‘One thing I’ve learned about modern farming – we shouldn’t do it like this’

A journalist who has spent decades investigating ‘big ag’ explains why the drive for cheaper food has come at too high a price

  • All photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur of We Animals

As we walked quietly through the trees, the water ahead looked like a manmade fishing lake, or maybe a small reservoir. We were in a strip of forest, along a single-track road, making our way towards a huge industrial farm. It was overcast and the high trees made the day even more gloomy.

We had been hired to investigate conditions on farms supplying UK supermarkets for a TV programme and not-for-profit campaign, and that was how we found ourselves at this giant pig farm in Poland. The arrival of foreign meat companies in the country was proving controversial. Local people were worried about the environmental consequences – as well as impacts on smaller-scale farmers – of having a multinational meat firm pitch up on their doorstep.

Afterwards, the smell stayed with us – on our clothes, our skin, our hair – seemingly for days

Newborn calf separated from mother at dairy farm, Spain, 2010.

Caged hens, Spain, 2010

At one farm, the corpse of a horse lay sprawled outside, blood visible on the ground

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A duck farm in Australia, 2017

The slaughterman offered me the knife in case I wanted a go. I declined

Broiler chickens, Spain, 2009

The sea lions had been slaughtered by local fishermen, who saw them as competitors for dwindling fish resources

Dairy cows wait in line to be milked, Spain, 2010

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A North Carolina pig farm with open-air pig waste lagoon

About 70 billion land animals are produced globally for food each year, an estimated two-thirds in intensive conditions

A Spanish rabbit abattoir, 2013

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