An undercover video has been released allegedly showing pigs being kept in horrific conditions at a farm owned by a company that supplies Minnesota food giant Hormel.
Animal rights group Mercy For Animals has published secret footage taken at a factory pig farm in Oklahoma operated by The Maschhoffs, one of the country's largest pork producers that is based in Carlyle, Illinois.
In response to the video, Hormel Foods told GoMN it has suspended all supplies from The Maschhoffs' Oklahoma sow operations while a "thorough investigation" is complete.
The footage shows pigs being confined to "gestation crates," the use of which according to the ASPCA their use has been banned in 10 states (but not Minnesota).
Mercy for Animals says the footage also shows the following:
- Piglets having their testicles removed and their tails cut off without any pain relief.
- Mother pigs suffering from illnesses and injuries in gestation crates, which doesn't allow them to turn around or lie down comfortably.
- Pigs biting the bars of their pens – which the group claims is a "sign of serious mental collapse."
- Piglets trampling each other as factory farm workers move through them.
- Piglets crushed under the weight of their mother as they attempt to nurse in the gestation crates.
"Confining highly intelligent and social pigs in cages so small the animals can’t even turn around for nearly their entire lives is blatant cruelty," said president of Mercy For Animals, Nathan Runkle, in a press release.
"No animal should suffer a lifetime of physical violence and abuse. It’s high time that Hormel took meaningful action to end the worst forms of animal abuse at its facilities. And for individual consumers, the best way to help stop this cruelty is to leave meat off their plates."
Major companies including Burger King, McDonald's and Costco have phased out or are in the process of phasing out pork that comes from suppliers who use gestation crates. Hormel says it has also committed to stop using suppliers who keep pigs this way, and their use should be completely phased out by next month.
Here is some of the footage obtained by Mercy for Animals – but be warned, it is upsetting.
Mercy for Animals spoke to experts including world-renowned animal science professor Temple Grandin, who said that while the castration shown in the footage is "normal industry practice," the pork industry "needs to develop methods to provide pain relief."
But she also said the handling of weaned piglets was "definitely NOT acceptable and was rough," that too many small piglets were placed in an alley at a time, and that the footage showed "some compromised pigs that should have been euthanized."
In its comment to GoMN, the Austin, Minnesota-based Hormel Foods said the care and humane treatment of animals is "one of our most important values."
"Hormel Foods has a strict supplier code of conduct and policies relating to animal care and welfare," the company said. "We will not tolerate any violation of these policies. As such, we have issued a suspension of all the Maschhoffs, LLC Oklahoma sow operations while a thorough investigation is completed."
Hormel says it has dispatched third-party auditors to The Maschhoffs' Oklahoma farms and other sites across the country to check its animal care requirements are being followed.
Hormel said "we expect and have been assured" that The Maschhoffs will cooperate.
Hormel Foods had made a commitment that its company-owned farm will be gestation crate free by 2018, it added. "We are pleased to report that this conversion will be completed in the next 30 days."
The Maschhoffs were also a former supplier to Minnesota-based Cargill, but the company sold its pork business to JBS in Oct. 2015 and yold GoMN "we are no longer involved with primary pork production."
The Maschhoffs company responds
In a statement released Tuesday morning, Maschhoffs president Bradley Wolter said the company has "launched a full-scale investigation" in response to the video.
"Any animal care deficiencies discovered will be addressed in the quickest manner possible," he added.
The company has also communicated its "zero tolerance animal care policy" with all its employees and partners and will undertake retraining of all its Oklahoma employees.
On its website, The Maschhoffs says it partners with almost 550 family farmers across the Midwest and between them all they produce enough pork to feed more than 16 million consumers each year.
It also says it has a commitment to "ensuring the welfare of our animals" across its hog farms, saying it participates in a program that "promotes humane practices" to raising, handling and housing pigs.
Just last year, the company responded to another undercover video taken at one of its farms in Nebraska by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which also showed alleged animal abuse.
In response, the company fired the farm manager, started extensive re-training on proper animal care and handling practices "across the company's entire farm network" and launched an "intense, internal communications effort to ensure all employees fully understand their obligations" to report animal abuse and neglect.
As well as counting Hormel among its buyers, The Maschhoffs company has another link to Minnesota in that it doubled in size back in 2005, when it bought 60,000 sows and contract production facilities in four states including Oklahoma from Land O' Lakes.