A few years ago a hog farmer who was a personal acquaintance of mine had retired from the business. He decided that he couldn’t compete with the corporates who were in the process of acquiring the dominant market share of the industry.
He was semi-employed and, out of curiosity, he decided to go to work in a corporate sow unit in order to see first hand what he had been up against.
He eventually went on to manage sow units for a nameless commercial grower until he had seen enough. The facilities were generally understaffed with high employee turnover rates and he did cite instances of what traditional producers would characterize as animal abuse.
He was not an animal rights undercover plant, just a curious observer who wanted to see if the hogs were well-treated and if the commercials had any production secrets that gave them an edge over smaller producers. I think it was his opinion that systems and scale gave them the advantage, but as a general statement, there were instances when the hog care was below his standards.
He didn’t hide any secret camera or seek any public forum. The experience was for his personal knowledge. He had the expertise to know the difference between animal abuse and acceptable production practices, which is something that the animal rights extremists can’t discern.
They also have a different agenda than he had. An extremist group, Mercy for Animals, shot undercover video at an Iowa Select Farms sow confinement unit at Kamar,, over a three-month period beginning in April.
Some of what Mercy for Animals described as cruelty, wasn’t. Practices such as castrating small pigs under 10 days old or docking tails without anesthesia that were cited by the group as shocking, are standard industry practices condoned, accepted and practiced by veterinarians.
For someone who has never had any experience with livestock, some of these practices may seem surprising, but not something that corporates dreamed up yesterday.
The undercover employee was a vegetarian with an agenda to promote, not as unbiased as my friend.
I suspect there were practices at this facility that were not acceptable. Big corporate entities with lots of lowly-paid employees are going to have problems with protocols – it’s the nature of the beast.
JBS Swift responded by ceasing purchasing pigs from this Iowa Select sow unit “until there was third party verification of compliance with requirements for proper, responsible and humane animal handling.”
That was a cute public relations ploy but what about all the other sow facilities? Why would they be any different than the one picked out by Mercy for Animals?
JBS Swift must have looked at the video and found things they didn’t like. Do they really believe that this is an isolated problem? Yet requiring third-party certification of best accepted practices of all the facilities that originate hogs for JBS Swift would prove disruptive to the company.
I think that there are far better people to evaluate animal production practices than vegan animal rights extremists. The hog industry could use a Temple Grandin.
I do think that the bigger the organization, the tougher it is to manage from the top to the bottom and frankly, the bottom end of sow unit employees are not compensated enough to get them to “buy in” to what the company is attempting to do.
A bill was passed by the Iowa House to make these undercover videos illegal. In my opinion, that confirmed to the public that these units had something going on that they wanted to hide.
I think covering up bad animal husbandry is wrong and video taping wrong doings, should not be a violation of law. I opposed that bill until it was given a twist in the Senate version that undercover videos alleging animal abuse had to be immediately turned over to proper authorities.
That means the videos would be used for the proper purpose of prosecuting animal abuse not by some group with an axe to grind, looking to disparage the livestock industry to fund itself.
My family has a beef cattle CAFO. Maybe what should be done is air a live feed of the buildings on the web? Keeping animals comfortable is the key to profitability.
Our extended family produced one ISU veterinarian graduate. I don’t think there are enough videos of livestock production as more would familiarize the public with proper husbandry practices so they could understand what it is about. The public doesn’t know what is proper and animal rights extremists take advantage of that.
Iowa Select Farms likely needed its butt kicked while JBS Swift employed a pretty lame exercise to cover its rear end. Livestock industries are going to have to step it up, as I have it from my own undercover source that not all practice what they preach.
David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.
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