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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Pork Industry Needs to Clean Up Its Act

[Please note: Includes graphic descriptions of animal abuse.]

If you follow the issue of farm animal welfare closely, you are probably aware of the “flat-earth” types out there in Big Ag beyond the fringes of reality. If you point out to them the cruelty of certain factory farming practices, like the lifetime of misery spent by breeding pigs in tiny crates, the flat-earthers are ready with knee-jerk denials. If you show them video proof of animals being mistreated, they brush off the pictures as somehow “edited” and that, really, there is nothing wrong.

Last week, one bloviator in particular caught my attention, with this gem of a commentary in Beef magazine: “Anyone who knows the history of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) and its ‘undercover documentaries’ knows that what one sees on the videos and the reality of the situation are not necessarily the same thing.”

What got him worked up was the shocking undercover video released by The HSUS, which about a quarter million people have now watched online. The video, shot in April 2012, was taken at Wyoming Premium Farms, a pig factory farm in Wheatland, Wyo., which had been a supplier to Tyson Foods. The footage depicts workers kicking living piglets like soccer balls, swinging sick piglets in circles by their hind legs, and sitting and bouncing on a mother pig who has a broken leg and screams in pain.

Here’s “the reality of the situation” which the flat-earthers of Big Ag need to face: Abuse of animals in factory farms is far too prevalent. The “husbandry” that family farmers have lived by for generations cannot be supplanted by cages, crates, rampant use of drugs and unrestrained hired hands who have adopted the corporate creed that farm animals are nothing more than machines to manufacture money.

A panel of experts assembled by the agriculture industry’s own Center for Food Integrity viewed this undercover video for exactly what it is: proof positive that unacceptable and indefensible conditions existed at this factory farm where pigs are bred and raised. As the industry trade website, Pork Network, reported, here are just a few conclusions from the three panelists:

Dr. Candace Croney, associate professor of animal sciences at Purdue University: “(T)here is no context I can think of that would make the egregious handling seen in this video acceptable.”

Dr. Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University: “There’s definitely abusive animal handling shown in that video.”

Dr. John Deen, professor of veterinary epidemiology at the University Minnesota: “The actions seen in this video are abusive to the pigs and unacceptable to society as a whole.”

In response to the video, an editorial in the Casper Star-Tribune called on authorities to “investigate this and prosecute the apparent abuse to the fullest extent of the law.” The newspaper rightly hopes “this deplorable incident will serve as an example for other producers who might be tempted to cut corners or tolerate inhumane behavior.”

It’s time for Big Ag’s deniers to stand down. And it’s time for the pork industry and its apologists to stand up—to stand up for what is right.

In recent months, leading food retailers—such as Safeway, Burger King, McDonald’s, and Denny’s—have pledged reform in their sourcing of pork. But too many of the pork industry’s bigwigs have turned a deaf ear, and responded chiefly by trying to change the subject. That is, they’ve spent way too much time lobbying the halls of Congress opposing a bill that has nothing to do with their own industry but everything to do with farm animal welfare. The pork lobbyists are trying to stand in the way of legislation strongly supported by the egg industry and animal welfare groups to provide more space for laying hens and more accurate labeling of eggs in grocery stores.

It’s time for laggards among pork producers, their trade association representatives, and the commentators who pander to them, to listen to consumers, to retailers and to scientists—it’s time to give up the denials, time to drop the diversionary politics. It’s time to clean up their own industry.


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