Tag Archives: bacon

When Did This Become Normal?

PigletToday’s water-cooler article (here passed around by the Huffington Post) concerns an undercover video from the group Mercy For Animals (whose web site is usually mercyforanimals.org, but right now it’s redirecting to walmartcruelty.com, which features the original video).  The video, taken at Christensen Farms — or, rather, at one of Christensen Farms’ many subsidiary farms — shows horrific, awful things: sows confined in tiny, body-sized crates, like those used for veal calves; pigs and piglets with untreated, open sores and wounds; piglets being “euthanized” by what the farm — and the industry — euphemistically refers to as “blunt trauma” — i.e., by being swung by their hind legs and slammed into the floor head-first; and newborn piglets having their tails docked — and being castrated — with dull clippers, and without anesthesia.

What gets me is the quote from the Official Industry Representative:

“We have reviewed the video and have noted no exceptions to our company procedures or industry.” — Christensen Farms chief executive, Robert Christensen

And it’s entirely true.  There’s not a thing in that video that isn’t an official pork industry procedure.  Check it out — here’s the National Pork BoardSwine Care Handbook“:

  • “Stalls allow the sow to stand, lie, eat and drink, but may not allow them to turn around… Varying sizes of gestation stalls can be used without negatively affecting welfare… Sows may be penned in farrowing stalls from late gestation until weaning of the piglets.” (pg 8)
  • After birth, the following procedures may be performed on piglets: Clipping needle teeth; tail docking; ear notching; castration.  Note that only piglets older than 14 days of age “should” receive anesthetics for these procedures.  (pg 9-10)
  • Under Euthanasia, they recommend the National Pork Board booklet, “On Farm Euthanasia of Swine – Options for the Producer“, which describes “blunt trauma” as “effective”, but notes that some people find it “aesthetically objectionable”.  They also support “additional research on methods of neonatal euthanasia” — more ever-useful research into whether or not death is stressful.  (pg 31)
  • The general consensus seems to be that you have four options (pg 37) with a sick or injured pig: treat it (costs money); slaughter it for human consumption (you get paid normally for the carcass); cull it (“substandard slaughter”!) for pet food (you get less money for the carcass); or euthanize it (costs money, plus you have to dispose of the bits).  Which do you think most meat producers will choose?  Why pay to treat an injured animal when you can just kill it a little prematurely instead?

By not paying attention, we’ve created a space in which the things on that video are normal.  They are USDA-approved.  There are people who go to work every day, and cut the testicles out of squealing newborn piglets, and don’t think a thing of it, or, if they do, they don’t say anything for fear of being fired, because everyone else, especially the boss, is acting as though cutting the genitals off a conscious, unanesthetized piglet is appropriate behavior.

It’s possible to raise pigs in other ways.  You can keep farrowing sows on pasture.  You can use actual humane methods of euthanasia on culled piglets.  You can even use anesthetic for castration, or not castrate the piglets at all.  It’s just that it’s expensive to do it that way, and takes more time and effort, and that makes the meat cost more.  So, ironically, we, the consumers, are actually in control of this process: As long as we’re willing to buy cheap pork (and other meat; this stuff isn’t just happening to pigs), producers will keep making it this way.

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Pig or Puppy, the System Still Sucks

I was raised by wolves, or at least by a pack of consummate carnivores.  I find that not a lot of my friends want to talk to me about animal welfare because they think that, by objecting to how we treat our meat and research animals, I’ve become a brainwashed, tree-hugging hippie who’s trying to convert them to veganism.  They like eating their meat, and they get grumpy when they think someone is trying to take it away.

All right.  We all love bacon.  Pigs provide bacon.  You gotta kill pigs to get bacon.  Fine.

Now imagine that there are two ways to get bacon out of a pig (or a puppy).

The first way is an old, slow, traditional way: you raise the pig in a nice big space, let it exercise the muscles you’re going to eat, feed and water it properly, give it love, health care, and shelter, and kill it as humanely as possible.  You clean the carcass carefully, use as much of it as you can, and only keep and slaughter as many pigs as you can kindly handle.  Because you have a lot of time to work with individual animals and to make sure your facilities are clean, this produces clean, fresh bacon — and a lot more of it, off fatter, healthier pigs (or puppies).

The second way is the new, fast, modern way: you raise hundreds of thousands of pigs in small metal boxes in the dark.  You grow them so big, so fast, their legs break.  You fill them to the eyes with antibiotics so they don’t get sick.  You can’t process all the pigs yourself, so you hire (and abuse) minimum-wage workers to do the slaughtering in a partially automated process.  Processing 3,000 pigs an hour (one every two seconds), not all the pigs die before being dismembered.  Something like 20-30% are “legged”, gutted, and dissected alive.  Everything moves so fast there’s no time to clean properly, and carcasses (and everything else) are covered in feces, blood, and other materials.  There’s no time to inspect carcasses properly, either, and diseased animals are packaged up for sale.  When disease is inevitably discovered in your product, instead of slowing down the line, you wash the meat down in chlorine before you package it.

Either way, you end up eating bacon.  But the first way, you’re getting good meat, and the second way, you’re getting meat full of chemical washes, pus, E. coli, and sawdust.

Just for this moment, we’re gonna skip all the animal welfare issues, the worker welfare issues, the adorable little kids dying of E. coli poisoning, and the really cute part where the plants are run and “overseen” by the rich, fat-cat assholes in Washington that you hate, who are even now passing laws to make it easier for them to churn out tainted, sawdust-flavored crap and sell it everywhere.  Boiled down to the basic facts: the current system of food production, which supplies most grocery stores and restaurants, turns out horrible, diseased, scary meat which is doused in chemicals and potentially dangerous for you.

Your status as a carnivore is not in question.  The question is, which pig (or puppy) would you rather eat?