The HSUS’ latest undercover investigation, announced last night on nytimes.com by columnist Nicholas Kristof, revealed more than breeding sows in small crates, their bodies pock-marked by pressure sores and abrasions. This is our latest expose of the largely hidden horrors of the industrial pig industry – this one, at the aptly named Iron Maiden Farms in Owensboro, Ky. We found, among other problems, a sort of forced cannibalism at this ghoulish operation, with factory farmers intentionally feeding a stew of dead piglets to the sows. Our investigator counted nearly 1,000 dead piglets, all succumbing to the effects of porcine epidemic diarrhea, or P.E.D., in just two days.
Since May, when the first P.E.D. outbreak was documented, we’ve seen reports of larges losses, primarily baby pigs who’ve succumbed to this form of viral diarrhea in nearly two dozen states, perhaps as many as 5 million animals. Ironically, that’s equivalent to the number of sows kept in gestation crates, who in turn produce about 110 million pigs who pass through slaughter plant lines in the United States each year.
We’ve long worked hard to pull gestation crates out of the shadows and to educate consumers about this harsh and ruthless production strategy. With this investigation, we shine a spotlight on the disease epidemic now coursing through the North American pig population and how factory farm operators are feeding ground-up piglets to sows or, as an alternative, feeding them diarrhea, in an attempt to build some immunity among the survivors.
The reality is, these pigs shouldn’t be crammed and immobilized inside windowless warehouses to begin with, since these drab buildings act as incubators for disease, whether viral or bacterial. It’s precisely because of that specter of disease that farmers often lace feed and water with antibiotics. These facilities produce a steady stream of death, antibiotic-resistant pathogens and viral agents, vast quantities of manure, and noxious smells, which make some communities virtually unlivable for anyone unfortunate enough to be a neighbor to a Confined Animal Feeding Operation.
The good news is that, as Kristof writes, “popular disgust is leading to a revolution in industrial farming practices,” with a cascade of major food retailers rejecting the taint of selling animal products drawn from these environments. More than 60 major retailers – from McDonald’s to Costco to Cracker Barrel – have told the pig industry they won’t be buying meat from places that confine sows in this manner. We hope they’re looking to family farmers, in the years ahead, who don’t imprison animals in crates, and who actually engage in animal husbandry.
The pork industry is having a hard time confronting the exodus of its customer base. It is also now coping with death on the farm as disease invades its confinement operations and lays waste to the poor creatures caught up in these CAFOs. There’s not only no escape, but there’s no movement.
Our investigation has uncovered a shocking and grotesque new dimension of this industry: pigs as cannibals. The public gagged when it learned that farmers fed cows to cows and chickens to chickens. We’re confident that consumers won’t like news of this latest feeding tactic, even if it’s an emergency procedure.
There seems to be no limit to the reductive thinking of the factory farm operators. You can well understand why they want to pass ag-gag laws and deny the public even a glimpse of what they do.
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