Activist’s video turns lens on Hawkeye Sow Centers, Hormel

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Another animal activist undercover video surfaced on Wednesday, taken at a Hawkeye Sow Centers (HSC) swine breeding facility near Leland, Iowa. The animal rights group, Compassion Over Killing (COK) released the video, which was shot in December 2011. A COK investigator worked at the facility during that time and wore a hidden camera while inside the production unit.

COK Executive Director Erica Meier, presented the video at a press conference in Des Moines. She reported that the COK investigator worked on the farm for three weeks.

The video concentrated on castrating piglets without anesthesia; the housing protocols associated with gestation-sow stalls as well as farrowing crates; procedures to address herniated intestines occasionally associated with castration; and a feedback procedure that she described as “gruel.” Feedback is a procedure that can involve processing afterbirth and intestines from piglets that have died. It works as an inoculation process to build a sow’s immunity for certain health challenges.

“I don’t see any evidence of willful abuse of the animals in the video,” says Harry Snelson, DVM, communication director for the American Association of Swine Veterinarians. “The concern of our members, as always, is the treatment of the animals under our care.  Contrary to the assertions of the (video) narrator, it was evident that the farm employee had been trained, recognized the injuries and attempted to treat those injuries.  There is nothing on the video to support the assertion that the animals are denied veterinary care.”

The National Pork Board also responded, saying “America’s pork producers take seriously our ethical responsibility for the proper care of pigs. Upon the initial viewing of the video released today, it appears that the practices shown in the video are not abusive, but could be taken out of context by those not familiar with livestock production.” 

“Producers work closely with their herd veterinarians to ensure proper animal care and health and are dedicated to seeking new and better ways to care for their animals,” says Cindy Cunningham, assistant vice president of communications for NPB. “Pork producers 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.”

But Meier argues that "animal cruelty is standard practice," in pork production. She adds COK’s vegetarian creed, “The most effective way consumers can stand up for animals and help stop the cruelty is to simply leave pigs, and all animals, off our plates.”

Meier and COK’s video also points to laws under consideration in some state legislatures that are attempting to address activists’ undercover videos on farms. While the bills vary in certain details and penalties (from misdemeanors to felonies), the commonality is to penalize individuals who willfully misrepresent information and intent in order to gain access to a farm business-- animal or crop— for the purpose of committing an act not authorized by the owner. Such examples would be undercover videos and failing to report any animal “mistreatment” within a timely manner.

This year, FloridaIowaMinnesota, New YorkIndiana and Nebraska have all presented such legislation.

COK is encouraging visitors to its website who are residents of states with such a bill to contact their representatives and oppose the legislation and to “stay tuned for action alerts from us.”

At the press conference and in the video, COK turned the spotlight on Hormel Foods as purchasing hogs from facilities raising pigs from HSC sows. “As our investigator was told, many of the piglets born at this facility will end up on store shelves under the brand name, Hormel,” Meier says. She points to Hormel’s recent statement that it will phase out gestation-sow stalls in its company-owned facilities by 2017, and challenged the company to extend that policy to “independently run facilities” that supply Hormel. “It's time for Hormel for end the use of cruel gestation crates in its entire supply chain,” Meier contends.

Regarding Wednesday’s events, Hormel told Pork Network, “Hormel Foods is committed to animal care. We have a zero tolerance policy for the inhumane treatment of animals, and we remain dedicated to the highest standards for animal care and handling.

We continue to maintain our consistent animal handling practices, employee training and reporting processes, which supports our belief that treating animals humanely is the right thing to do.”

Hormel’s representative referred to the company’s website for more information about its animal care practices.

“We continue to be in discussions with our suppliers to ensure day-to-day actions are consistent with industry standards,” Hormel said.

As for HSC, it is headquartered in Emmetsburg, Iowa, and is part of Kerber Companies, which includes several divisions associated with the animal-agriculture sector, specifically swine and beef. The “family owned” business serves Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota.

HSC is the swine management division, which provides human resources, payroll, recruiting and livestock management to seven shareholder-owned sow farms and 180,000 finishing spaces. A construction and maintenance division of Kerber is Ag Property Solutions, which maintains HSC’s managed swine facilities, as well as offer construction services to other producers.

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David Van Wert    
Retired in Arizona  |  February, 16, 2012 at 10:41 AM

We never seem to see any defensive comments for the use of farrowing crates such as reduction of baby pig death loss [pigs "crushed to death"]: Why? Wasn't that the original purpose and isn't that equally important?

Susan Traynor    
MIchigan  |  February, 16, 2012 at 01:14 PM

Would venture to guess that Erica Meier has been a farmer a total of 0.0 days.

February, 16, 2012 at 03:40 PM

Susan, a good comment! Google gives us the answer: Erica Meier - Executive Director Erica has served as COK's Executive Director since 2005, after having been actively involved as a volunteer since 2000. Since taking the helm, Erica has taken the organization to new heights with continued growth and accomplishments for animals that include ending the egg industry's use of the misleading claim “Animal Care Certified” and successfully working with BOCA foods to stop using eggs. Vegan for nearly 20 years, Erica has been working in the animal protection field since college. Before working at COK, Erica spent several years as an animal control officer in Washington, DC where she rescued sick, stray, and homeless animals as well as enforced anti-cruelty laws. Follow Erica on Twitter. So follow this girl on Twitter!! Greets from Germany Fritz www.fritzberkner

Shelia C. Short    
Missouri  |  February, 17, 2012 at 05:19 PM

Most of us involved in raising animals do much of our medical care for the animals. We know what to do, when an animal is beyond saving and when to call the veterinary for assistance. I believe that by continually trying to target every animal injury & illness is just another tactic of the animal rights advocates to drive up the cost of doing business. By narrowing the profit margin they can force more producers out, or cause them to have to raise prices. Raising prices is another way to try to limit the consumers choice rather it is for animal protein or pets.

ALGONA  |  February, 17, 2012 at 06:51 PM

Every employee receives extensive training and signs a commitment to immediately report to management any willful abuse of animals. I do not understand why the person with the camera taped for three weeks and never reported any abuse. THERE WAS NOTHING TO REPORT!!!!!!! Hats off to HSC your farmers know you care about your pigs.

Maryland  |  February, 21, 2012 at 04:05 PM

I'm sorry, but I am not a farmer but when I see baby piglets being castrated WITHOUT anesthesia, THAT IS CRUEL!! Maybe it is not WILLFUL animal abuse, but is it REALLY necessary to do that without a pain killer??? Other countries use anesthesia, why can't we? And farrowing crates are NOT gestation crates!! One is used so that piglets don't get crushed, but gestation crates? Are THEY really necessary?? Keeping a sow from her piglets unnaturally?? I realize that pork producers are all about profit,when the American consumer sees what factory farms do to their animals, they are going to look to more humane farms who treat their animals more compassionately...what would you do if we castrated our puppies and kitten without that ok,too?? After all, it's not WILLFUL's just necessary,right?? But they're just pigs, not our beloved pets...

Marlane Custance McInnis    
USA  |  February, 23, 2012 at 04:09 PM

There is no justification to explain the torture of animals....Europeans have certainly put Americans to shame in the treatment of animals....

SD  |  March, 02, 2012 at 12:30 PM

Surely anyone who is conscious knows that extremist anti-food animal activists routinely substitute emotion for common sense when promoting their animal RIGHTS agenda! With all the angst over non-anesthesia castration of animals, where is the concern for baby boys who are circumcised with no anesthesia??? Or have an extra finger or toe removed with no anesthesia? And, yes, I know people who have experience all that. This is simply advancing hysteria over common sense. Anesthesia is dangerous to babies....of many species. Expert surgery often is faster and less painful that multiple 'sticks' as anesthesia plus the brief surgical procedure requires. Does anyone NOT understand that photo's can be and ARE doctored to promote an agenda? Does anyone FAIL to believe if there truly is cruelty, it is even more egregious of the photographer to hold off reporting the 'abuse' for maximum impact for his/her organization?

Maryland  |  March, 19, 2012 at 08:08 AM

Expert surgery??? The guy wasn't even wearing gloves!! And little baby boys are circumcised with THEIR PARENTS PERMISSION!!I don't see doctors hanging little baby boys upside down outside their cribs circumcising them!!! How can one even compare the two?!?!?! And if anesthesia is dangerous to "all babies," why is it being used on animals in Europe successfully? I am also angry that I am being compared to ANTI-FOOD animal activists!! Some people will never stop eating meat... that is our society...However, that doesn't mean we have to treat animals cruelly before they are slaughtered!! Please don't throw everyone into the same boat when you are really angry at the extremists of an issue....

Jackson MacDougal    
Iowa  |  October, 19, 2014 at 04:08 PM

You are in denial - obviously what is being done to those animals is BARBARIC - just watch the video

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