Caught on film: pig bloodbath probed by PAC
Department of Agriculture ordered to explain why it 'compelled' farmer to slaughter herd of 4,000 pigs
These are the distressing images of a farmer slaughtering 4,000 pigs almost single-handedly under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture officials that shocked the Public Accounts Committee.
The video footage, shot on Tom Galvin's farm in Waterford in 2002, was presented to PAC by a group of farmers interviewed privately as part of its investigation into the activities of the department's controversial special investigations unit.
It shows the farmer killing pigs without restraining them, or in isolation, using a captive bolt gun which EU regulations say should only be permitted to stun an animal.
John McGuinness, the chairman of the PAC, said he was "horrified" by the footage which he viewed for the first time this weekend.
He told the Sunday Independent: "It was horrific. It raises questions for the department officials that they would have allowed this to happen. Surely there are laws that this in breach of."
Mr McGuinness plans to raise the disturbing video with the Department of Agriculture officials who are due before the PAC on June 18 to provide information on the cost of failed legal actions initiated by the special investigations unit, and other matters.
The video was first highlighted by the Sunday Independent in 2005, three years after Tom Galvin slaughtered his herd. The farmer's animals were impounded by the department after officials accused him of having a banned substance on his farm.
Disease broke out and Mr Galvin claimed he felt compelled to slaughter the pigs on welfare grounds, which he did over six days under the supervision of Department of Agriculture officials.
The five-minute film captures a fraction of the slaughter. It is dated July 19, 2002, and timed at 4.35pm. A farmer standing in the pig enclosure, steers pigs towards a gated pen. He herds six animals into the narrow space and shuts the gate. The pigs jostle and butt him as he stands in their midst brandishing a captive bolt gun and begins to shoot them in the head one by one.
One pig collapses in a loud squeal and starts convulsing violently - a natural reaction in stunned pigs. The other pigs appear distressed and trample over the stricken animal as though trying to escape. The farmer aims at another pig. The animal squeals loudly, but does not go down, and is shot a second time. The pig collapses on its side and the paroxysms begin, its limbs flailing wildly.
The remaining pigs are clearly distressed. They are each shot with the captive bolt gun. Towards the end of the video, a man's voice is heard saying: "An awful racket so it is." "Ah it is," comes the reply.
Strict EU regulations and guidelines govern the slaughter of animals, punishable by a fine of €1,000 or jail. Animals must be spared avoidable "excitement, pain or suffering" and must be properly restrained prior to stunning. Veterinary Ireland advises that animals "cannot see any carcass, blood or offal prior to stunning".
In a statement to the Sunday Independent, the Department of Agriculture said: "During the course of the slaughter process, veterinary inspectors visited the farm on a number of occasions to assess the ongoing slaughter operation where they observed the collection, restraint, slaughter and disposal process, and were satisfied that in the circumstances of a large-scale on-farm slaughter process, that the matter was progressing satisfactorily and the farmer in question was acting appropriately."
However, the statement continued that individuals will no longer be allowed to slaughter their own animals, "notwithstanding the legal circumstances and indeed the competence or the stated willingness of a person to undertake such a task".
Four Department veterinary officials appeared before the Veterinary Council's disciplinary body, following complaints from Mr Galvin. They were cleared of any professional misconduct and were found to have properly discharged their duties.
Mr Galvin was prosecuted and convicted on several charges relating to the use of the illegal substances but his convictions were overturned on appeal. The department said this weekend it did not contest the appeal on legal advice, due to a court judgement that was made in a separate, unrelated case.
The Sunday Independent can also reveal that Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney complained about the tactics used by his own department's special investigations unit while he was an opposition TD. In 2003, he wrote to then minister Mary Coughlan, objecting to the "hardline" and "heavy handed" approach taken by the unit when raided six veterinary practices involved in embryo collection to confiscate a drug not fully licensed for use here. The vets were treated like "common criminals", he said.
Mr Coveney has replaced the special investigations unit with a new division following a sustained campaign by farmers and a series of costly failed legal actions which the PAC is investigating.