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Consumers hold the greatest power to prevent needless suffering of farm animals
The fight to protect farmed pigs from cruelty
"Since the 1950s pigs have been intensively farmed to reduce production costs." More than a billion pigs are produced globally, as the most common mammal farmed for meat. To animal advocates, the life of farmed pigs is of cruelty, as the three indicators of cruelty is abnormal biology, deteriorating mental state, and the inability to live their natural lives, describes animalcruelty.org.
The pigs are kept indoors in confined spaces. Sows are kept in sow stalls, a steel cage which completely surrounds the sow, restricting movement. The stall contains a feeding trough at the front and a slatted floor at the rear, where she urinates and defecates where she stands, in her living space. This restriction is considered cruel as it doesn't allow her to walk, exercise, or even turn; she cannot interact with other pigs (as pigs naturally live in social groups), have access to straw for: bedding, to properly regulate her body temperature, or forage to reduce hunger. The diet is a concentrate, low in fiber, and must be eaten within 15 minutes. The amount of food is just enough to maintain body weight and the growth of piglets, an amount 2-3 times less than the sow would normally eat, resulting in constant hunger and lack of nutrition.
Breeding sows are kept in close confinement throughout their lives, remaining in farrowing, or gestation, crates until their piglets are weaned at 3-4 weeks, as little as 2 weeks in the United States, then taken away from their mothers, for the process to cycle. The piglets are kept in small, crowded pens throughout their lives, then slaughtered at 24 weeks. If the sow is only able to produce 3-5 litters, she is sent to be slaughtered. Fattening pigs are crowded into small pens.
Restriction of movement (and socialization) and constant hunger yield in stress, even depression, in sows, illustrated through abnormal behavior, such as bar-biting and sham-chewing. Discomfort and injury can be caused from being kept on concrete or perforated metal floors, such as foot injury from the perforated floor, leg disorders, weakening of bone and muscle, urinary disorders, and reproductive disorders. Dr. Berreville adds pressure wounds, eye infections, and arthritis as additional discomfort.
In comparison to the wild boar, farmed pigs live in imprisonment, as wild boars live in social groups, forage several hours a day on varied foods, such as acorns, nuts, and berries; able to build their own farrowing nests, dug in the earth, lined with grass; the piglets are weaned for 13-17 weeks. The nests serve as bedding and an aid in temperature regulation.
The plight over intensive pig farming came into light with recent abuse allegations from the United States and Manitoba, Canada, since mid-2011. An investigation by Mercy For Animals, a nonprofit organization devoted to preventing cruelty to farmed animals, by promoting humane food choices and policies, yielded abhorrent video footage of the cruelty to pigs at one of the United States' largest pork producers, Iowa Select Farms. According to Mercy For Animals, the footage documented not only the mother sows confined in the tiny, metal crates (so small she could not turn, or lie down comfortably), but also piglets suffering from herniated intestines, resulting from improper castration (workers "ripping out the testicles of conscious piglets without the use of painkillers"), as well as conscious piglets having their tails sliced into and yanked off with dull clippers, undoubtedly extremely painful to the piglets. Sick and injured pigs were left untreated, to die slowly, without proper veterinary care. Mother sows were suffering from distended, inflamed, bleeding, and fatal uterine prolapses.
Dr. Temple Grandin, considered the world's leading expert in the care and welfare of farm animals, asserts that the gestation crates must be phased out. Veterinarian Dr. Armaiti May recommended group housing to be implemented, allowing ample space for the pigs to turn and extend their limbs, without touching the sides of the enclosures, or one another. All surgical procedures should be done only if the pigs are anesthetized, using sterile techniques. Further, Dr. May states, "Subjecting animals to a lifetime of confinement in crates [where] they are virtually immobilized is perhaps the cruelest form of institutionalized animal abuse in existence."
To Mercy for Animals, huge corporations have the "power and ethical responsibility to reject this abusive factory farming practice by immediately adopting policies that require suppliers to phase out their use of gestation crates." The practice in the confinement of the mother sows in these crates has been banned in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, and Oregon, the entire European Union (EU), and New Zealand. A disheartening fact is, while states are taking steps to end this cruelty, legislators in Iowa are working to conceal it through an "ag-gag" bill. According to ag-gag.org, an ag-gag bill is "any bill or law which punishes those who expose abusive conditions on factory farms." As described by The Huffington Post, in March of 2012, Iowa made it illegal to gain access to a farm facility under false pretenses.
Fortunately, the law was defeated in Wyoming; "the cruelty at this facility [Wyoming Premium Farms] would have continued forever with no public knowledge, no law enforcement and no remedial action," according to Jonathan Lovvorn, Chief Counsel for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). HSUS hired an undercover investigator to work at the facility, yielding repugnant footage of a worker sitting on the back of one pig, whose leg was broken; other animals suffered from rectal and uterine prolapses, resulting from forced birthing dates.
One pig was forced to give birth on a specific date. The worker had intended to put his arm in the uterus to pull out the piglets. Instead, he "went into her anus and caused the prolapse there." The mother sow was forced to live another 11 days in this horrid condition. It is unclear if the mother sow survived. Unfortunately, no federal law protects farm animals from cruelty while they are residing on the farms; some states exempt farm animals, and the method of animal husbandry practices (the branch of agriculture pertaining to the care and breeding of domestic animals for the purpose of food products) from anti-cruelty laws.
In December of 2012, The Huffington Post, Canada, reported on footage taken at the Puratone Corporation farm in Arborg, Manitoba, by Mercy For Animals Canada. The footage showed "pigs bleeding from open wounds in tight metal cages, pregnant pigs with distended, inflamed bellies and piglets being slammed down on the floor by staff." To Investigations Director Twyla Francois, the public can now see the "hidden world of factory farming and the public is outraged, and rightly so."
Canada's Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs had been updated and released for public consultation, developed by a 17-member committee representing pig producers, transporters, processers, government, academia, and the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, according to CETFA. The new code still distinguishes between requirements, "industry-imposed expectations for responsible farm animal care and welfare," and recommendations. The codes continue to be voluntary, despite the potential for them to set a legal precedent, states Anna Pippus, lawyer and Director of Legal Advocacy for Mercy for Animals Canada.
Although the code has been updated in efforts to progress in farm animal welfare, there are still concerns over the revised code. CETFA continues, the revised code stipulates, as of July 1, 2024, sows must be housed in groups, where newly built and rebuilt barns after July 1, 2014, sows must be housed in groups. However, the date of 2024 seems arbitrary and absurdly distant. The phase out of sow stalls is to be done by 2022. However, the code includes a loophole, which allows the pork industry to continue confinement of the sows in gestation crates for five weeks at a time, "adding up to more than nine months of confinement during the sows' four-year lives'" even after the proposed phase out date, according to Dr. Berreville. To CETFA, the phase out should be done immediately, as "Manitoba [Canada's province with the largest number of breeding sows] pig producers are now in a unique and timely position to transition from sow stalls to group housing on straw," continues Dr. Berreville.
Finances may factor into the delay of the phase out; CETFA counters with two major arguments: first, sow stalls and other barn equipment corrode and must be replaced at regular intervals, a factor farmers usually plan as a part of their operations; second, and more importantly, the majority of the industry's existing barns are reaching the end of their usefulness, with the necessity to be replaced, where less expensive hoop-barns which house gilts and sows on straw will "significantly reduce the financial pressure on producers while improving sow welfare."
Dr. Berreville continues, many of the barns were built in the late 1990s and 2004; the barns' life-expectancy is 15-20 years, where most of the province's pig producers are facing the need to replace the barns and equipment, as "the costs to convert each existing operation to group housing are costs the industry has to absorb imminently, given the age of these facilities, and cannot be viewed as new or unexpected costs."
Other concerns of the code include the health of the pigs. The code only recommends a segregated area for sick pigs, where such area only provides an "environment conductive to recovery," such as heat, bedding, and easy access to water. Producers with sows suffering from difficult births are only recommended to seek veterinarian advice, and the recommendation that injured and ill animals be treated properly. Castration of piglets over the age of 14 days must be done with anesthetic and analgesics as of July 1, 2019, where castration at any age must be done with analgesics. According to Dr. Berreville, the justification from the pork industry for castration of piglets is so that the meat is not tainted from hormone release; however, studies concluded "only 3% of intact male pigs develop tainted meat, rendering the severe pain inflicted on piglets completely unnecessary." Castration of piglets has been banned in the EU (effective 2018). The use of analgesics for painful procedures is only a recommendation, not a requirement; tail docking is still permitted, only requiring analgesics for piglets over 7 days of age (the Netherlands voluntarily phased out the practice).
As there currently are no federal laws or regulations in the United States for the treatment of farmed pigs, in addition to the myriad of animals raised on farms for food products, the welfare of farmed animals are handled at the state-level, according to Dan Paden, Evidence Analysis Manager (Cruelty Investigations Department) for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). A glimmer of progress in the welfare of farmed pigs was presented when the New Jersey legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill to ban the extreme confines of breeding pigs; the vote was of 60 to 5 in the Assembly and a vote of 29 to 4 in the Senate, cited by HSUS. The bill would require the breeding pigs to be able to stand, lie down, and turn around, extending their limbs. Despite additional states, such as Ohio and Rhode Island following suit, Governor Chris Christie vetoed the bill.
According to The Huffington Post, Governor Christie faced pressure from agricultural interest groups, claiming "'neither the American Veterinary Medical Association nor the American Association of Swine Veterinarians advocates' banning the use of gestation crates' [where] the legislature [should] continue [taking] cues on animal welfare from the state's Department of Agriculture, which opposed the bill."
To Bruce Friedrich, Senior Advocacy Director at Farm Sanctuary, which inspires change in societal views of farm animals, protecting them from cruelty, "It seems odd that anyone would want to be on the side of such a barbaric practice." What is alarming is the agricultural interest groups' argument for the gestation crates, claiming it is "best for their health, because they allow the farmer total control over the animals' upbringing." As evidenced, the claim is an overt lie. The Huffington Post continues, The National Pork Producer's Council (NPPC), an organization with the mission of protecting the livelihood of pork producers, applauded the veto, with relief "because we don't need outside groups telling farmers how to raise their animals." Insight focused on welfare, rather than costs, should be considered, even if originated from "outside groups."
However, not all pig farmers agree with the decision. The Huffington Post continues, Michael Clampffer is one of the largest pig farmers in New Jersey (Mosefund Farm), raising 150 heritage breed pigs on 15 acres of land. Clampffer has never used gestation crates, where he never would, stating the practice as inhumane. Understanding the natural life of the pig, "It's not good for the animals. They like to be outdoors, rooting around in the mud and basking in the sun." As Clampffer observes, "Vetoing [the bill] strikes me as detrimental to the movement of eating local and sustainable." For those who consciously make the choice to eat sustainably and ethically, we still have the power to make a change. Mercy For Animals still holds hope, as "consumers still hold the greatest power of all to prevent needless suffering of farm animals by adopting a healthy and humane vegan diet." Dr. Berreville agrees, urging consumer refusal to purchase factory-farmed pork, where sows are raised in gestation crates. "Adopting a pork (or meat) free diet is however the most powerful action consumers can take to put an end to needless animal suffering in the pig industry," as well as urging people to submit comments to the Canada's Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs by August 3, 2013.
Dr. Berreville offers one last fact: piglets who are deemed unprofitable, as being too small or too weak, are generally killed by means of thumping'the knocking of the piglet's head on the ground'a method unreliable, "leaving piglets conscious and suffering," an unfathomable reality confirmed by Paden.
"It is quite possible an animal has spoken to me and that I didn't catch the remark because I wasn't paying attention."'E.B. White, Charlotte's Web
Perhaps we should listen and pay attention to those fighting to give these sentient beings, among the billions of farm animals suffering from cruelty, their dignity, and more importantly, their voice.
To submit comments to Canada's Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs, click here.
Louisa Lew, Contributing Writer: Louisa Lew graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor’s Degree in the Liberal Arts, double majoring in Political Science and Film. She is currently a Freelance Copy Editor and Writer, living in Seattle with her two dogs. (more...)