by Becci Pigeon
So what does Red Tractor Assured really mean? Contrary to what many people believe, Red Tractor is not an independent investigatory body. It was organised by the National Farmers Union of England and Wales in 2000 and participating farms pay an annual licence fee to be inspected by Red Tractor officials–essentially, the farming industry inspecting the farming industry. In fact, Red Tractor admitted that of the 60,000 audits they carry out each year, only fifty are unannounced–or just .08%. Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse!
It should come as no surprise, then, that Red Tractor does not have the best interest of animals at heart. This has been shown again and again. Here are just some of the more recent examples:
- In June 2018, Fir Tree Farm in Lincolnshire had already passed five Red Tractor inspections that year when undercover footage filmed by Animal Equality revealed that the pigs were living in their own faeces on barren, slatted floors. They were covered in untreated wounds, scarring, infections, and appeared not to be receiving veterinary treatment. (Only a month earlier, workers at the same farm had been filmed laughing as they repeatedly kicked and hit pigs as many as 100 times in ten days.) (Footage of painful injuries on pigs raises questions over Red Tractor farm scheme), The Independent)
- In August 2018, the news broke about Rosebury Farm in Bedfordshire, which had also passed five Red Tractor inspections that year, including one just a month previously. And yet undercover investigators filmed footage of workers swinging piglets against walls, a pig being repeatedly and illegally shocked in the neck with an electric prod, piles of rotting piglets among living ones, and pigs crammed into such small enclosures that they were forced to lie on top of one another, among other horrors. After the news broke, Red Tractor dropped the farm, though as Professor Andrew Knight from the University of Winchester’s Centre for Animal Welfare pointed out,
“other farms that have lost this have had it returned shortly afterwards.” (Farm banned by Red Tractor for pig cruelty supplies meat to major wholesalers, The Independent)
See footage from Rosebury Farm here:
- In May 2019, investigations by Animal Equality at three Red Tractor approved chicken farms in Northamptonshire discovered birds with red, raw skin from feather loss, many of whom were crippled under their own weight. (A not uncommon sight in poultry farms. Dead birds were left among living ones. Workers were filmed ‘leaving a bird convulsing after breaking its neck, stepping on the animals necks and throwing sick ones onto piles.’ (Nando’s and Asda chicken: Birds ‘stepped on and left convulsing and wounded in scenes of suffering and cannibalism’, The Independent)
See footage from the Northamptonshire farms here:
- In June 2019, more Animal Equality investigations found similarly appalling conditions at three Moy Park chicken farms in Lincolnshire. All are Red Tractor certified. (Chickens ‘left to rot’ at major supplier Moy Park’s farms, BBC)
See footage from the Lincolnshire Farms here:
However, nowhere is the sham of Red Tractor revealed more completely as in Viva’s 2017-2019 Hogwood Farm investigations.
In 2017, Viva made their first investigation of Hogwood Farm, a Red Tractor certified pig farm in Warwickshire that supplied Tesco. What Viva discovered was alarming: overcrowded, barren, filthy conditions and sick animals, some of whom were dying. Mounds of pig bones, including skulls with ear tags still attached, were found on Hogwood property. But when confronted with video footage of the conditions on the farm, Red Tractor officials insisted that there were no welfare breaches, and Tesco stated that it was ‘satisfied with the conditions, and that the animals are treated well.’ Viva also informed the government (the Animal & Plant Health Agency) of what they’d found, but no action was taken. Learn more about this investigation and see photos here or watch the video below.
In 2018, Viva returned to Hogwood to find that while no improvements had been made, several changes had—the farm was now surrounded by barbed wire, high fencing, CCTV and alarm systems. And if anything, the conditions of the pigs had got worse. In one area, the pigs had no bedding, food or water, and in their madness and desperation they had turned on a fellow piglet and were eating her alive. (It goes without saying that cannibalism is not normal pig behaviour.) In another section, pregnant pigs were still confined in barren farrowing crates, entirely unable to move. Some had given birth already; beside one crate a sickly piglet lay by their dead sibling. Viva contacted the RSPCA, a veterinarian and the police immediately in regards to the cannibalism. Initially the RSPCA didn’t want to get involved, and no local vet would come out. The piglet suffered for hours. Again, Red Tractor and Tesco both refused to drop Hogwood, the government did nothing and farmer Brian Hobill boasted that Hogwood had already passed 27 investigations and said, “I think we’ve got better conditions than most nursing homes.” You can learn more about this investigation and see photos here or watch the footage below.
In 2019, Viva returned to Hogwood yet again. They found that conditions had not improved one whit, despite Tesco’s repeated assurances that
it ‘work[s] with our suppliers to improve their standards’, takes animal welfare ‘extremely seriously’ and that it expects producers to meet ‘stringent, industry-leading requirements’. This time, however, Viva left hidden cameras and were able to capture more cannibalism and filthy, barren conditions as well as rampant abuse by employees. They were filmed routinely hitting and kicking the pigs, and in the artificial insemination shed, one worker repeatedly slammed down the front end of a rape rack onto a confined pig before injecting her while she screamed. Finally, Tesco gave in and stopped working with Hogwood, and Red Tractor dropped them from their label. Learn more about the final investigation here.
It took three years of heavily publicised footage, at least 150 protests (including two VKind protests), and 77,000 petition signatures for Red Tractor or Tesco to admit anything was wrong. What does this say about Red Tractor’s standards? What does it say about the transparency and ethics of the animal agriculture industry in general?
The fact is that labels like Red Tractor or ‘humane‘ or ‘free range‘ might mean something to humans, but they don’t mean much to animals. They still suffer, and die many years before their time, and many are still subject to the same painful mutilations as their conventionally-raised counterparts—debeaking, tooth clipping, castration and more. The only truly humane and compassionate choice is to stop eating them.