Every year 10 billion animals are raised and killed in America for food, mostly on large factory farms.
In 2007, one of them -- a hog factory named Wiles Farm in Creston, Ohio, that had about 6,000 hogs at the time -- was engaged in an animal cruelty lawsuit brought by the Humane Farming Association (HFA).
An undercover HFA agent gathered extensive video of the factory's various abuses, such as brutalizing piglets, starvation, shocking with electric prods, drowning in feces and urine, cannibalization, lack of medical care and the "routine hanging and agonizing deaths of fully conscious pigs" -- many of them hung by a chain off a front-end loader until they died.
HFA was able to secure a conviction for the way piglets were brutalized. It was the first successful cruelty conviction of a hog factory in Ohio's history, and Joe Wiles received a $250 fine and one year probation for throwing baby pigs.
However, Wayne County judge Stuart Miller did not find that the strangulation and starvation of pigs constituted animal cruelty, a ruling that surprised legal experts around the nation. (Prior to the trial, Miller actually refused to sign arrest warrants for Wiles Farm defendants. At a preliminary hearing, Miller said, "I'd much rather be doing something else.")
Wiles Farm received $10,000 from the agribusiness lobby to mount their defense. Dick Isler, the executive vice president of the Ohio Pork Producers Council called the verdict a "huge victory."
Dr. Donald Sanders, an Ohio State University veterinarian who observed and confirmed animal cruelty at Wiles Farm, said at the trial, "Sick and injured sows couldn't get up to feed and water.
"All animals deserve humane treatment, including animals raised for food," Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) president Wayne Pacelle wrote in a February 2 blog post.
"Torturing them by hanging or dragging them or permanently immobilizing them in small cages is unacceptable and it should be against the law."
The Wiles Farm case was the subject of the HBO documentary "Death on a Factory Farm."
This week the battle in Ohio continued as several animal welfare and consumer advocacy groups, including HSUS, Farm Sanctuary, the Ohio SPCA, the Consumer Federation of America, the Ohio Sierra Club and the Center for Food Safety, filed an initiative petition containing signatures of Ohio voters from 48 counties with the state's attorney general to direct Ohio's Livestock Board to set minimum humane standards to prevent the worst abuses in industrial agriculture.
The measure would ban the lifelong confinement of veal calves, breeding sows and laying hens in tiny cages that can barely fit them, prohibit strangulation as a method of euthanasia and make euthanasia practices for pigs and cows consistent with standards set by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
"Instead of disingenuously defending modern farming practices as 'normal,' it’s about time that farmers own up to it: We, meaning our entire society, have made a 'deal with the devil,'" writes Mark S. Jordan in a review of "Death on a Factory Farm" for Mount Vernon News in Ohio.
"Factory farming is not the way farmers have handled animals for thousands of years. But if farmers are asked to supply a huge population with cheap fast food, meat seven days a week, and bargain prices at mega-stores, while at the same time only using minimal space and running it all on minimal commercial margins, then the desensitized, brutal methods of factory farming will be the inevitable result. It's simple math."
The math will only change at the cash register -- if consumers change their eating habits to eat less meat or decide to purchase meat only from more humane, non-factory farms. Until then, it will take the actions of HFA and other organizations to make it illegal to brutalize the animals raised to feed the meat-eating population.
Pigs are noted for their intelligence. Indeed, they possess a higher intelligence level than dogs, a level equal to that of a three-year-old human child. They are playful, curious, have insight and strong individual personalities. Pigs have been called the smartest domestic animal in the world. It is clear that they are fully aware what is happening to them inside these factory farms.
During the antebellum period, many escaped Southern slaves traversed Ohio's Scioto River on their northward route to freedom.
Perhaps Ohio will once again provide a bridge for the enslaved. But this time, they are not human slaves, but rather enslaved animals killed by the American meat industry. And it's not for their freedom -- just for some measure of humane treatment on their way to dinner tables across the country.
They at least deserve that.
- Read about the HBO documentary "Death on a Factory Farm"
- Sign a Care2 petition to stop the castration of pigs without anesthesia
- Support Ohioans for Humane Farms
- Support Farm Sanctuary's Ohio initiative
- Download a PDF of the HFA complaint about Wiles Farm
- Download an HFA report of the Wiles Farm case
- Start a Green Foods Resolution in your community
- Sponsor a Farm Sanctuary animal for Valentine's Day
- Choose a pork substitute for your recipe
- Read PETA's "The Hidden Life of Pigs"
- Sign a PETA letter urging Unilever to stop pig abuse
- Join the Farm Sanctuary Advocacy Campaign Team
- Read the Yale College Vegetarian Society's "Top 10 Reasons to Become Vegetarian"
- The Castrato Oinks (January 12, 2010)
- These Little Piggies Didn't Go to Market (May 2, 2009)
- Animal Farm (April 10, 2009)
- The Gloomy Dean (January 30, 2009)
- Eat Healthy and Save the World, Simultaneously (January 23, 2009)
- California Passes Landmark Anti-Cruelty Act (November 7, 2008)
- If We Really Are What We Eat, Most of Us Are A Bit Disturbing (October 17, 2008)
- Patrick Martins: About a Bird (November 20, 2009)