The pork production sector has seen a rash of pressure from animal activists in recent weeks, the latest being an undercover video at an Iowa hog farm. Those working daily with farm animals have different experiences and expertise in animal care and can sort through the credibility of what the videos show. To the public, however, the hidden camera investigations can raise many questions and the perspectives they hear are too often one-sided.

In an effort to foster a more balanced conversation about farm-animal care and to provide credible feedback to promote continuous improvement, the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) has created an Animal Care Review panel.

The panel is made up of animal well-being experts who will be charged with such tasks as examining “undercover” video footage, reporting back to the public with their professional analysis. While the first steps will occur in the pork production sector and the most recent video, CFI officials point out they will apply the review panel concept to other animal agriculture sectors as they show interest.

For a given panel, the participants will include an animal scientist, a veterinarian and an ethicist to assure a variety of perspectives are represented.

CFI is recruiting several experts to participate in the process, but for the Compassion over Killing (COK) video investigation at an Iowa swine unit last week, the panel includes

  • Temple Grandin, animal scientist, Colorado State University, world renowned expert in animal behavior and welfare. She is a bestselling author and consultant to the livestock industry, and designs livestock handling facilities.
  •  Candace Croney, associate professor of animal science at Purdue University. She is an expert in applied animal behavior, with an emphasis on animal learning, welfare and ethics. She is on the Scientific Advisory Committee of the American Humane Certified program, and has conducted research on farm-animal cognition.
  •  Tom Burkgren, DVM, executive director of American Association of Swine Veterinarians, develops public policy and manages AASV business affairs, as well as provides analysis and advocacy on issues related to the practice of swine medicine. His practice experience includes mixed animal practice as well as exclusive swine practice. 

“Ideally, the panel will receive complete and in-context video footage from the organization that obtained it,” say CFI officials. “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.”

Specific to the COK video, 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 away from the area.
  • 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 that it was caused by incorrect castration procedures. One expert noted that 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 the farm needs to correct.  
  • 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 an accepted production practice used to stimulate the immune systems of pregnant sows late in gestation. This results in more effective and improved 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.

COK did not give the panel access to the complete video and the issue of seeing only brief segments was a concern. They point out that being able to view longer excerpts would allow them to review the issues more thoroughly and provide better evaluation for continuous improvement.  

CFI emphasizes that the Animal Care Review Panel operates independently. “Its reviews, assessments, recommendations and reports will not be submitted to the pork industry for review or approval,” CFI officials note. “CFI’s only role is to facilitate the review process and release the panel’s findings.  The opinions expressed in the review are solely those of the expert panel.”