PLACARD-waving animal rights campaigners held a protest in Bury over Marks and Spencer's treatment of pregnant and mothering sows.

The demonstration co-incided with a National Day of Action organised by supporters of welfare group Viva (Vegetarians International Voice for Animals).

Viva claims pregnant and mothering sows are locked in restrictive metal cages, called farrowing crates, for a month at a time.

Campaigners are urging M&S to stop using such crates.

Justin Kerswell of Viva said: "A company that claims to have animal welfare standards second to none should not be using a contraption that would look more at home in a medieval torture chamber.

"We are calling on M&S to respect motherhood and move all mothering pigs into the open air and confine the cruel farrowing crate to history where it belongs.

"We are asking consumers to boycott all pig meat and get their teeth into some cruelty-free veggie meals instead."

At the protest held in Bury town centre, Viva supporters waved banners and handed out leaflets to shoppers.

The group's campaign nationally is being fronted by Heather Mills, estranged wife of Paul McCartney.

Marks and Spencer says its animal welfare standards had been recognised by the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming (CIWF).

A company statement said: "We are very disappointed that Viva is taking this action as we met and told them before Christmas that we were phasing out the use of farrowing crates - a move supported by CIWF and the RSPCA.

"Around 30 per cent of all the pork we sell is already outdoor bred and does not use farrowing crates which includes all our fresh pork, and we have committed to remove the use of farrowing crates for the rest of our pork."