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Secret videos of animal cruelty shine light on German agriculture

An animal rights group has accused leading agriculture industry figures of flagrant violations of animal welfare laws and regulations on their farms. Activists had secretly filmed animals held in disturbing conditions.

Prominent figures in German agriculture are keeping animals in inhumane conditions that appeared to be "clear violations of the law," a chorus of animal rights activists, opposition politicians and veterinarians said Thursday.

Disturbing images of pigs, turkeys held in crowded conditions with open wounds as well as cattle and pigs being slaughtered under conditions that appeared to violate Germany's animal welfare laws, were made in secret in 2015 by Animal Rights Watch (ARIWA), a German activist group.

The images were released to regional public broadcaster NDR and Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper which invited independent analysts to comment on their contents before broadcasting the images.

The owners of some of the farms read like a who's who of German agriculture: Paul Hegemann, chairman of the Association of German Pig Production (ZDS); John Röring, president of the Westphalia-Lippe Agricultural Association, who is also an elected CDU lawmaker in the Bundestag; Helmut Gumpert, the president of the Thuringian Farmers' Association and Thomas Storck, chairman of the Turkey Association.

A spokeswoman for Hegemann admitted problems and expressed "regret" over the images. Others issued statements through attorneys declining comment or did not respond.

NDR and Süddeutsche Zeitung showed the images to veterinarians for an independent assessment for many of the images which included newborn piglets being brutally killed.

"This is a gross violation of the Animal Welfare Act, and certainly a crime," veterinarian Diana Plange told the journalists after viewing the footage.

State law requires animals to be stunned before being bled to death.

The German Farmers' Association (DBV) fired back Friday, criticizing the use of video material from unauthorized entry onto private property as "unacceptable" and argued that "older imagery" had "come under dubious circumstances" taken by ARIWA.

Yet political reaction in Berlin was swift following the broadcast and newspaper reports. "These cruel revelations demonstrate once again serious shortcomings in industrial factory farming," Green Party leader Anton Hofreiter said. The Greens vowed to expose "whitewashing and hypocrisy of industry representatives and farmers' association."

Erasmus Müller of ARIWA said it was important to release the video of stables owned by leading agricultural representatives, as these organizations often accuse animal rights activists of exaggerating individual cases as bad apples when these videos suggest cruelty and mistreatment is much more widespread.

jar/jil (AFP, NDR)