn around. Several mother pigs were suffering from torn vulvas and severe prolapses, resulting in organs protruding outside of their bodies. In a particularly harrowing scene, a pig struggling with a very large uterine prolapse was forced to walk for over one and a half minutes before being killed.

Piglets on the farm routinely had their tails cut off with a hot blade and their teeth clipped with pliers, without any pain relief. These painful mutilations are carried out in an attempt to stop pigs from biting each other’s tails due to boredom or aggression, which are brought on by the stress that living in such unnatural environments causes.

Many pigs we filmed were kept in squalid, dark conditions and some were even forced to live in pens flooded with water and feces, with no access to dry bedding. Workers went so far as to describe one room, where sickly and underweight pigs were housed, as the “Black Hole.”

Describing this as “some of the most disturbing footage” he has ever seen, Professor Andrew Knight – Veterinary Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics at the University of Winchester – stated that: “the suffering of these ill and injured pigs would have been very considerable, yet no signs of appropriate veterinary care were visible.”

Farm owner Philip Sleigh is a well-known industry figure and a former Chair of the National Farmers Union Scotland Pigs Working Group. As a result of our investigation, the farm has been removed from the Quality Meat Scotland assurance scheme and Philip Sleigh—who just weeks ago held the role of Chair of the Quality Meat Scotland Pig Standards Setting Committee— is now no longer a Board Member of the initiative. The scheme is approved by the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Board Members are appointed by Scottish Government Ministers.

After two months at this farm, young pigs are transferred to a “finishing unit,” where they remain for a further three months. The pigs are then sent to “Quality Pork Limited” slaughterhouse – the largest pork abattoir in Scotland – where they are gassed with carbon dioxide, slaughtered, and butchered. While the farm was assured by Quality Meat Scotland, their flesh would have been sold under the prestigious “Specially Selected Pork” label. The slaughterhouse is contracted by Pilgrim’s Pride, which supplies around a quarter of Britain’s pig meat and is majority controlled by infamous agricultural giant, JBS – the world’s biggest meat company.

Commenting on the footage, Abigail Penny, Executive Director of Animal Equality UK said: “Rubbing shoulders with Government officials and accreditation reps, Philip Sleigh was entrusted with a position of power, and yet his own farm breached the very standards that he helped set. QMS boasts of being proud of its standards, yet it took Animal Equality to uncover these serious breaches on its board member’s farm. How can QMS claim to take animal welfare seriously when its own poster-boy didn’t?”

Sadly, the cruelty we filmed on P&G Sleigh Pig Unit is indicative of an industry that shows little regard for the animals in its care. We have investigated 10 pig farms in the UK within the last five years, finding severe animal suffering and flagrant disregard for animal welfare in every single one. This is yet another case of an accredited “high welfare” farm flouting the law. “This isn’t just one bad farm, it’s an industry that is rotten to the core. The ever-growing body of evidence we are building is a damning indictment of this cruel industry. This is what British bacon looks like,” says Penny.

The British pig industry must not be allowed to continue to mislead consumers. Animal Equality sent letters outlining the breaches of animal welfare legislation to the relevant authorities, urging them to take immediate action against this facility using the full force of the law. A criminal investigation is underway. We are also pushing for improved enforcement of existing animal welfare laws as well as for increased legal protections to be put in place for pigs.

As individuals, the best thing we can do to help pigs just like the ones we filmed on this farm is keeping them off our plates and encouraging others to choose plant-based alternatives to animal products too. What also helps is sharing this investigation with your networks, as knowledge is power. Hopefully, as more people know about the terrible abuses in the pig industry, more change will be demanded.

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