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Inquiry after activists raise pig farm concerns
GOVERNMENT officials are investigating claims by undercover animal rights activists that they found illegal practices, neglect and suffering on pig farms in the region.
Video footage and photographs taken by campaign group Vegetarians International Voice for Animals! (Viva!) show dead pigs lying near living animals, animals with no bedding and a crippled piglet.
One farmer last night rejected all the claims of Viva!, and the activitsts have been condemned for compromising bio-security with their secret filming.
Activists said they recently visited three farms in the region under the cover of darkness.
At Westfield Farm, in Sherburn, near Malton, North Yorkshire, campaigners said they found sows and piglets without bedding or any materials that allowed the pigs to carry out natural rooting behaviour.
The campaign group said that was illegal.
Footage was taken of dead piglets, pigs covered in flies and a crippled piglet struggling across a pen to get to its mother.
Viva! activists also visited Westfield Farm, in Eryholme, near Darlington.
The group said it again found pigs with no bedding and only a hanging plastic sheet for "environmental enrichment", as recommended by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to satisfy the animals' behavioural needs.
Activists said ten dead piglets were found outside one shed, with some animals "clearly being there for some time".
Several dead adult pigs were also found; two with bloody mouths and one with a large tumour.
Viva! campaigns manager Justin Kerswell said the discoveries highlighted the "gruesome reality of pig production in the UK".
He said: "The footage we shot inside farms in the North-East is shocking and repugnant, but it is sadly typical of what we expect to find when welfare is barely given a thought.
"We hope that the authorities will take our concerns seriously and prosecute if they find the law has been broken."
Viva! claims its members only entered premises with open doors and took appropriate biosecurity measures.
Campaigners visited a third pig farm in the Darlington area, which was apparently complying with the regulations.
A report on the group's findings was passed to Defra's animal health department.
A Defra spokeswoman confirmed that an investigation into the allegations was under way.
Peter Gibbon, who farms at Westfield Farm, Eryholme, rejected all claims by Viva! that Defra recommendations were being ignored and that his pigs were being neglected.
He said it was the worst time of the year for pigs dying, and said bedding was laid down almost daily.
He also said his vet had visited the farm for its quarterly inspection about two weeks ago and was happy with what he found.
He also criticised the activists for entering his piggeries without permission, saying they had compromised bio-security.
He said: "I cannot believe they've gone round my pig sheds."
The Northern Echo left several messages for Richard Bradley, from Westfield Farm, in Sherburn, but he did not respond.
Stewart Houston, the chairman of the British Pig Executive (Bpex), confirmed that both farms were signed up to the Farm Assured scheme, which meant they received a quarterly inspection by the farms' vets and an annual visit from an independent group.
Mr Houston said that following the complaints from Viva!
both farms would be independently inspected by Bpex this week.
However, Mr Houston criticised the methods used by the campaign group. He said: "They have entered illegally. They have trespassed and they have compromised bio-security."