In 2016, Swiss people woke up with the breaking news that some of their piggeries were growing swines in horrible conditions. One year later, groups of activists and associations made it known that despite the media exposure and the intervention of the local authorities of Canton of Vaud, the pig farm owners did not really change their habits. Christine Mayor is one of the testimonies that witnessed the horror of certain pigsties. She answered my questions.
What is the general context of the pig farm scandal in Switzerland?
In September 2016, a foundation clandestinely filmed pigs living in horrible conditions in various pig farms in our canton. Some of them wounded, other dead, nibbled by their congeners, no light or night and day under blisters, defective fans. (You can check the video online here). The local media seized this affair which shocked the public who did not expect to discover this dirty reality.
How long has it been going on?
The publication of this video marks a starting point: public, consumers, veterinary and political authorities, the media realized that this issue of animal suffering could no longer be ignored.
Why is it so hard to put an end to those bad conditions of living within the industrial pigsties of local producers?
20% of our parliament members are actually farmers. They defend their interest which of course is not to make the standards stricter. They rather restrict them as less as possible. Moreover, there is very little will to control the farms strictly. The law imposes only one control every four years and so far in 90% of the cases, the breeder is warned that it will be controlled. Around the world, meat lobbies are powerful. It is complicated to fight. The chain of meat involves many actors and consequently many jobs: the producer, the transporter, the butcher, the distributor… This represents an important part of our local economy, although the state subsidizes organic farms as well as those that invest a little more for the comfort of their animals. For example, a farmer will receive subsidies if he opts to put some straw in the enclosure of his pigs.
-Switzerland local authorities (cantons) enforce a very strict set of regulations in comparison with its EU neighbors, they seem to be too low, why is these regulations are that low?
The actors of the meat sector have no interest in strengthening standards. Every improvement for animals comes with a cost in time, labor and money. In order to remain competitive with foreign markets, they can’t afford to raise the minimum standards at the risk of seeing Swiss meat price rises to become much more expensive than the meat coming from other European or non-European countries. All this happens because of money. Swiss lobbyists invest great chunks of money in keeping their reputation at the highest in terms of standards of quality for selling their meat. Their advertisement campaigns give a bucolic image of Swiss breeding. But in the end, we find the same shameful images as in our neighboring countries.
Are the life conditions in boxes where pigs are kept good enough? It seems that a law, still going on, does not include the use of straw to accommodate the pigs, what do you think of that law?
Pigs are the animals that suffer the most of the whole livestock. It is a particularly sensitive animal. He is as intelligent as a dog. But nobody in Switzerland would dare treat dogs as we treat pigs! It is a profitable animal because it grows fat fast, and as the equipment made for its life outdoor is expensive, there is no minimum legal standards to force the breeders to let the pigs out. They are therefore animals that spend their whole life stuck inside without ever seeing the color of the sky or the grass, with cold temperatures in winter and suffering from the heatwave in the summer.
The new law voted in 2008, which only contains a few improvements, is no longer sufficient: mentalities have evolved faster than the lawmaker predicted, and breeders who have 10 years to comply have not yet updated their farms.
Also that law says that a control is required every four, years! It seems to be a awful lot of time that allows the producer to be lax, don’t you think?
This is obviously inadmissible and ridiculous! And this control is in more than 80% of the cases announced to the breeder who therefore has plenty of time to clean his piggery, to bring some fresh air inside, to repair light and defective fans, to empty his fridges of any medical product and to remove any dead corpses. It is essential that controls are done much more often and above all that they are 100% not announced. Even if this is not easy to implement because farmers rarely live close to their piggery (because of the pestilential odor it generates …), it would be the only way to force breeders to at least meet the basic criteria.
A producer will get subsidies for the installation of an outdoor area for chicks. In Canton of Vaud, this space is usually clean and not used. Why?
It is particularly complicated to understand the legal orders that govern these obligations. For chickens, the conditions of access to an outdoor space made of concrete is very regulated and different if it is broiler or a laying hen… But once again the associations that are on the ground observe that these outdoor areas are always clean and that no chickens use them. Once again, as long as the controls are announced, the breeder will do everything to reduce his workload against the welfare of his animals.
If the producer gets caught by the local authorities for putting the animal life at risk or for simply mistreating the animal during its growth, it seems that the penalties are very low. Why do you think it is so, particularly in Canton of Vaud?
When somebody is caught for mistreatment for example, it is the responsibility of the cantonal veterinary service to file a complaint against the breeder. But in the canton of Vaud, often, the veterinary simply warns the breeder and gives him enough time to comply. Worst, when a complaint is filed, the fine is ridiculously low, a few hundred francs.
To the best of our knowledge, the veterinary service has never applied its right to stop a producer who has repeatedly failed to protect its animals health and dignity. Moreover, in Switzerland, the law does not allow associations to become civil parties; thus these associations are never aware of the outcome of their complaints.
Who are the people in charge of checking the pigsties and how the animals are treated?
Again, it’s complicated. The cantonal veterinary service delegates the part of the controls for farms that are organic or that receive subsidies to improve somewhat the daily life of their animals. But it must be known that it delegates, among other things, this type of control, more frequent, to a peasant association! In other words, the breeders co-opt each other! However, most of the infringements are noted in the exploitations that follow the minimum standards. These are the ones for which the control takes place only once every four years and announced to more than 80% to the breeder! Finally, the main purpose of a veterinary control is not to ensure the welfare of the cattle but to check the hygiene and the medicines given to the animals in the interest of the consumer but not in the interest of the animal.
Studies prove that pigs are sensitive animals, very close to us in terms of feelings, is that taken into account more and more?
Yes, as I said above the pig is an intelligent and particularly sensitive animal. Just like us it is omnivorous and its body and its metabolism can be compared to ours. Videos recently filmed in a local farm show the artificial insemination of sows. These animals are treated hormonally in order to be pregnant just after giving birth. Therefore they spend their lives in some kind of cages that do not even allow them to turn around.
VIDEO: check out that shocking document about artificial insemination: http://www.tvmart.ch/Insemination-artificielle-des-truies_v208.html
Could the recurrent heatwave be murderous if no improvement is done within pigsties?
Absolutely! Even the cantonal veterinary surgeon we recently asked about the impact of the heatwave conceded that « the pig is sensitive to heat stress, since its thermoregulation system is less efficient than for other species. It has negative effects on the digestive and immune system of pigs. » Notwithstanding, he places his trust in the breeders he deems competent, responsible and benevolent to take adequate measures. Unfortunately, the reality that we film clandestinely in the piggeries does not allow us such complacency with the breeders.
And what about the impact on the environment?
The fact that no one wants to live near a pigsty already answers this question! We now know the impact of meat consumption on greenhouse gases. Livestock is the silver medal on the podium of environmental degradation.
Besides eating meat more than twice a month is now considered bad for health, animals that are bred industrially to meet the huge demand for meat and fish (90% of animals killed for human consumption come from the sea!), require the use of hormones, medicines and that are always less effective because of this excessive use in breeding.
Is the communication of the meat industry honest about how they treat animals before they get to the slaughterhouse and the meat packing units?
It is clear that this is not the case. The meat industry wants to sell its meat stocks. At this stage, animals are only objects. The advertisements show happy and well treated animals. This is not the case for 98% of them who are raised in conditions that nobody wants to see. Paul McCartney said, « If the slaughterhouses were glass, nobody would eat meat! » Try to visit a breeding or slaughterhouse as you would visit a chocolate factory! You will see that these are places where it is impossible. It is also impossible to film. Associations that take risks to do so expose themselves to complaints and court trials. Yet, it is thanks to them that we are now aware of what really happens in our farms and slaughterhouses. It is an industry of death. Basically, when one eats meat, one eats a corpse of an animal, of a living being who has suffered horror to end up in a plate. This reality MUST be shown. In the media. But also in stores. Pictures of the killed animal should be placed on the meat trays as well as this is done for cigarettes. It is only at this price that consumers will be informed and will be able to choose fully knowing what is going on. It is neither normal nor acceptable for our so-called « evolved » societies to treat living beings this way. Here is the latest video taken in June, three weeks before the heatwave. This piggery was however up to standards. This is a proof that they do not allow a decent existence for livestock. We see above all that the conditions following the scandal of 2016 have not unfortunately improved.
Interview by David Glaser, email@example.com