Pig abuse lawsuit should spark change in Minnesota agriculture

A guest blog by Julie Knopp (as appeared in The Minnesota Reformer)

November 17, 2023

Wally faced a frightening future as he sped down the highway on a transport truck. A piglet born into the meat industry, Wally would likely spend his short life trapped inside a factory farm.

But a moment of courage and good fortune changed Wally’s life forever. While barreling down I-90, Wally forced open a gate at the back of the truck and leapt to freedom, skidding down the highway. A witness called 911, and animal control officers came to the scene.

Ultimately, SoulSpace Farm Sanctuary in New Richmond, Wisc., offered to give Wally a home. Today, Wally is one of the most popular residents at the sanctuary. He loves people, responds to his name, and gobbles up apples with great gusto.

Wally’s opportunity to live out his life peacefully is a rarity in our state. Minnesota is the second largest hog-producing state in the nation, with a population of roughly 8.6 million hogs in 2022, most of whom go to slaughter at six months old. About 99% of animals used for food spend their lives indoors, cramped in filthy conditions, without access to grass or sunlight.

Recently, an undercover investigation in southeast Minnesota revealed even more horrific abuses, sparking national outrage. Until August of 2023, the case was under seal as the Department of Justice reviewed the allegations.

In 2021, Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against Holden Farms, following an undercover investigation of their pig breeding facility in Utica, Minnesota. The video footage — captured by the nonprofit Animal Outlook — shows workers feeding mother pigs a blended slurry of dead piglet intestines and bodily fluids. This practice, known as “feedback,” is common in animal agriculture, but Animal Legal Defense Fund believes it violates Minnesota’s anti-garbage feeding law.

The footage also reveals disturbing acts of torture. In one instance, workers throw a piglet around with such force that when the animal hits a PVC pipe, the pipe bursts. Water erupts from the pipe and the piglet falls to the ground, motionless. The footage also depicts workers beating and kicking mother pigs, including those who are too sick or injured to walk, on a routine basis.

An undercover investigator requesting anonymity told Vox that while all of the investigations are “really bad,” Holden Farms in particular was like “a house of horrors.”

The lawsuit alleges that Holden Farms “engages in systematic and ongoing violations of the Federal Swine Health Protection Act, the Minnesota anti-cruelty law, and the Minnesota anti-garbage feeding law.” These claims are particularly disturbing when taking into account that Holden Farms is the 16th largest pork producer in the U.S.

A growing body of evidence shows that many non-human animal species have nuanced capacities for thinking and feeling, but the case for pigs is especially compelling. Studies assessing cognitive abilities rank pigs’ intelligence above dogs and even three-year-old human children. Beyond their cognitive prowess, pigs lead rich emotional lives. They form strong social bonds, show empathy towards fellow pigs, and exhibit a wide range of emotions, including joy, sorrow and stress. Mother pigs even sing to their babies.

Holden Farms is one of many Minnesota farms where pigs like Wally — and other animals used for food — endure unthinkable suffering. The widespread abuse of these animals threatens not just our moral legacy, but the wellbeing of our communities. Animal agriculture is a leading cause of many environmental concerns, including water and air pollutionhabitat loss, and land degradation.

Animal agriculture also threatens public health, as factory farms are notoriously linked to the emergence and spread of zoonotic disease, such as H5N1 and H1N1.

Labor issues are another concern; the meat sector has some of the highest rates of workplace injury of any industry.

By reducing the number of animals used for food and improving the conditions of those in our care, we can create a safer and healthier future.

As a leading agricultural state, Minnesota can set a more ethical standard for the treatment of animals in our food system. In doing so, we can benefit farm animals and our communities alike.

The author, Julie Knopp, Julie Knopp serves on the board of Compassionate Action for Animals. She is a communications specialist and also a freelance writer covering topics related to animals and the environment.

P.S. Have you signed CAA’s petition to stop the growth of factory farms in Minnesota? If not, go to exploreveg.org/petition and sign now.

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