Castrating and tail-docking of baby pigs with no anesthetic is accepted practice Photo: Mercy for Animals

Castrating and tail-docking of baby pigs with no anesthetic is accepted practice
Photo: Mercy for Animals

by Katerina Lorenzatos Makris ~

A piglet is hoisted high in the air then slammed hard to the floor. Other piglets, held upside down by the legs, are tail-docked and castrated, screaming, with no anesthetic.

Many viewers react with horror and anger to images in grisly videos such as those released by animal protection group Mercy for Animals (MFA). The group said its investigator obtained the footage while working undercover at Iowa’s largest pork producer—and the United States’ fourth biggest producer—Iowa Select Farms in 2011.

According to at least one industry representative, however, such behaviors on the part of workers appear to violate no animal welfare laws, and are simply accepted industry practices.

Editor’s note: This article was first posted in 2011 soon after the MFA video was released.

Use of blunt force trauma and castration with no painkillers not considered animal abuse

“From the video that I have seen, there is [almost] nothing in there that would be considered as animal abuse,” Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) Communications Director Ron Birkenholz told Animal Policy Examiner (APE) in a telephone interview. “There are some things in there that the average person is going to see as pretty bad, but the pork industry follows very closely guidelines by the various veterinary associations. And what is seen in this video are pretty much common practices.”

Slamming the piglet to the ground, he said, “is called the use of blunt force trauma, which is a common euthanasia technique, recognized by organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians as a way to perform a job that really no one welcomes.”

As for the tail-docking and the castration done without painkillers, he said, “the veterinarians tell us that is OK to do that way, and they’ve said that for years, and until they tell us differently, that’s the way it’ll be done.”

Tossing piglets around like footballs is no longer approved practice

One exception to accepted practices, Birkenholz pointed out, was a scene in the video where piglets are tossed around like footballs from one worker to another.

“This is no longer an approved practice by the veterinary groups,” he explained. “Now they recommend that pork producers pick them up by the leg, and set them into the cart when they’re sorting them like that. They don’t recommend tossing the pigs. Even though they did not drop the pigs, that’s still not an approved or recommended practice. These veterinarian associations came out a few years ago and said we don’t recommend you do that anymore. Because potentially you could drop a pig and that would not be good. You set them down.”

The veterinary associations “make recommendations to the National Pork Board, and it kind of sets the policy for proper handling and proper swine care,” Birkenholz said.

Pork producers aim to ‘keep their livestock safe and healthy’

Another exception to accepted practices, he noted, was “a shot of one baby pig that was in some severe pain, possibly, and that pig should have been euthanized immediately, and apparently it was not.”

Birkenholz qualified his statements, however, with the caveat that the video’s authenticity has not been verified to the satisfaction of IPPA.

He also said he didn’t have enough information to comment specifically on the video’s implication that sows (mother pigs) are left to suffer without treatment from such painful ailments as prolapsed uteruses and open sores.

However Birkenholz, who grew up on an Iowa family farm, defended the animal welfare intentions of pork producers this way: “We don’t want the pigs to suffer. A lot of people point fingers at pork producers and livestock producers and think they don’t care about the animals, but they do. That’s the first thing they think about. That’s job one for pork producers– keeping their livestock safe and healthy.”

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Pork rep admits undercover videos reveal abuses but says they risk bio-security

Katerina Lorenzatos Makris is a career journalist, author, and editor. Credits include hundreds of articles for regional wire services and for  outlets such as National Geographic TravelerThe San Francisco ChronicleTravelers’ Tales, NBC’s, and (Animal Policy Examiner), a teleplay for CBS-TV, a short story for The Bark magazine, and 17 novels for Avon, E.P. Dutton, Simon and Schuster, and other major publishers.

Together with coauthor Shelley Frost, Katerina wrote a step-by-step guide for hands-on, in-the-trenches dog rescue, Your Adopted Dog: Everything You Need to Know About Rescuing and Caring for a Best Friend in Need (The Lyons Press).

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