Warning: Graphic Content

This is a report by The Animal Justice Project

In January 2021, an industry-wide review of the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (WATOK) legislation took place. The UK government stated that the review would “provide significant opportunity to identify/signpost key themes for improvement”. And yet it does not address the glaring problems Animal Justice Project encountered during this investigation, and does nothing to illustrate the real horrors animals face in abattoirs. Our two-month investigation took place in early 2021 behind the walls of small, local-sourcing slaughterhouse, G. & G. B. Hewitt Slaughterhouse, Cheshire, over a period of ALMOST 200 HOURS, SPANNING EIGHT DAYS.

Inside slaughterhouses, there are regulations and procedures in place to supposedly ‘protect’ animals. The slaughterhouse manager, licenced operatives, Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) and a Food Standards Agency-appointed Official Veterinarian. The job of the veterinarian is arguably the most important. Approved slaughterhouses are not subjected to unannounced inspections by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) – the task of daily inspections of animals lies with the vet, and it is them who reports non-compliances to both the FSA and Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA). Negligent Official Veterinarians and the general misuse of slaughterhouse CCTV – which is not routinely or randomly seized by governing bodies – have caused animal suffering to go largely unseen and unreported.

“CCTV does not replace, reduce, or is considered a substitute for, direct practical official observations by Official Veterinarians” – Food Standards Agency

The presence of the manager, CCTV, and the government’s own vet are failing to deter serious animal abuse and legislative breaches. We recorded the sickening abuse of pigs, piglets, sheep and cows on Animal Justice Project’s own cameras, in full view of the slaughterhouse CCTV. Furthermore, research has revealed a staggeringly low number of non-compliances reported in Food Standards Agency audits. Despite announcing an ‘open data’ policy in February 2021, the Food Standards Agency have refused Freedom of Information requests made by Animal Justice Project on animal welfare breaches within UK slaughterhouses over the past three years, animal welfare breaches recorded by veterinarians, and non-compliance data from Hewitt slaughterhouse.

The system is not broken, but is designed to fail animals, protect profit and maintain institutionalised abuse. The public is scammed into believing that the UK government has systems in place ‘protecting’ farmed animals when what exists are smokescreens concealing the reality.

“There are a number of instances where apparent breaches of the law are shown in Animal Justice Project’s video – incorrect use of electric goads, cattle repeatedly struck with a stick (one appears to be pointed and the law prohibits the use of pointed sticks), a sheep dragged by the horns, severely lame cattle, and one severely lame pig being presented for slaughter. Such animals are not fit to be transported. In several instances, immediately after ‘sticking’, slaughtermen are seen to start dressing pig carcasses. The law requires that pigs are bled for a minimum of 20 seconds.” – Alick Simmons, Former UK Government Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer and Former FSA Veterinary Director

Cows and bulls who entered Hewitt slaughterhouse faced torment, violence and abuse.

Many severely lame so-called ‘spent’ dairy cows – in other words, cows who are no longer deemed profitable for milk – were caught on camera entering Hewitt, where they were forced forward to the stunning chute. Several struggled to walk and were visibly lame. One Jersey cow even arrived with her back legs shackled, clearly in no ‘fit state’ to be transported to slaughter. Many of these cows entered in the presence of the veterinarian, who allowed them to be slaughtered.

Two large bulls were viciously attacked for over 40 minutes by three workers, including the manager, simply because they were too frightened to move forward. The highly distressed bulls were shocked with an electric prod and jabbed with a pointed stick – which is illegal – over 200 times during this painful period. Other cows and bulls had these sticks and electric prods struck into their sides, their faces, their eye and even into their rectums. Workers abused these animals, in full view of the slaughterhouse’s own CCTV, and sometimes in front of the appointed veterinarian. Punished for fighting for their lives.

After this abhorrent ordeal, the two bulls were finally shot dead with a gun. They were tragically let down by a system designed to fail them.

Panic-stricken sheep endured callous handling and killing inside Hewitt. Sheep were dragged by their horns, violating UK law, and others were goaded into the stun room by workers.

The manager disturbingly grabbed sheep and restrained them as they had their throats cut without being stunned at all. Those who were stunned, were shocked for as little as two seconds. Repeated failures of equipment and careless stunning resulted in multiple sheep showing clear signs of consciousness, even as their throats were cut open. Over 97% of the pigs and sheep slaughtered during our filming did not have their throats cut within the 15 second time period that the Food Standards Agency states – a further reason why sheep began to regain consciousness.

The sheer panic and distress that sheep faced inside this slaughterhouse was heart-breaking. Naturally curious animals, desperate individuals tried to flee for their lives, but there was nowhere to escape to.

Gentle and innocent pigs arrived at the slaughterhouse where they were grossly let down.

On four of the eight days that we filmed, stunning equipment failed, shocking individuals on their delicate faces. This is a contravention of UK law. Workers failed to stun animals appropriately, and for as little as just one second. After being ineffectively stunned, pigs were strung up by their back legs and had their throats cut. Workers left pigs for too long before cutting their throats, resulting in individuals showing signs of regaining consciousness. Nearly every single pig that we filmed faced this grotesque and bloody ending.

As the pigs bled out, kicking and jolting, the manager of the slaughterhouse began to ‘dress’ them, much sooner than what slaughter legislation allows. We caught the manager cutting the pigs’ ankles down to the bone and snapping them, far sooner than he should have done. The agony that these pigs would have felt is beyond imagination.One of the most disturbing violations that we caught on camera was the killing of very young piglets, likely to be killed for the high-end ‘suckling piglet’ market.

It is probable that they had just been taken from their mothers and brought straight to the slaughterhouse. Vulnerable babies, full of joy and innocence, entering a building where no living animal comes out of.

Tiny piglets – who barely reached the workers’ shins – were pushed into the stun room as workers showed them no compassion. They were stunned one by one, in front of each other. The piglets were mercilessly hung over a door to have their throats cut open. The worker would have been unable to see if this had been done effectively and would have been unable to check for signs of consciousness.They were thrown onto a pile of other dying piglets, thrashing around, with those at the bottom unable to be observed. This is a clear violation, preventing workers checking for signs of life. We saw piglets showing these vital signs yet they were ignored by workers. One individual, who showed signs of not being effectively stunned and killed, and was unable to be observed due to being smothered underneath the pile of dying piglets, was thrown into the scalding tank. They thrashed as they drowned in the scalding water. A worker was seen looking back at the piglet drowning. They ignored them and walked away.

The tragic ending of all of these animals, especially the piglets, show how common non-compliances and breaches inside slaughterhouses really are, and how the presence of the Official Veterinarian and CCTV appears to do nothing to deter the workers from torturing animals.

“The overall impression given is of routine poor practice in premises barely fit for purpose. The circumstances are made worse by poorly trained and poorly supervised operatives. For example the handling, stunning and killing of piglets is barely adequate, the stunning equipment appears to fail on several occasions, repeated shouting by the operatives simply adds to the animals’ distress and, at no time, are operatives seen to monitor the effectiveness of the stun.” – Alick Simmons, Former UK Government Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer and Former FSA Veterinary Director

Animal Justice Project’s cameras inside Hewitt slaughterhouse revealed a tragic and violent system of abuse where animals suffered immensely before being killed. Our findings do not match that of the UK government’s food watchdog, Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The non-compliances and illegalities seen on a daily basis within UK slaughterhouses, we believe, are being under-reported by veterinarians, leading the public into the false belief that animals are being ‘protected’ by governing bodies. The FSA does not publish the data reported by the veterinarians and has refused a Freedom of Information request for this data by Animal Justice Project.

Is Hewitt unique in the horrific torment of animals, or is under-reporting of breaches by veterinarians creating a false reality? Can it be accounted for by the fact that slaughterhouses know exactly when their audit will be and that they can prepare and ‘behave’ on the day? How has Hewitt been rated “Generally Satisfactory” for six years of audits, despite the bloodbath of abuse and violence caught on our undercover cameras?

This is yet more proof to show how the system is not broken, but is designed to fail animals, protect profit and maintain institutionalised abuse.

Animal Justice Project’s investigation inside Hewitt slaughterhouse adds to the compiling evidence that CCTV does not deter intentional or systematic abuse towards animals. In 2020, our cameras inside Gressingham Duck’s abattoir revealed shocking horrors and major breaches of the law – in full-view of their own CCTV cameras. Workers mercilessly grabbed and shackled ducks, leaving dozens hanging by their delicate legs for over 14 minutes as the slaughter line stopped on multiple occasions. In 2019, at family-run farm and abattoir, Pastures Poultry, Animal Justice Project’s cameras revealed yet another major flaw in CCTV legislation: small producers are exempt from the requirements. Serious breaches included guinea fowl and turkeys being plucked alive, conscious chickens entering scalding tanks and a complete lack of checking for signs of consciousness entering these hot tanks.

It is clear to see that the system is designed to fail animals, that CCTV is the meat industry’s smokescreen and that the public is being scammed.

Note from For Britain leader:

We must have a complete overhaul of how animals are treated in Britain.  Every aspect of this needs re-examination and reform.  Our laws to protect animals are clearly useless.  They are not being enforced.  It’s yet another example of how our leaders talk the talk but never seem to walk the walk.

For Britain is committed to improving the lives of animals, and will continue to defend the defenceless in every way we can. 

Anne Marie Waters