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Lucent: Exposing the Australian Pig Farming Industry

Fri 22 Aug 2014 by Alison Waters (The Scavenger)

A new film by Aussie farms provides a comprehensive exposé of the Australian pig farming industry. Chris Delforce, writer and producer of Lucent, tells Alison Waters about the disturbing findings that undercover footage has revealed – the diseased and distressed sows; the dead and dying piglets; the painful procedures performed on piglets without anaesthesia; the beatings and abuse inflicted on pigs by workers; and the overcrowding and cannibalism. 

When Australia’s Four Corners TV show exposed the widespread torture and violent deaths of Australian cows in Indonesian slaughterhouses in an episode titled ‘A Bloody Business’,  many outraged viewers consoled themselves with a conviction that such barbaric treatment of non-human animals would never happen on Australian soil.

A new feature-length documentary is about to blow that notion out of the water.   

Lucent, a film by Aussie Farms, shines a light on the largely hidden Australian pig farming industry – and the revelations are truly dark and disturbing.

The film’s development has its origins in the undercover footage obtained by Animal Liberation NSW and Animal Liberation ACT at Wally’s Piggery, near Canberra, in 2012.

“The investigation [of Wally’s Piggery] took roughly two months and involved the use of hidden cameras placed inside the farrowing shed and slaughter room of the piggery”, Chris Delforce, Operations Director of Aussie Farms and producer/writer of Lucent, tells The Scavenger.

“What the activists found was incredibly distressing, and apparently the Australian public thought so too, because within a year the owner had closed down [Wally’s] and his other NSW piggery due largely to community outrage. There was an idea to make a feature-length documentary just about Wally’s, as there was certainly enough material for it.”

The footage captured decomposing piglets lying near their mothers; injured, distressed, diseased and malnourished sows (mother pigs); and a crumbling facility. Footage of the on-site slaughter room showed one of the owners killing pigs by hitting them repeatedly with a sledgehammer, or shooting them before hacking at their necks with a knife, leaving them to die slowly from blood loss. 

Not just Wally’s

The industry distanced itself from Wally’s Piggery – whose owners and financial backers faced a total of 53 charges – claiming that the facility was unrepresentative of the pig farming industry as a whole, labelling it a “rogue operator”.

After Wally’s, activists obtained disturbing undercover footage at two more facilities. Then another. And another.

After viewing footage of a sow stall shed at Lansdowne Piggery near Young, NSW, Delforce was inspired to consider producing a documentary about the Australian pig farming industry.

“Eight minutes of uncut footage [shows] hundreds and hundreds of sows screaming and trying to escape their tiny cages, driven almost to the point of insanity”, explains Delforce.

“It was after viewing this footage that I decided to revisit the idea of a documentary but focus it instead on the industry as a whole, because what we were seeing at Lansdowne and at an increasing number of other facilities was in fact not only legal, but accepted by the industry as standard practice.”

This was a turning point for the campaign. According to Delforce, Aussie Farms turned its attention to the “comprehensive depiction of the standard, legalised cruelty inherent to the industry”, and moved away from a focus on the prosecution of breaches to “the country’s very poor welfare laws”.  

What’s done in the dark

Lucent Pig-baby-250features footage from more than 50 Australian piggeries and slaughterhouses and, according to Delforce, presents “the most comprehensive view of the industry ever compiled” in the nation. Importantly, Lucent crushes two common myths: the industry’s “rogue operator” assertion, and the belief that “it doesn’t happen here in Australia”.

“We took a line from a great Johnny Cash song as our new campaign slogan: ‘What’s done in the dark will be brought to the light’. This captures the true essence of the campaign – to shine a light on an industry that relies on hiding in the dark, out of public sight; that relies on secrecy”, says Delforce.   

“The pig industry, and indeed animal agriculture as a whole, is archaic, barbaric, and unnecessary, and only able to exist because it does such a good job of keeping itself hidden from its consumers, deceiving them with cartoon imagery of happy animals frolicking in paddocks while behind the scenes we’re seeing world-first footage of pigs screaming and thrashing inside slaughterhouse gas chambers” (most pigs in Australia are killed in this manner).

Undercover footage plays a crucial role in exposing the industry’s deceit and secrecy.

Hidden cameras and handheld footage have exposed the brutal reality for pigs on Australian farms. Behind the ‘hay bales and sunshine’ façade, pregnant and lactating sows are tightly confined in metal and concrete cages.

Pain and disfigurement is inflicted on piglets within just days of their birth. The routine practices of cutting off the tails of newly-born piglets and ear ‘notching’ (the cutting off of pieces of their ears for the purposes of identification) are performed without the administration of anaesthetic.

Footage has revealed injured and decomposing piglets, injured sows, dead ‘grower’ pigs (pigs grown out to market weight), and distressed sows displaying repetitive behaviours such as bar biting and head bowing.

At the southern hemisphere’s largest piggery, Corowa Piggery (NSW), activists obtained footage and photographs of sows with vaginal prolapses, and dead and dying piglets. At Grong Grong Piggery (NSW) activists discovered the body parts of piglets strewn around the facility. It is unclear if this is a result of worker abuse or cannibalism. Trolleys full of rotting piglet tails were also encountered. At Finniss Park Piggery (SA), sows with pressure sores were observed.

The beatings suffered by pigs and piglets at the hands (and feet) of workers is laid bare. For example, at Golden Grove Piggery (NSW) hidden cameras revealed the repeated beating and prodding of sows with an oar-like implement. Also, workers were observed picking piglets up by one leg and tossing them into trolleys.

Footage has unearthed the fighting and cannibalism that can manifest when pigs are tightly confined, with no way to escape the overcrowding and confinement.

And, the “tools of the trade” were uncovered: the electric prodders, gas chambers, sharp knives and, sometimes, a sledgehammer.

There is something else that the footage reveals.

The pigs fight for their lives. They fight, and they suffer. Terribly.

The fact that this barbaric and brutal treatment of pigs is committed in the name of profit is, to Delforce, “one of the greatest injustices ever committed by our species…”

For Delforce, there is a clear solution.

“Give compassionate people the ability to see for themselves what these industries are really like behind the billion-dollar marketing, and to see for themselves that these animals are not property, they are not stock, and they are no less deserving of our protection than dogs or cats.”

Delforce built the web site, Aussie Pigs, after viewing and editing much of the Wally’s Piggery footage, plus footage from other pig farms obtained over the last two years. Aussie Pigs has exposed 27 Australian pig farms to date. Delforce believes that the public has a right to see the footage.

Industry fights back

Consequently, the industry has employed a new strategy to defend itself.

“The rogue operator myth has truly been defeated, so the industry has had to come up with new ways of placating the public,” says Delforce. “Their main strategy these days is to draw attention away from the cruelty, and to focus instead on who took the footage, how it was obtained, [and] how the farmers are apparently being victimised and terrorised by peaceful, non-violent activists.”

Pig-group-250Activists have been accused of staging the footage.

“They often try to claim that activists “set up” footage, as though it’s within those activists’ budget to build their own piggery soundstage, fill it with thousands of pigs, and abuse them until they start showing the signs of hopelessness and despair,” says Delforce.

“They’ll say that activists move dead pigs to set up shots, while ignoring the question of why those pigs were dead in the first place. They’ll say that photographs are ‘photoshopped’ when the scenes depicted by those photographs are being walked through in the footage”.

Moreover, activists have been accused of deliberately upsetting pigs, then filming the resulting disturbance.

“Most of the handheld footage shows pigs being friendly and curious towards activists, and most of the hidden camera footage shows pigs frantically trying to stand up before the manager comes down the aisle and starts beating them with an oar”, says Delforce.

“Most of their responses rely on people not actually seeing the footage because, truly, the footage speaks for itself.”

Shining a light

Delforce encourages people to visit animal sanctuaries to meet pigs (and other “food animals”) for themselves, as a method of exposing the misinformation espoused by industry.

“The industry justifies farrowing crates by claiming that in natural conditions, pigs will lie on and crush their piglets or will eat them at the first chance they get; that pigs have no maternal instincts, but these are just blatant lies that they think are safe to tell their consumers because most of those consumers will never meet a pig for themselves.

“Pigs are incredibly intelligent, friendly, curious animals, each with their own personality and quirks. They’re actually very clean…but, of course, in most farms – [both] factory and free-range – they are forced to sleep in their own urine and excrement.

“Pigs are as intelligent and as individual as dogs, yet laws and perceptions relating to them are vastly different, and to advocate for the rights of one is honourable, yet for the other is [deemed] ‘extreme’.”   

Delforce believes that compassionate people would be loath to support or condone the industry if they knew what happened every day on Australian pig farms.

“The aim of Lucent is simply to show them the truth in a detailed, comprehensive and objective manner, bearing in mind that most of what it depicts is considered totally normal and ethical by the industry.”

The Australian premiere of Lucent screens in Sydney on 17 October 2014. To purchase tickets, click here. Screenings in other states will follow. For more information, visit Australian Pig Farming: the inside story and Aussie Farms.