The Humane Society of the United States has released findings from an undercover investigation that documented the inhumane treatment of female breeding pigs and piglets at a Virginia factory farm owned by a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer.
The investigation is the latest examination by The HSUS into the operations of the nation’s top animal agribusinesses. It follows HSUS investigations last month into Cal-Maine Foods, the country’s largest egg producer, and Willmar Poultry, the nation’s top turkey hatchery.
In each case, The HSUS found unacceptable and systemic abuses, revealing that these companies do not always observe even minimal best practices when it comes to animal welfare. Read an investigation summary [PDF].
The investigator – who spent a month working inside a Smithfield-owned facility in Waverly, Va. – documented numerous abuses including the following:
- Female breeding pigs were crammed inside “gestation crates” so small the animals could barely move for virtually their entire lives. The animals engaged in stereotypic behaviors such as biting the bars of crates, indicating poor well-being in the extreme confinement conditions. Some had bitten their bars so incessantly that blood from their mouths coated the fronts of their crates. The breeding pigs also suffered injuries from sharp crate protrusions and open pressure sores that developed from their unyielding confinement.
- The investigator never saw a veterinarian at the operation. A barn manager told the investigator to ignore a pig with a basketball-sized abscess on her neck, and then cut the abscess open with an unsterilized razor.
- Employees jabbed a lame pig’s neck and back with gate rods to force her to move.
- Three times, the investigator informed employees that a pig was thrown into a dumpster alive. The animal had been shot in the forehead with a captive bolt gun, which is designed to render an animal unconscious, and was thrown in the dumpster still alive and breathing.
- Employees mishandled piglets and tossed them into carts.
- Some piglets prematurely born in gestation crates fell through the slats into the manure pits.
“If this is the best that Smithfield can do, it is evident that there are terrible problems in the nation’s pig industry,” stated Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. “It is indefensible for Smithfield to allow its sows to linger in crates barely larger than their bodies for months on end.”
In January 2007, Smithfield Foods pledged to phase out the use of gestation crates within 10 years, but in June 2009, the company backtracked on its self-imposed timeframe for doing so. “Now that Smithfield just posted its highest-ever quarterly profit, it’s a good time to make a public pledge to honor its previous commitment,” added Pacelle. “The company can no longer claim that economic circumstances don’t allow for facility improvements.” Other large pork producers, such as Maxwell Foods, are already gestation crate-free, while Cargill is 50 percent gestation crate-free.
- Murphy-Brown is the livestock production subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, Inc., and is the world’s largest producer of pigs for slaughter. The company owns approximately 888,000 sows and brings a total of 17 million pigs to slaughter annually.
- Seven states have passed laws banning gestation crates, as has the entire European Union. Extensive scientific research confirms that confining sows in gestation crates is detrimental to animal welfare.
- Burger King, Wendy’s, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, Chipotle, Quizno’s, Sonic, Wolfgang Puck, Safeway and Whole Foods have reduced or eliminated their use of pork from pigs bred using gestation crates.
- A recent 2.5 year study by Iowa State University found that not using gestation crates can actually decrease production costs by up to 11 percent.
- An American Farm Bureau-funded poll found that the vast majority of consumers think gestation crates are inhumane.