Pigs jammed in crates, abused at farm, Humane Society says

Associated Press / December 16, 2010

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RICHMOND — The Humane Society of the United States said yesterday that an undercover worker at a farm owned by the world’s largest pork producer saw breeding pigs abused and crammed into small gestation crates.

The animal welfare organization released the results of a monthlong undercover investigation at a Waverly, Va., factory farm owned by Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc. Murphy-Brown is Smithfield’s livestock production subsidiary and is the world’s largest producer of pigs for slaughter. The Humane Society called on Smithfield to renew its commitment to phasing out the crates.

Photos and video from the investigation showed about 1,000 large female pigs crammed into metal crates that severely limited their ability to move. The pigs stay in the crates, also called sow stalls, during their four-month pregnancies. Afterward, they are moved for about three weeks to a crate large enough to nurse their piglets before being artificially inseminated and placed back into the gestation crates.

Seven states have passed laws banning gestation crates, and the European Union is phasing out their use by 2013. However, the crates are legal in Virginia.

“These animals are intelligent, curious and they don’t deserve this type of abuse,’’ said Paul Shapiro, a spokesman for the Humane Society.

Smithfield is still working to have its farms use group housing arrangements rather than the gestation stalls, said Dennis Treacy, Smithfield’s chief sustainability officer. However, the company wouldn’t say when that transition will be finished.

The announcement comes a week after the Smithfield, Va.-based company reported a record second-quarter profit.

The investigation also found:

■ A lame pig was shot in the forehead with a stun gun and thrown into a trash bin while still alive. A video shows the large pig with “kill’’ spray-painted on its back being dragged by its snout, shot in the head, and thrown into a bin while trying to wiggle free.

■ Employees jabbed pigs with gate rods to get them to move.

■ Pigs biting their crates — what the group called a sign of frustration — so hard they bled.

■ Pigs with open sores because they couldn’t move in the crates.

Treacy said the company first learned of the possible abuses over the weekend from a call to its employee animal welfare hotline. He said the company is conducting its own investigation.

The findings were shared with law enforcement, and it’s up to them whether criminal charges are filed, Shapiro said.

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