Aberdeenshire pig farmer under investigation after footage reveals animals being hammered to death

A criminal investigation is now underway after Animal Equality, a leading international animal protection organisation, released disturbing scenes of animal suffering filmed at P&G Sleigh Pig Unit at Oldmeldrum.

By Dawn Renton
Thursday, 6th May 2021, 7:36 am
The undercover investigation by Animal Equality, revealed very distressing footage at P&G Sleigh Pig Unit.
The undercover investigation by Animal Equality, revealed very distressing footage at P&G Sleigh Pig Unit.

Animal Equality sent letters outlining the relevant breaches to the Scottish Government, Defra’s Animal Plant and Health Agency, the SSPCA and Red Tractor.

The pigs will be slaughtered at a nearby abattoir contracted by major food producer, Pilgrim’s Pride, which supplies Lidl, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, and many other major restaurants and retailers.

On the breeding site, mother pigs are filmed being artificially inseminated by workers – a process they endure multiple times a year. The female pigs are repeatedly forced to give birth to piglets ultimately destined for the UK and global pig-meat market.

Animal Equality’s investigator filmed troubling scenes, including a number of serious legal violations. Covert footage reveals:

A worker hammering pigs to death claiming that it is “as good as any bullet”. In one case, the worker stands on the pig’s neck during this killing. Pigs gasping, wriggling and showing signs of consciousness following multiple blows to the head, with one pig showing signs of life for over four minutes after the first strike. Piglets routinely slammed haphazardly by workers onto the concrete floor to kill those deemed too weak or too small, a result of unnaturally large litters. Mother pigs suffering from torn vulvas and severe prolapse, following months or years of forced impregnation, resulting in their uterus or internal organs painfully protruding outside of their bodies. One pig, struggling with a large uterine prolapse, forced to walk to her slaughter for over one and a half minutes. Piglets on the farm having their tails cut off and teeth cut out with pliers, without anaesthetic, causing several to develop debilitating infections. Pigs suffering from seizures caused by meningitis. Mother pigs confined in cramped, metal farrowing crates, on concrete floors, unable to turn around. Pigs forced to live in filthy, dark conditions, flooded with faeces and standing water, with no access to dry bedding. Workers go so far as to describe one room as the ‘Black Hole.’

Owner Philip Sleigh – who boasts 30 years of farming experience – is the former Chair of the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) Pigs Working Group. Often a spokesperson for Scottish pig producers, Sleigh has complained of existing and proposed welfare and environmental regulations, citing the apparent competitive disadvantages and financial implications. In a report to Parliament, Sleigh complained that “the numbers took a hit” when UK farmers were forced in 1999 to abandon so-called gestation crates – highly restrictive and controversial cages, developed by the industry to keep costs low and space for the animals even lower.

Despite Animal Equality exposing a number of concerning legal breaches on Sleigh’s site, Sleigh has previously been quoted stating that “non-compliance makes a mockery of the whole process”.

After two months at the breeding and weaning site, the young pigs are sent to a so-called ‘finishing unit’, where they remain for a further three months. The pigs are destined to be slaughtered and butchered at ‘Quality Pork Limited’ (QPL) slaughterhouse in Brechin, Angus. With an eye-watering government grant of £2.7 million in 2014, the enormous abattoir is the largest in Scotland, with capacity to slaughter nearly 400,000 pigs each year. Despite large investments, the abattoir – like many other slaughterhouses globally – experienced controversy over recent months, with a coronavirus outbreak in January 2021 that saw more than 40 staff members infected.

This alarming exposé from Animal Equality comes at a time when the Scottish Government has committed to a financial handout for the pig industry, providing Scottish pig farmers with an additional £715,000 of funding to continue existing farming practices.

As a result of this footage, the farm has been removed from the Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) assurance scheme and, after seven years in post, Philip Sleigh – who just weeks ago held the role of Chair of the QMS Pig Standards Setting Committee – is now no longer a Board Member of the initiative. The scheme, approved by the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA), is funded by taxpayers and Board Members are appointed by Scottish Ministers.

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?”

Animal Equality has investigated ten UK pig farms in five years and on each one has exposed severe suffering and filthy conditions.

Abigail added: “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.”

Reflecting on the legal violations documented by the charity, Edie Bowles, Solicitor at Advocates for Animals, said: "It is vital that the laws that exist for farmed animals are complied with. The many serious incidents uncovered by Animal Equality during its investigation must be thoroughly investigated with appropriate action taken.” She continued: “Failing to respond to flagrant disregard of the law would run the risk of the public losing confidence that the rules that are aimed at protecting farmed animals exist on paper only."

Animal Equality is pushing for improved enforcement of existing animal welfare laws as well as for increased legal protections to be put in place for pigs. For more information and to sign the petition, visit animalequality.org.uk/act/protect-pigs