WARNING — DISTRESSING CONTENT: Watching animals killed inside an abattoir for hours would seem like torture to most Australians, but that’s exactly what one passionate activist did this year to gather evidence.
On January 27, vegan activist Chris Delforce dressed in army greens and a balaclava then made his way into a gas chamber used to stun pigs. Hidden for nine consecutive hours inside a tiny space just metres above the animals, he intermittently filmed while working to avoid detection by workers.
Speaking to Yahoo News Australia on Monday, Mr Delforce said his aim was to dispel the belief that buying pigs raised in free-range and organic systems is an “ethical purchase”.
“No matter how well they're raised, how well they're looked after, they all end up in the slaughterhouse and none of them want to die,” he said. “They are all fighting with every last breath to survive.”
If I can at least get it on film, tell the story and hopefully convince people to not support this, then that's the best possible thing I could do for these animals.Chris Delforce
What activist finds hard to forget after entering facility
Footage was gathered across three Australian abattoirs and then aired first on the ABC’s 7.30 on Monday night. The broadcaster said Mr Delforce appeared calm, despite knowing his actions could land him in jail.
What he captured is hard to watch, but if you eat bacon you should be aware that what it shows is the system used on 85 per cent of the 5 million pigs killed in Australia each year. It remains the most animal-welfare-friendly mass-scale killing technique.
The videos show pigs crammed inside gondolas and dropped inside chambers filled with carbon dioxide, which is designed to stun them so they can be killed and bled out.
Many of the animals can be seen writhing on top of each other and scrambling for air for between 20 and 40 seconds. Mr Delforce describes the pigs’ screams as “something you don’t forget” — they drown out the worker chatter and the constant sound of heavy machinery.
“There was something just so desperate and awful about some of those screams the way that they fade out to nothing,” he said.
Industry responds to slaughterhouse footage
Australian Pork Limited, the pig farmer's national peak body, released a statement on Tuesday morning after reviewing vision aired by 7.30, saying it was working to receive and review all of the footage shot by activists.
It said farming in Australia was guided by both state and federal government legislation and that farmers "strive for world-leading best practices when it comes to animal welfare".
"APL will continue to work to support the industry to ensure animals receive the highest level of care. The industry also ensures that methods used are backed by peer-reviewed, scientific research into animal welfare ensuring the best outcomes for our animals," it said.
How activist managed to sneak inside pig slaughterhouse
Mr Delforce is the founder of Farm Transparency Project, an activist group that has published footage and controversially the locations of farms and abattoirs. In their efforts to film inside pig abattoirs, his experienced team reconned the sites for days, to understand worker schedules to minimise the chance of being caught.
He arrived at the facility at 1.45am, hid in a tiny space where he knew the carbon dioxide would be unlikely to reach him, then waited for the killing to begin. Workers arrived at 2.30am and at 6.00am, they commenced killing for the next three hours.
“[At] any moment someone might stick their head in and look up and see me,” Mr Delforce said. “There were some very, very close calls, and just really nowhere for me to hide, nothing I could do.”
Once the killing was over, he was overcome with relief. All he had to do was wait for the workers to go on break between 11am and midday and he was free to walk out of the facility, footage safely hidden on his person.
'Consumers have a right to know'
When Yahoo News Australia interviewed Mr Delforce in 2019 he said despite years of exposing animal welfare conditions inside farms, nothing appeared to be changing for the animals.
While more people were becoming vegan, state governments around Australia were enacting strict laws to prevent activists filming inside farms and the media reporting on their activities. These pre-dated the anti-protest laws governments in states including Victoria and NSW have passed to stop climate change activists.
Dr Bidda Jones was formerly the RSPCA's chief scientist, but she now advocates for Australian Alliance for Animals which said the footage shows the nation has a "broken animal welfare system".
She has accused the industry of having "sat on its hands" since similar footage of pig gassing emerged in 2014, and has called for an independent regulator to be put in charge of animal welfare.
“It is simply unacceptable that millions of pigs are being subjected to pain and severe respiratory distress during the course of slaughter," she said. "Consumers have a right to know this is the reality of Australian pork production when deciding what kind of food they are happy to buy."
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.