Footage filmed at Sastamalan Teurastamo. Video: Oikeutta Eläimille organisation

Warning! The video is extremely graphic.

Tony Öhberg contributed to this report.

Oikeutta Eläimille organisation (Animal Rights Collective) is accusing slaughterhouses in Finland of breaking the Animal Welfare Act through footage obtained on the premises, which depicts beatings, rough handling, and regular and excessive use of the electric prod meant only as a last resort to move an animal. Sheep are observed being hit with boxes in order to move them, and cows’ tails folded and twisted in order to spur them forward towards their fate.

“The law has been broken without a doubt,” said Eeva-Riitta Wirta, the head of the meat inspection unit at the Finnish Food Safety Authority, Evira.

“The basic problem of butchering is that the animals don’t want to die. The butchers need electric prods and refer to hitting because the non-willing and frightened animal doesn’t want to voluntarily walk into its death,” said Kristo Muurimaa from Oikeutta Eläimille organisation.

The footage is filmed in secret at HKScan’s slaughterhouses Paimon Teurastamo Oy (Southwest region) and Sastamalan Teurastamo Oy (Pirkanmaa region) and in two private slaughterhouses in Pirkanmaa and Satakunta regions; in total the material consists of captured footage for hundreds of hours and it has been filmed in the autumn of 2013, during the year 2014 and autumn 2015.

Footage filmed at Paimion Teurastamo. Video: Oikeutta Eläimille organisation

Warning! The video is extremely graphic.

The treatment of animals on their premises is contrary to the 1996 Animal Welfare Act. The act created by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry explicitly refers to industry regulations and states that:

(1) The animals must be treated well and no undue distress may be caused to them. Inflicting undue pain and distress on animals is prohibited. In addition, maintaining the health of animals must be promoted in keeping of animals and the physiological and behavioural needs of the animals must be taken into account.

(2) Further provisions on what is to be considered inflicting undue distress, pain and suffering on the animals may be issued by Decree.

Evira, which promotes animal health and welfare, starts to investigate the slaughterhouses in question, in order to stop them from continuing to torture the animals as shown in the video.

Evira is also going to examine the work of the supervising vets who are overseeing the slaughterhouses. If the vets have been acknowledgeable of the violations of the Animal Welfare Act, Evira will interfere in their actions, too.

“The situation is significantly serious if the supervising vet has known about the neglect of the slaughterhouse and has not intervened in its actions,” said Wirta.

Oikeutta Eläimille is pursuing the problem ideologically, ultimately challenging the relationship between animals and humans, and the ethics of the industry as a whole, as evidenced on their website:

The understanding of animals in modern agriculture is in line with the idea of intensive farming. Animals are seen as means of production and their value equals the economic profits that they bring in. Looking at gigantic pig farms, huge dairy farms, or sheds that house tens of thousands of broilers we can no longer talk about rearing domestic animals. Instead, the animals have become tools for making financial profit. This development is the result of conscious political choices. The reason why animals are treated this way cannot be found in individual farmers, it has to do with our common decision making…the difference between what we know about animals and how we treat them is huge.”

What happens in animal agriculture cannot be fixed by addressing individual issues on specific industries or by increasing control. The problem lies deeper.”

During revelations like this, a decision by the government of Juha Sipilä to abolish the office of the spokesperson of animal rights has raised objections among other politicians.

“The animals don’t deserve it. The challenges in protecting animal rights are not solved by silencing the professionals of animal rights,” said the former environment minister, Ville Niinistö (Greens), in his column for Maaseudun tulevaisuus.

“Here is an unfortunate example of why the post [spokesperson of animal rights] is important and why there has to be money available for it,” Jari Myllykoski, MP of the Social Democratic party, said in his blog.

Sastamalan Teurastamo is a middle-sized slaughterhouse. Yearly the butchers slaughter about 7,000 cattle, 5,000 sheep and about 100 horses.

Juha Greus, CEO of Sastamala’s slaughterhouse, said in an interview for MTV News that the actions shown in the video “are normal activity in a slaughterhouse.” “Except the sheep-thing. The hitting with the box was a regrettable overreaction but these people are not working with us anymore.”

“This is what slaughterhouse work is about. It looks horrible to one who has never visited a slaughterhouse but those who have visited the slaughterhouse know that the 400-gram packet of minced meat doesn’t appear on the store shelves by itself.”

Paimion Teurastamo is one of the largest cattle slaughterhouses in the country. In 2014, it butchered over 20,000 cattle.

The quality control manager at Paimion Teurastamo, Matti Mäkelä, said that the problems visible in the video, like the use of electric prod against the regulations, are resulting from the actions of individual workers who have panicked and overreacted.

Oikeutta Eläimille has reported an offence against the slaughterhouses. The collective demands that their operations will be shut down immediately.