09/08/2016 10:13 BST | Updated 10/08/2017 06:12 BST

Pig Sick - Our New Year-Long Investigation Reports on the State of UK Pig Farms and It's Not Pretty Reading

This month Viva! publishes my report Pig Farming: The Inside Story, a detailed investigation into the UK's pig farming industry. I have been campaigning for animals for more than two decades but I still find the state of British pig farms shock me to the core.

Nearly all the 4.9million pigs reared in Britain at any one time are kept on intensive units in distressing conditions. From the gigantic to the ramshackle, these factory farms have one thing in common: they thwart all natural instincts of the pig.

If you have been privileged enough to get up close and personal with a happy pig, you will have experienced first-hand what inquisitive and highly intelligent creatures they are. Roaming and rooting around in their natural environment, they exude a joie de vivre that is infectious.

Embedded in my mind is the day I saw my colleague's rescued pig work out how to open the fridge door. She looked at us as if to say: "Thanks ladies, I'm in heaven!"

But, this scenario is unusual because, as our report shows, more than 90 per cent of pigs are industrially farmed, subject to shocking conditions.

Because of the kind of work undertaken at Viva! and many other campaigners, images of animals housed in these distressing conditions, and supplying our supermarkets, are becoming more common.

In the past year, Viva! investigations into pig farming have seen piglets crammed in battery-style wire cages three tiers deep; mother sows in crates so small they were unable to turn around, and their dead and dying piglets littered on the floor alongside them. Teeth clipping and tail docking (as barbaric as they sound) are all routine mutilations invented to try and control abnormal behaviour directly caused by these intensive farming methods.

I have been moved to tears more times than I can mention here.

Living naturally, a pregnant sow will build a nest from twigs and leaves. She will rear her piglets attentively until weaning between 12 and 15 weeks. A healthy, happy pig can live up to 15 years. On these farms piglets are prematurely weaned at three weeks and, if they survive the process (one in five piglets die before being weaned), they are sent to slaughter as soon as they reach adult weight at five or six months.  

On farms such as the ones I and other campaigners have visited, every aspect of a sow's reproductive life is managed. Twice a year she will be impregnated either by being put with a boar or via artificial insemination - often trapped in a crude restraining device known as a "rape rack". Towards the end of her pregnancy and following the birth she will be caged in a "farrowing crate" in which she is unable even to turn around. Countries including Norway, Sweden, New Zealand and Switzerland have already banned or limited the use of these crates, while in the UK the farrowing crate is still used for around two thirds of all sows.

The industry says the crates protect piglets from being crushed by their mother. Yet this hardly occurs in the wild (and death rates in non-crate systems are similar). This is about protecting intensive farming methods not piglets!

Our report also comes at a time when people are becoming more aware of the serious health problems caused by eating red and processed meat.

Recently the World Health Organisation warned about the links between the consumption of meat and cancer, and in Viva!'s launch of SWINE we highlighted the scale of the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms, where disease is rife and antibiotics are routinely used to try to avert disease.

In fact, meningitis, pneumonia and many other diseases run rife on Britain's pig farms because of overcrowded, dirty conditions in poorly ventilated units where gases from the festering excreta eat away at the animals' respiratory systems.

Recent figures show around 10 million pigs are killed each year for meat creating a total of 1.3 million tonnes of pork. That's enough meat to fill 520 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Sometimes the truth can be hard to digest.

But consumers have a choice. It's vital we realise that taking as simple a step as not putting pork on our weekly shopping list can put an end to this torture. It's about taking individual responsibility, and it's something that can start right now. Together, we can make a difference and put these inhumane practices out of business.