The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) released an undercover video on Tuesday, taken at two separate swine systems near Goodwell, Okla.-- Seaboard Foods’ and Prestage Farms’ breeding and gestation facilities. The video was shot late in 2011, and HSUS charges that it reveals inhumane treatment of pigs, the focus of which is gestation stalls, as well as baby pig processing techniques.

HSUS has filed legal complaints with the U.S. Securities and Exchange and Federal Trade Commission alleging false and misleading statements about animal care presents on Seaboard’s website.  HSUS employed a similar tactic with Smithfield Foods in November. (Click here for more.)

According to Paul Shapiro, HSUS senior director of farm animal protection, HSUS is a stakeholder in Seaboard. He reported that HSUS had not communicated with either company about the video or its filing before today. “We’ve not had much communication with Prestage,” he added.

Seaboard is the nation's third-largest pork producer, and supplies pork products to Wal-Mart, and  Prestage is the nation's fifth-largest pork producer. HSUS argues that Seaboard and Prestage are lagging behind their competitors, pointing to Cargill as moving 50 percent of its sow operations from gestation stalls to group housing. Also, Smithfield Foods has set a goal to eliminate the use of sow-gestation stalls by 2017.

“We’re calling on these pork companies and their buyers, like Wal-Mart, to end this practice—end the use of gestation crates,” Shapiro said.  

As Shaprio noted, a developing animal activist tactic is to link such videos and what they present as abusive conditions to a consumer brand—in this case Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer. Again, HSUS used a similar tactic against Smithfield, involving McDonald’s. (Click here for more.)

“They (HSUS) are looking to expose brand hypocrisy,” says Wes Jamison, communications professor at Palm Beach University, who’s followed the animal rights movement for 20+ years. He explains that brand hypocracy is “the violation of core consumer values and expectations attached to a brand.”

“They’re looking for the weakest link; at exposing something that may not in reality even be a bad act, it just looks bad,” he adds.

While today, the activists go directly to retailers to pressure brands; legislatures also are on their list.

“We work with lawmakers to address animal welfare issues in all states,” Shapiro told reporters on Tuesday. “We do not have any plans at this time in Oklahoma.” However, he’s quick to tout the fact that “10 years ago, there were no states that had banned gestation crates, today there are eight.”

In response to this latest HSUS video and actions, the National Pork Board (NPB) released this statement: “The National Pork Board and America’s pork producers take seriously our ethical responsibility for the proper care of pigs. Responsible pork producers condemn the mistreatment of any animal.

We urge everyone to view the video carefully, however, because some of the practices shown in the video can be taken out of context by those not familiar with livestock production. The use of gestation stalls is one of many sow-housing solutions that, overseen properly by animal care workers, can be beneficial to the animal’s health and safety. Pork producers constantly seek new and better ways to care for their animals. They welcome the opportunity to discuss their animal-care practices, but abhor those who look for isolated incidents in an attempt to undermine the work of caring livestock farmers,” NPB concluded.

"The pork industry's notorious disregard for animal welfare is perhaps greater than in any other sector of the meat industry," says Shapiro. "Eliminating gestation crates is among the most critical reforms needed in the animal industry and certainly within the pork industry."

The National Pork Producers Council’s (NPPC) comment on gestation-sow stalls, included: “NPPC supports the position taken by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, which recognize gestation stalls and group housing systems as appropriate for providing for the well-being of sows during pregnancy. They also state that the key factor that most affects animal well-being is husbandry skills – that is, the care given to each animal.” (For the full statement, click here.)