3-27-2014 5-29-11 PM

The Noble Pig, Factory Farms, & How You Can Make A Difference: Part I of II

I once interviewed a former factory farm worker, someone who had earned a degree in agriculture. This person served her internship in a hog facility; she had no idea what she was getting into. While interning at the facility she saw firsthand constant and unspeakable animal abuse, things she relayed to me that I have no intention of relaying to you.  She was so traumatized by her internship that she finished her degree, and never worked in conventional agriculture. She couldn’t bear to be a part of a system that was so steeped in cruelty.

Our farmer now lives near Peyton, CO, where she operates a small, heritage farm.  She raises pigs on pasture for a modest profit, along with fancy chickens and a few other farm animals.  And, she does something unique for a farmer – she devotes a portion of her working farm to care for rescued pigs. This farmer rescues sows from gestation crate breeding facilities, sows that are destined for death, and she retires them on her little holding.

Knowing that farmers are always watching costs, trying to maximize yields, and hopefully turn a profit, it is remarkable to me that this farmer has set-aside pasture for an unproductive endeavor. There will be no product from these sows, no profit, and there will be associated costs.  All of this simply doesn’t matter to our farmer heroine.  Knowing how those sows have suffered, our farmer is dedicated to providing a safe, kind place for the sows to live out their years.  Our farmer cannot put out of her mind what she witnessed as an intern in a factory farm, but she can ease the suffering for a small number of extremely fortunate sows.

Here is a small sampling of facts I learned in my interview with this former factory farm worker:

  • Pigs are highly intelligent animals, at least as intelligent (if not more so) than the average dog.  Pigs confined in factory farms literally go mad from the deplorable living conditions.
  • Pigs in confinement operations rub their snouts on the bars of the cage, over, and over again.  This behavior has only recently been unraveled – the self-inflicted would causes the pigs body to release a hormone that acts like a drug.  The pigs are self-medicating themselves through self-mutilation.
  • Illegal drugs and antibiotics, not approved for use in pigs, are routinely found in supermarket pork.  There is no significant consequence for the factory farm for using these drugs and antibiotics on their hogs.

It is for these reasons, and many others (click here and here for the other reasons), that I am so passionate about the plight of the noble pig.  Pigs are a wonderful farm animal, providing benefit to the soil as well as food on the table.  Pigs are intelligent, sensitive, and have strong memories – torturing these animals in the name of food production is despicable.

Now, I want to be clear – I eat pork.  And, I buy the bulk of my pork from a farmer who raises their pigs on pasture.  If I eat out, I typically don’t order pork off the menu; pork served in restaurants (unless otherwise stated) comes from factory farms.  If I buy pork at the grocery store, I buy Niman Ranch pork (they have a great track record).  If you’ve been reading my blog long enough you know I’m an omnivore, and you know that I feel passionately about the welfare of food producing animals.

So here’s the upshot – mass produced pork has major problems for people, animals, and the environment.  Pork production is achieved on a massive scale through inhumane practices, to the financial benefit of foreign owned conglomerates.  The situation in Big Ag is getting worse, not better, with the introduction of Ag Gag legislation.

However, buying pork locally, from a small producer that raises pigs on pasture, neutralizes nearly all of the negative impacts of pork production.  Part II of this post (coming next week) is an interview with a local pork producer who raises hogs on pasture.  Watch the video below (if you can – I couldn’t get through it).  Compare this video to next week’s video.  You will never look at a ham and cheddar quiche in quite the same way, and the changes you make just might be the tipping point to change the pork industry in the United States.

There is a ton at stake regarding pork production, but this issue can be easily fixed.  Stop buying factory raised pork, and start buying local, pasture raised pork.  It’s that simple, and that profound.

WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC AND VIOLENT IMAGES.  IF YOU ARE SENSITIVE TO SUCH IMAGES DO NOT WATCH THIS VIDEO.  I PERSONALLY HAD TO TURN MY HEAD AND LOOK AWAY DURING A PARTICULAR SEGMENT

Feature image (top right) is a still shot from the above video, Undercover at Smithfield Foods (2012 Webby Award Winner)

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2 Responses to Sustainability Experts Sound Off

  1. Tascha October 31, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

    Christine – what a great question and diverse answers. I’d like to think that the shift in demand is an indicator, but as you know, most of the demand is still through our traditional food sources (big chain grocery with an organics line, fast food with healthier choices). Jury is still out on whether they are truly sourcing from sustainable ag. And as I look around Colorado Springs, yes we have great farmers markets and CSAs, but many of the farmers markets are selling right off the same trucks that come from Mexico to supply grocery stores.

    What I do see is that people are questioning more and more information is getting out there. I also think that as the economy starts to pick up again that more folks will allow their money to follow their values (spending a bit more in order to get sustainably grown food).

    • Christine October 31, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

      Ya’ know, I tend to agree with you, Malik and a few others that the most significant indication of a “shift” is the fact that people are talking about this. Folks are having real conversations about food, agriculture, sustainability, GMOS’s, organic, and humanely raised. This is new and radical, and in my mind it is moving our culture closer to a sustainable food system.

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