Going to the big city is always a different experience for me, especially because I’m not there very often. It isn’t necessarily my favorite thing in the world, but I do enjoy some of the new experiences, the awesome food, and the views.
But during a recent trip to Chicago, I was walking down the sidewalk near a busy tourist spot when I was handed a pamphlet produced by Mercy for Animals.
If you’re unfamiliar with the group, they’re akin to PETA and HSUS, except they focus solely on animal agriculture. In fact, their website declares they are the largest advocacy organization for farmed animals in the world. The organization boldly claims:
We are on the frontlines fighting to protect farmed animals. From factory farms to corporate boardrooms, courts of justice to courts of public opinion, Mercy For Animals is there to speak up against cruelty and for compassion.
Most of the pamphlet was relatively benign – encouraging people to go meatless for health reasons and giving tips for recipes and which restaurants to chose. Of course, it also played on the celebrity factor by highlighting stars that have jumped on the meat-free bandwagon, including Carrie Underwood, Bill Clinton, and Usher.
What really bothered me about the organization’s piece of propaganda, however, wasn’t the smiling celebrity faces or the suggestions on choosing more vegetables. Rather, I was greatly disturbed by feature story of one man that allegedly went undercover as an employee at several farms across the country.
To put this in context, trying to get their activists hired as so-called undercover investigators at farms is a favorite past-time for some animal rights groups. For example, I found a local job listing by PETA, which asked for this very thing. Once undercover, these individuals are set up with cameras and equipment and encouraged to capture things they think look like “abuse.” Unfortunately, most of the time this ends up simply being something taken out of context or a complete forgery.
Unfortunately, when someone comes onto a farm and isn’t there to really care for and look after the animals, it can cause a lot of problems. Some animals, especially pigs, are especially susceptible to certain diseases. If you remember the avian flu, which decimated turkey farms around the country, these diseases can travel quickly and be devastating. If a worker hired at a farm has an agenda other than caring for the animals, then it puts those animals at a very high risk.
A Closer Look
I asked my friend Wanda from Minnesota Farm Living to take a look at some of the claims the undercover worker complained about in the feature story of the pamphlet. Wanda and her husband raise pigs on their farm in Minnesota, and I wanted to go right to source for more information on these claims. Thankfully, Wanda was more than willing to provide a response to some of these accusations.
Claim: Mother pigs spend their entire lives in cages so small they cannot turn around, which causes severe mental problems. The pigs he saw would bite the steel bars and crack their teeth. The pigs become extremely depressed and lay there without moving.
Wanda’s Response: Most sows are housed in gestation stalls. They are individual stalls and the reason farmers use them is for their protection. Pregnant sows can be vicious towards each other. On our farm, sows have died because another sow killed it. It’s all part of their social hierarchy – determining the king sow. I would disagree with sows becoming extremely depressed. If a sow is under any type of stress, it will not conceive and/or will have short litters. We see none of that. In fact, there is research that shows sows are not stressed when housed in gestation stalls. And when you talk to people who work with sows, they will tell you 80% of the sows will spend 80% of their time in a gestation stall given the choice. Now, are there exceptions, of course, just as in any industry.
Claim: Piglets have testicles and tails sliced off with no anesthesia. Piglets are then packed in “filthy concrete pens” and never see the sun.
Wanda’s Response: They are talking about castrating. Yes, male pigs are castrated because no one would want to eat board meat because of the taint. As of now, there is no anesthesia that works effectively on baby pigs. Typically, pigs are castrated when they are a few days old. Tails are also docked when they are newly born. The purpose of this is to prevent any type of injuries when they are older (like other pigs biting at their tails, which may cause infection). Typically after their tails are docked, they just go nurse and are fine. Pigs are not packed into filthy concrete pens. Most barns have concrete slats (where they stand) and either concrete or steel gates. We wash our barns between each group of pigs. Yes, after a while, the pens do get dirty, but the slats are designed for all the pigs’ waste to fall through into an 8’ concrete pit underneath them. And depending on the type of barn, some pigs will see sunlight. In other barns, sun does come through where the ventilation fans are located.
Claim: Piglets are killed at 6 months old either by electrocution or shot through the head with a metal rod. If they don’t die right away, then are drowned in scalding hot water.
Wanda’s Response: Pigs, not piglets, hit market weight of 280 pounds by the time they are six months old. I visited Hormel this past summer and they use a stun gun type mechanism that completely paralyzes the pig. There is no squealing. I was told they are in the same type of state as “going into surgery.” At that point, the throats are slit and they bleed out. There is no squealing or noise. It is as humane as death can be. There is no drowning in scalding hot water.
Talk to Real Farmers
Let’s be clear – the vast majority of farmers do not abuse their animals. I will fully admit that there are bad apples in any bunch, but that doesn’t define an entire industry. Rather, farmers are generally employing science and the best animal husbandry practices to raise healthy and quality animals. You may not like the reality that we’re killing animals to eat them, but that doesn’t make what we do inhumane or abuse.
In fact, I believe the reason some people are so squeamish about some practices is simply because people are so far removed from food production. It isn’t always pretty and it isn’t always glamorous. That being said, there is usually a reason we do things a certain way and before you assume that something is abusive, it’s best to ask.
When confronted with these types of claims, I always suggest that consumers go directly to the source – farmers – to ask questions and find out about our practices. Wanda is a great example and a wealth of information. I think her responses here put into perspective the claims of the activists and explained how and why certain things are accomplished.