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Pigs subject to abuse at Virginia factory farm, Humane Society of the United States says

December 16, 2010 |  6:25 pm

Pigs

RICHMOND, Va. — The Humane Society of the United States said Wednesday that an undercover worker at a farm owned by the world's largest pork producer saw breeding pigs abused and crammed into small gestation crates.

The animal welfare organization released the results of a monthlong undercover investigation at a Waverly, Va., factory farm owned by Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc. Murphy-Brown is Smithfield's livestock production subsidiary and is the world's largest producer of pigs for slaughter. The Humane Society called on Smithfield to renew its commitment to phasing out the crates.

Photos and video from the 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.

"These animals are intelligent, curious and they don't deserve this type of abuse," said Paul Shapiro, a spokesman for the Humane Society.

Smithfield is still working to have its farms use group housing arrangements rather than the gestation stalls, said Dennis Treacy, Smithfield's chief sustainability officer. However, the company wouldn't say when that transition would be finished.

The announcement comes a week after the Smithfield, Va., company reported a record second-quarter profit.

The investigation also found:

— A lame pig was shot in the forehead with a stun gun and thrown into a trash bin while still alive. A video shows the large pig with "kill" spray-painted on its back being dragged by its snout, shot in the head and thrown into a large trash bin while trying to wiggle free, then breathing heavily as it lay dying, surrounded by dead pigs.

— Employees jabbed pigs with gate rods to get them to move.

— Pigs biting their crates -- what the organization called a sign of frustration -- so hard they bled.

— Pigs with open sores because they couldn't move in the crates.

— An employee cut a basketball-sized abscess from a pig's neck with an unsterilized razor.

— Employees threw piglets into carts.

— Some premature piglets fell through the slats of gestation crates into manure pits.

Someone working for the organization got a job at the farm and took the video and photos over the past month.

Treacy said the company first learned of the possible abuses over the weekend from a call to its employee animal welfare hotline. He said the company was conducting its own investigation.

"We provide regular training to our employees on our animal welfare policies and procedures, and we have zero tolerance for any behavior that does not conform to our established animal well-being procedures," Treacy said.

State Veterinarian Richard Wilkes, director of animal and food industry services for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, was at the farm Wednesday, Treacy said. Animal welfare expert Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University who was the subject of an HBO movie that won several Emmy awards this year, also is helping the company investigate.

The findings were shared with law enforcement, and it's up to them whether criminal charges are filed, Shapiro said.

The use of gestation crates is banned in Florida, Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Maine and Michigan.

The investigation follows two others last month that found alleged abuses at Cal-Maine Foods, the country's largest egg producer, and Willmar Poultry, the nation's top turkey hatchery.

RELATED FARM ANIMAL NEWS:

-- Associated Press

Photo: Female breeding sows at the Waverly, Va., factory farm in a Nov. 12 photo provided by the Humane Society of the United States. Credit: Associated Press

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