Manor Farm, in Yaxham, Norfolk, was secretly filmed by members of the Hillside Animal Sanctuary, which claimed through a report in the People newspaper that pigs were “fighting for space in a rat-infested barn – yards from piles of maggot-infested carcases”. The organisation claimed to have filmed over a six-week period.
The RSPCA said it was appalled by the footage, which has been reviewed by one of its farm animals scientists. An investigation was now under way into the welfare of all animals on the farm, it added.
However, some of the claims made by the animal activists were unproven following the RSPCA visit, including footage of emaciated cows, none of which were found by inspectors.
In a statement, the RSPCA said: “Officers instructed the farmer to provide more bedding for the pigs and cattle, but did not find any emaciated cows, as appeared in the footage. We would welcome the chance to co-operate with Hillside to investigate suggestions that the RSPCA had been notified of the welfare issues highlighted in the film.
“The farm is believed to have been suffering from a meningitis outbreak among the pigs – which may have contributed to the numbers of deceased pigs. The farmer has been advised that he needs to urgently address the issue of storing the bodies of deceased pigs until they are collected.”
The RSPCA went on to criticise Hillside Animal Sanctuary: “We would always encourage organisations such as Hillside to contact the RSPCA or other relevant agencies straight away if they have concerns over the welfare of animals, rather than film over the course of days, weeks and months.
“That way we can take swift action on animal suffering and collect evidence quickly, rather than investigating afterwards when the animals have left the farm.
“We are also concerned that the footage was obtained by the result of trespass onto a farm with a suspected medical outbreak, which raises bio-security concerns.”
In addition to its Freedom Food certification, Manor Farm was member of a number of other assurance schemes, including the Red Tractor scheme.
David Clarke, CEO of Red Tractor Assurance, said: “After being alerted to issues on Manor Farm on Friday 16th September, the farm was immediately suspended from the assurance schemes pending further investigation.
“Between 16th and 20th September the farm was inspected a number of times. These inspections included a visit from an independent assurance inspector as well as two qualified vets. As a result some assurance scheme non-compliances were identified.
“Once these have been rectified by the farmer within the given timescales and sufficient evidence has been provided to the assurance scheme certifiers, the current suspension will be lifted.
“Independent inspectors will continue to monitor the farm in order to ensure the scheme standards are complied with.”