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Does standard practice count as abuse? July 23, 2012

Posted by Angelique in Animal welfare.
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Mercy for Animals (MFA), a nonprofit dedicated to preventing cruelty to farm animals, has a proud history of recording and publicizing undercover videos at farms and slaughterhouses to expose their inhumane practices. Last November’s coverage of Sparboe Farms led Target to drop Sparboe as an egg supplier. Now MFA is putting the pressure on Walmart to stop buying pork from what it considers abusive sources. To that end, it just released a video called, intriguingly, “The Hidden Cost of Walmart’s Pork.” The video profiles Minnesota’s Christensen Farms, the third largest pig producer in the US and a Walmart supplier.

We can all agree that hurting animals just to get your rocks off is abuse. But no one on the Christensen Farms video is doing that. Almost everything shown is standard industry practice and is recognized as such by vets, animal welfare specialists, and everyone who works with livestock. Castrating piglets and docking their tails without anesthesia is a complete non-starter. In fact, castration is done without anesthesia even at the most humane small local farms. (Every single humane animal welfare certification program allows it.) Keeping breeding sows in gestation crates for most of their lives is also the norm, although many retailers have committed to pushing their suppliers to abolish the practice.

Killing unpromising piglets by slamming their heads against the floor is not only standard practice, it’s recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Why? Because when it’s done properly, death is quick and therefore relatively humane:

A blow to the head can be a humane method of euthanasia for neonatal animals with thin craniums, such as young pigs, if a single sharp blow delivered to the central skull bones with sufficient force can produce immediate depression of the central nervous system and destruction of brain tissue. When properly performed, loss of consciousness is rapid.*

(In the MFA video, the piglets who’ve been slammed on the floor are still kicking afterward, but that is no indication that they are still conscious. The proper procedure for determining consciousness is to look for eye movement.) The only thing I saw on the video which livestock vets would not condone was the presence of live piglets and mother pigs with serious injuries that appeared to have been left untreated.

So it’s important for consumers to know that for the most part, what’s on the video is not what anyone working in the industry would classify as abuse. This is in contrast to other videos MFA has released that show workers kicking, hitting, or throwing animals around. If you’re uncomfortable with what’s going on at Christensen Farms, you should stop eating conventional pork, period – because it doesn’t get any better than that. Go for pork that’s been certified by a strong animal welfare certification or from a farmer you know instead, or join the MFAers and go vegan.

* AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia, June 2007, p. 13

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