Investigators recommend changes at Virginia factory farm where Humane Society alleges abuse against pigs
RICHMOND, Va. — An independent investigative team is recommending changes aftermistreatment of breeding pigs at a Virginia farm operated by a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc., the world's largest pork producer.
The recommendations include reviewing training programs and euthanasia procedures, initiating unannounced inspections by third parties, and increasing the number of site visits by corporate management of the Smithfield, Va.-based company.
Smithfield released the independent investigators' recommendations late Wednesday and said each will immediately be addressed, although the statement did not say if or when they would implemented.
The Humane Society of the United States last week released results from an undercover investigation that showed breeding pigs abused and crammed into small gestation crates at the Waverly farm of livestock production subsidiary Murphy-Brown.
Photos and video from the Humane Society's investigation showed about 1,000 large female pigs crammed into metal crates that severely limited their ability to move. The pigs stay in the crates, also called sow stalls, during their four-month pregnancies. Afterward, they are moved for about three weeks to a crate large enough to nurse their piglets before being artificially inseminated and placed back into the gestation crates.
Seven states have passed laws banning gestation crates, and the European Union is phasing out their use by 2013. However, the crates are legal in Virginia. The company said it is in the process of converting a number of its sow farms from individual gestation stalls to group housing for pregnant sows, but hasn't said when that transition will be finished.
As part of the company's investigation, it interviewed more than 175 employees and subsequently fired two employees and their supervisor as part of a zero tolerance policy.
"We at Smithfield Foods regret the recent incident and we abhor the actions of individuals who chose to ignore our policies," Dennis Treacy, Smithfield's chief sustainability officer, said in a letter on the company's website.
Treacy said that the flipping of a young pig, striking and poking a sow with a metal gate rod and improper euthanasia of an adult sow "depict unacceptable behavior."
Smithfield said all of its farm employees, including the Humane Society's undercover agent, received training on animal handling and are expected to immediately report any suspected abuse.
The company said the independent investigation found that the animal welfare group's agent also violated Smithfield's policies by failing to report the abusive behavior immediately, providing "incomplete and vague information" when eventually reporting the incident, and "participating in the ineffective attempt to euthanize a sow and allowing a live animal to be placed in a disposal box."
In a statement Thursday, the Humane Society said Smithfield was trying to "shift the blame" and said the company's "greatest failure" is its continued use of the gestation crates.
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-- Michael Felberbaum, Associated Press
Photo: Humane Society spokesman Paul Shapiro speaks at a press conference about the Virginia pig farm on Dec. 15. Credit: Associated Press