The Vancouver Sun’s headline this week read almost like it was from The Onion: “Body slamming piglets to death humane, pork experts say.”
But it wasn’t a joke. Unfortunately, the article was about the pork industry’s response to the latest animal cruelty investigation, an exposé which documented severe and routine abuse on a pig factory farm. Caught on tape were standard pork industry practices such as slamming live pigs against concrete, locking pigs in tiny cages for months on end, cutting parts of their bodies off without painkiller and more.
Just about the time you think that the factory farming industry and its apologists couldn’t be more out of touch, shocking stories like this emerge to remind us that not everyone views the Dark Ages in the past tense. Remember, just a few months ago The National Pork Producers Council defended the severe, virtual lifetime immobilization of breeding pigs by scoffing:
“So our animals can’t turn around for the 2.5 years that they are in the stalls producing piglets…I don’t know who asked the sow if she wanted to turn around.”
Let’s put this into context. In the pork industry, most breeding pigs are confined day and night during their four-month pregnancy in gestation crates on factory farms. These cages are roughly the same size as the animals’ bodies and designed to prevent them from even turning around. Breeding pigs are subsequently transferred into another crate to give birth, and are then re-impregnated and put back into a gestation crate. This happens pregnancy after pregnancy for their entire lives, adding up to years of immobilization.
This practice is so inhumane that nine states have passed laws to ban it, and nearly all of the major food retailers in the country this year have announced their plans to eliminate it from their supply chains. Animal science experts like Temple Grandin, Ph.D., condemn the practice, arguing that “confining an animal for most of its life in a box in which it is not able to turn around does not provide a decent life.” Grandin further states, “We’ve got to treat animals right, and the gestation stalls have got to go.”
Yet lobbyists at the NPPC choose to defend factory farming practices that most Americans know is indefensible, and what their own experts are encouraging them to abandon.
In fact, this trade group takes its disregard for animal welfare even further. It’s not only working furiously to prevent animal welfare improvements for pigs on factory farms, it actively works to crush efforts to protect any farm animals. For example, NPPC is behind a campaign to squelch a federal bill to improve the treatment of egg-laying hens, HR 3798, despite the fact that both the egg industry and animal protection groups back the bill.
In other words, the NPPC wants no rules protecting pigs from abuse, and it’s against even modest anti-cruelty regulations in other agribusiness sectors in which it holds no stake, even when those farmers who would be affected by the new rules support them.
It’s difficult to imagine a trade group more out of touch with mainstream American sentiments about how animals ought to be treated. Remember what the muckraking writer Upton Sinclair famously said about the difficulty of getting a person to understand something when his salary depends on not him understanding it.
Fortunately for pigs, the NPPC is increasingly isolated in its unwillingness to understand what is plainly happening. Indeed, the future is so clear that Meat & Poultry magazine wrote in a recent article, “This is no longer a debate about the viability of gestation crates in hog production, but rather a discussion about how producers will respond to meet expectations.”
That’s right: gestation crates are headed to the dustbin of animal agribusiness history, and it can’t happen soon enough.