Dissecting a Pork Video

What appears normal to folks who know livestock can be a shocking surprise to consumers - especially if presented in the wrong light. One group aims to change that.

Published on: Feb 21, 2012

Hidden camera investigations have become the bane of animal agriculture. In fact, during the 93rd Annual Meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation, delegates debated long and hard on policies aimed at ending the practice. The Center for Food Integrity is meeting the challenge head on in an effort to foster a more balanced conversation and to provide what it calls credible feedback to promote continuous improvement in animal care.

The group is creating an Animal Care Review panel, made up of recognized animal well-being experts to examine video footage and report back to the public. The process was established initially for the pork industry, but CFI is willing to engage with other sectors of animal agriculture that show interest.

The panel will include an animal scientist, a veterinarian and an ethicist to present various perspectives and make sure all sides are heard from on these videos.

CFI is recruiting several experts to participate in the process, but for the video investigation at a swine operation in Iowa released last week by Compassion Over Killing, the panel is comprised of Dr. Temple Grandin, Colorado State University; Dr. Candace Croney, Purdue University; and Dr. Tom Burkgren, American Association of Swine Veterinarians. Ideally, the panel will receive complete and in-context video footage from the organization that obtained it. This will provide the best opportunity for the experts to have a full understanding of the situation. Short of that, the panel will review edited segments that have been released to the public.

After reviewing the video released last week the panel made the following observations:

  • Most of what is shown in the video are normally accepted production practices and there was nothing that could be considered abusive. It was noted that employees appeared to be competent and well-trained and that the barn floors and the pigs themselves were clean.
  • In one scene, an employee is shown castrating and docking the tail of a piglet in close proximity to the mother. The video contends the sow is grunting in distress. One of the experts said that while it is likely that the sow experiences some distress in such a situation, both the sow and her piglets would probably experience similar or greater levels of stress if the piglet was transported elsewhere.
  • An employee is seen using tape on a piglet’s incisions following castration. One of the experts noted such a practice is considered more welfare friendly than stitches because it is less intrusive and requires less handling of the pig.
  • There was a short glimpse in the video of what appeared to be a herniated piglet and it was implied it was caused by incorrect castration. One expert noted the assertion is not correct – that the condition was likely related to genetics.
  • A scene showing several flies in a farrowing room was a point of concern and something the experts felt should be corrected.
  • Another point of concern is a portion of the video addressing the practice of “back feeding” – a process in which organs of piglets that have died are fed to the sows to boost their immune systems. The experts noted that it is unclear if this practice involves sows or pigs and its exact purpose. It is a normally accepted production practice used to stimulate the immune systems of pregnant sows late in gestation. This results in more effective and improved passive immunity that is passed from the mother to her offspring through the colostrum.
  • A sow shown walking awkwardly because its hooves had not been properly trimmed was also discussed. The experts noted the hooves should have been trimmed but they would have preferred seeing more than just a few seconds of the sow in question so it could be determined if there was a lameness issue.

The issue of only seeing brief scenes was a common concern for the experts. They noted that seeing longer excerpts from the video would allow them to place the practices in better context to allow for evaluation that encourages continuous improvement. Attempts by CFI to secure longer video segments from Compassion Over Killing were unsuccessful.  CFI remains committed to working with animal protection groups to secure more complete video for evaluation.

Source: Center for Food Integrity