Pork: A Pig's Life
With corporate hog factories replacing traditional hog farms, pigs are being treated more as inanimate tools of production than as living, feeling animals.
Approximately 100 million pigs are raised and slaughtered in the U.S. every year. As babies, they are subjected to painful mutilations without anesthesia or pain relievers. The piglets' tails are cut off to minimize tail biting, an aberrant behavior which occurs when these highly intelligent animals are kept in deprived factory farm environments. In addition, notches are taken out of the piglets' ears for identification.
At 2 to 3 weeks of age, the piglets are taken away from their mothers, by which time, approximately 15% will have died. The surviving piglets are crowded into pens with metal bars and concrete floors. A headline from National Hog Farmer magazine advises, "Crowding Pigs Pays...". The pigs endure overcrowded confinement buildings for their entire lives - until they reach a slaughter weight of 250 pounds at 6 months of age.
Mother pigs (sows), spend most of their lives in individual "gestation" crates, which are approximately seven-feet-long and two-feet-wide--too small for them to even turn around. Just before giving birth, they are moved to "farrowing" crates, which are not large enough for them to even turn around or build nests for their young. According to a March 2004 article in the Des Moines Register, "A pregnant sow's biological need to build a nest before having her litter is so great that some sows confined in modern hog buildings will rub their snouts raw on the concrete floor while trying to satisfy the drive."
The air in hog factories is laden with dust, dander, and noxious gases which are produced by the animals' urine and feces. Studies of workers in swine confinement buildings have found 60 percent to have breathing problems, despite their spending only a few hours a day inside confinement buildings. For pigs, who live their entire lives in factory farm confinement, respiratory disease is rampant.
Modern hog factories are a fertile breeding ground for a wide variety of diseases. A Pork industry report explains: "Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, or PRRS, was first reported in U.S. herds in 1987. It is now estimated to be in as many as 60 percent of U.S. herds... Swine arthritis has increased in economic importance with confinement rearing, partly because of damage related to flooring conditions and partly because of faster growth rates and lack of exercise... The incidence of salmonellosis has continued to increase. It is estimated that one-third to half of farms have some level of salmonellosis... Epidemic transmissible gastroenteritis, or TGE, is a dreaded disease because it's hard to keep out of herds, there's no effective treatment, and it carries a devastating mortality rate in baby pigs. Nearly all pigs less than 10 days old die if infected... Forty to 70 percent of U.S. pigs show evidence of infection with bratislava (a type of Leptospirosis)... Tests indicate 80 percent to 85 percent of sows in major swine producing areas have been exposed to parvo virus".
Modern breeding sows are treated like piglet making machines. Living a continuous cycle of impregnation and birth, the sows each have more than 20 piglets per year. After being impregnated, the sows are confined in small pens or metal gestation crates. The sows barely have room to stand up and lie down, and many suffer from sores on their shoulders. They are denied straw bedding and forced to stand and lie on hard floors. When asked about this, a pork industry representative wrote, "...straw is very expensive and there certainly would not be a supply of straw in the country to supply all the farrowing pens in the U.S."
Piglets are taken from their mothers when they are as young as 10 days old and packed into pens until they are separated to be raised for breeding or meat. They too are overcrowded and prone to stress-related behaviors, such as cannibalism and tail-biting. Rather than give the animals more space and a better environment to prevent these problems, factory farmers chop off the piglets' tails and often use pliers to break off the ends of their teeth. Factory farmers also rip chunks out of the young animals' ears for identification purposes and rip out the males' testicles to prevent them from producing sexual pheremones. All of these excruciating procedures are done without any use of painkillers.
Numerous research studies conducted over the last 25 years have pointed to physical and psychological maladies experienced by sows in confinement. The unnatural flooring and lack of exercise causes obesity and crippling leg disorders, while the deprived environment results in neurotic coping behaviors such as bar biting, dog sitting, and "mourning". After visiting several pig factory farms, investigator Lauren Ornelas wrote, "what will remain with me forever is the sound of desperate pigs banging their heads against immovable doors and their constant and repeated biting at the prison bars that held them captive. This, I now know, is a sign of mental collapse."
After giving birth and nursing their young for two to three weeks, the piglets are taken away to be fattened, and the sow is re-impregnated. Hog factories strive to keep their sows '100 % active', as an article in Successful Farming explains, "Any sow that is not gestating, lactating or within seven days post weaning is non-active." When the sow is no longer deemed a productive breeder, she is sent to slaughter.
In addition to experiencing overcrowded housing, sows and pigs are also experience crowding in transportation - despite the fact that this crowding causes suffering and deaths. As a hog industry expert writes, "Death losses during transport are too high - amounting to more than $8 million per year. But it doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out why we load as many hogs on a truck as we do. It's cheaper. So it becomes a moral issue. Is it right to overload a truck and save $.25 per head in the process, while the overcrowding contributes to the deaths of 80,000 hogs each year?"
Prior to being hung upside down by their back legs and bled to death at the slaughterhouse, pigs are supposed to be 'stunned' and rendered unconscious. However, 'stunning' is terribly imprecise, and this results in conscious animals hanging upside down, kicking and struggling, while a slaughterhouse worker tries to 'stick' them in the neck with a knife. If the worker is unsuccessful, the pig will be carried to the next station on the slaughterhouse assembly line, the scalding tank, where he/she will be boiled alive.
According to slaughter plant worker, Tommy Vladak, "After they left me, the hogs would go up a hundred-foot ramp to a tank where they're dunked in 140° water...Water any hotter than that would take the meat right off their bones...There's no way these animals can bleed out in the few minutes it takes to get up the ramp. By the time they hit the scalding tank, they're still fully conscious and squealing. Happens all the time."
Some of this text is courtesy of Mercy For Animals.
For more information on pork production:
- Mercy for Animals Pig Farm Investigation
- Humane Society of the United States' information on the natural lives of pig
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