Waking up on any given morning can be a harsh reality. You may not want to face a particular task that awaits you. But ignoring it doesn’t make it better nor make it go away, and hitting the snooze alarm is simply a delay.

Last month you, and the pork industry, got a wake-up call with the release of a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ video showing inappropriate animal handling and, yes, abuses of hogs on an Iowa farm.

If you haven’t seen the video, go check it out at www.peta.org.

Much like the Hallmark/Westland cattle video released earlier, the scenes were hard to watch. The castration and tail-docking presentations were off base, as both are accepted and reviewed industry practices. Also, blunt-force trauma is an approved (by the American Association of Swine Practitioners) euthanasia practice for young piglets.

I genuinely like hogs and have no tolerance for people who mistreat animals or who don’t see abuse. Most chilling were the people’s attitudes; they seemed to revel in the mistreatment. What’s more, the video didn’t show the actions of a lone worker; it showed multiple people, including a supervisor. In all, PETA is seeking prosecution of 18 people.

The video was shot between June and September. For most of that time Natural Pork Production II owned the operation. It transferred to MowMar, a group ownership, on Aug. 18.

The new farm owners did respond swiftly and sternly — a lesson well learned from the Hallmark/Westland case.

MowMar owners released a statement that they will not tolerate the mistreatment of any animals and that they take PETA’s allegations “very seriously.” MowMar representatives met with PETA directly, and have outlined the following commitments:

  • To conduct a thorough investigation. Employees found to have committed animal-cruelty violations will be terminated.
  • An animal-handling expert will come to the farm, review policies and procedures, and provide independent guidance and best practices.
  • Any policies or procedures that are inconsistent with MowMar’s standards for farm-animal treatment will be strengthened.  Officials will enforce a zero-tolerance policy related to animal mistreatment or abuse.
  • Current and future employees and the contracted farm-management company will be trained on MowMar’s policies and proper animal treatment.
  • MowMar is researching video-monitoring equipment as a tool to oversee all aspects of herd care.

Granted, MowMar came in as new owners late in the case, but the people and culture had remained in place. It’s an example of why every operator needs to check people and practices continuously, whether it involves a newly purchased site, a new employee or even a veteran worker. After all, life’s challenges can stress anyone, and you can’t risk people taking their frustrations out on the animals. 

The National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council also stepped up and sent a clear message: “Mistreatment of animals is appalling to pork producers just as it is to others. We do not defend and will not accept such mistreatment.”

It’s important to note that PETA also targeted Hormel in this case. A smart, but unfair tactic. Smart because Hormel is closer to the consumer with its recognizable brands. PETA instructed consumers to contact Hormel. “By purchasing pigs born on this farm, Hormel is financially supporting an operation whose employees abuse animals. And if you eat these products…then you, too, are supporting this suffering. Please stop eating pigs. Then take action against Hormel,” PETA instructed.

Consumers responded. Hormel received more than 10,000 phone calls in two days. Pulling Hormel into the mix is unfair because, as a processor, Hormel is not responsible for animal handling on the farm. Probably the only thing that saved Hormel’s stock in response to this debacle was the larger economic turmoil brewing.

It’s been about a month since the video’s release, and you may think the issue has passed. It certainly has not. If you have not talked with your staff and/or growers about proper animal handling, your standard operating procedures and expectations, and the consequences of not following suit, you need to. Even if you’ve done it in the past, do it again. Turn this episode into a teachable moment. Set up an interactive session where you view the video with your workers — including the office staff and others seemingly removed from day-to-day interaction with animals. Veterinarians and allied industry should do the same. Discuss what you saw and how you felt. Talk about what was wrong, what are the right procedures, what should have been done and what will be done within your system.

Also, talk about how the public might react to PETA’s video or other perceptions that they carry of commercial pork production. Provide advice and instruction on how to listen and respond to people outside of the industry. You never know where or when you will run into a negative reaction to your career choice. Everyone involved in pork production is an ambassador and your attitude reflects on the whole.  

This was a wake up call, but don’t respond by hitting the snooze alarm; you don’t want to face a second one.