POSTED ON MARCH 14, 2012:
Humane Society decries pig cruelty in Sooner State. Last month, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) revealed graphic footage from an undercover investigation in late 2011. This time, two pig breeding facilities in Goodwell, Okla. -- specifically two of the biggest pig producers in the country, Seaboard and Prestage -- were the target of their cameras.
Armed with their findings, the HSUS filed legal complaints with the U.S. Securities and Exchange and Federal Trade Commission alleging false and misleading statements about animal care by one of the producers, according to a press release.
The videos revealed sick animals with abscesses, torn ears and noses, ripped genitals and little piglets with "greasy pig" disease. Paul Shapiro, the society's national senior director for farm animal protection, explained their concerns and findings with UTW.
Both Seaboard and Prestage, he said, "confine very large numbers of pigs inside gestation crates, which are small two-foot-wide metal cages, barely larger than the volume of the pig's own body."
The producers, he said, "confine [pigs] permanently in a state of immobilization for months on end."
Oklahoma is a large pork-producing state and one that still allows gestation crates. Eight states (and the European Union) have phased out and banned the practice, including Florida, Arizona, California, Oregon, Colorado, Maine, Michigan and Ohio.
These pig farms are located in western Oklahoma, but their products reach Green Country, too. Seaboard, the third-largest pork producer in the nation, also provides pork products to Walmart, including Walmart stores in Tulsa. Prestage is the nation's fifth-largest pork producer.
These producers, Shapiro alleged, "are taking a 500-pound social and intelligent animal and locking her inside a cage where she can't even turn around."
The animals are caged around the clock and "are lined up like parked cars at one of these agribusiness facilities," Shapiro said.
Additionally, the investigation footage shows workers cutting off piglets' testicles and tails, injured piglets with their legs duct-taped to their bodies, and gestation crates overflowing with feces and urine.
On its company website (seaboardfoods.com), Seaboard states, "We are committed to proper animal care and have a moral and ethical obligation to the humane treatment of animals."
Under a heading titled, "Our beliefs and values," Seaboard's website states, "Our extensive animal care program is based on the fundamental belief that food animals should and can be treated humanely."
Based on these and many other statements by Seaboard, HSUS filed legal complaints against the company for making misleading statements to its shareholders and the public.
So, what's the alternative?
"Smithfield Foods and Cargill," Shapiro said, "are moving toward more humane group housing systems, where the animals are able to socialize with one another and walk around."
Cargill has transition 50 percent of its sow operations from gestation crates to group housing. Both Hormel Foods and Smithfield Foods have pledged to get rid of the gestation crates by 2017.
Group housing systems are actually "less expensive" to use "than to use the confinement system where animals are immobilized," said Shapiro.
But the crating system has been used for decades, and it requires less skilled labor. "When you lock animals up to the point where they can't move, [all producers need is] someone to feed them in the front and hose them down in the back."
Some of the graphic footage can be accessed online through the Humane Society's website, humanesociety.org. But beware, the videos are very upsetting.
In addition to contacting pork producers, concerned citizens can also contact fast food and grocery store outlets that sell gestation crate pork products. Some major pork retailers like Burger King, Wendy's, Chipotle, Sonic, Quizno's, Safeway and Whole Foods have all implemented policies to reduce or eliminate their use of pork from pigs bred using gestation crates.
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