On Wednesday, Mercy for Animals released the latest undercover video that purports to show “animal abuse” on an Iowa Select Farms’ operation near Kamrar, Iowa. The animal rights group released the video at four consecutive news conferences held in Seattle, Des Moines, Cincinnati and San Francisco, the headquarter cities of Costco, Hy-Vee, Safeway and Kroger.

Iowa Select is the fourth largest pork producer in the United States, and has operations throughout Iowa.

MFA is a Chicago-based organization, with the stated mission of “preventing cruelty to farmed animals and promoting compassionate food choices and policies. Prior to the official release of the video, MFA meet with or sent letters, including links to the 2.5-minute video, to the heads of the targeted food retailers, asking them to stop buying pork from Swift Pork Company, which processes hogs from Iowa Select Farms.

The group indicated that it secretly recorded its video (you can view it here)  between April and June of this year.

Nathan Runkle, MFA's executive director, points out this is among the first major efforts to use such recordings to pressure retailers. "We are looking at grocery chains buying from this facility and asking them to implement stronger animal welfare policies," Runkle notes. "They have a responsibility to make sure animals that appear on their store shelves are not mistreated."

The video focuses on practices involving piglet castration and tail clipping without anesthetics; it includes images of ill and injured swine; workers tossing piglets; and sows housed in gestation-crates. Runkle told the Des Moines Register that MFA “was most concerned with ending the use of gestation crates.”

"If there is pressure by grocery chains to phase these gestation crates out, we can eliminate animal abuse in a shorter period of time," he said. "Subjecting them to nearly a lifetime of confinement is really one of the most egregious longstanding abuses."

In response to MFA’s video and accusations, Howard Hill, Iowa Select Farms’ senior veterinarian, says, “Iowa Select has a long-standing commitment to animal welfare. Training and compliance with our animal welfare policies are a condition of employment. We have already initiated an investigation into the portions of the video that show unacceptable animal handling by a few employees.”

Iowa Select has retained Anna Johnson, Iowa State University, animal behavior and well-being researcher, to review specific actions depicted in the video. “If this independent review determines that we can make improvement to our animal welfare program and training, we will make such improvements," Hill says. 

He adds that if it’s determined that any company employee engaged in activities contrary to the company’s animal-care policies, disciplinary action, including termination of employment will occur. “We have zero tolerance of our animal welfare policies, and those portions of the video that show violations will be dealt with quickly and appropriately,” Hill notes.

Beyond that, Hill is personally bothered by the video, as he explains-- “As a veterinarian, I took an oath to provide for the care and well-being of animals. I am deeply troubled that someone would videotape what they believe is animal abuse if they had a chance to report it and stop it. Anyone who sees abuse has an ethical obligation to stop it immediately. Iowa Select has ultimate responsibility for assuring animal care for our farms, but videotaping abuse instead of reporting it is indefensible.”

National Pork Board officials emphasize that America’s pork producers take seriously their ethical responsibility regarding the proper care of pigs. “Responsible pork producers condemn the mistreatment of any animal,” NPB says.

But NPB adds, “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. An example is the need to end suffering when a mortally ill baby pig must be quickly euthanized. The use of blunt-force trauma is recognized by organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians as a way to perform a job no one welcomes.”

NPB officials emphasize that 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.”

National Pork Producers Council officials point out that the U.S. pork industry offers many care and handling education-certification programs for producers and their employees. The Transportation Quality Assurance Program, for example, teaches proper pig handling and transport practices, and the Pork Quality Assurance Plus Program includes on-farm assessments that help producers identify areas that need to be addressed before they become problems. “This program has the support of leading animal scientists, veterinarians and retail customers,” NPPC notes. “Measuring the standards of care on all farms is one way to help ensure that all animals in the pork industry continue to receive humane care and handling.”