Activists video turns lens on Hawkeye Sow Centers, Hormel

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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