Activist Watch (Emily Meredith) By Hannah Thompson-Weeman
Emily Meredith is the communications director for the Animal Agriculture Alliance.

My Week on a “Fact”ory Farm: Part I

(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.)

“Factory farm”—it’s a term we in the industry have heard hurled at us as an insult; a catchy phrase created by the strategic public relations teams of the activist community. But what, truly, are the facts about factory farms?

Last week I got an inside look—I had the opportunity to travel to the Midwest, and visit a vertically integrated, large-scale pork production operation. Over the course of the next three blogs, I am going to share with you my experiences, opinions and insights.

On my first day we toured two of the company’s sow farms, and I was extremely impressed with both.

Now before my more skeptical readers accuse me of drinking the company Kool-Aid I want to remind y’all that I am an attorney—so being critical is pretty much my middle name (just ask my husband!). I’m reporting back just what I observed, calling it like I saw it.

Over the course of my farm tours, I was reminded of a point I have made frequently in my blogs: that those most involved in animal agriculture are best equipped to make the decisions related to animal care.

This point became glaringly obvious as I peppered the farm managers with questions regarding a particular “hot button” issue within the activist community—the use of individual maternity pens (or gestation stalls, as the activists call them).

There is little consensus among industry leaders about which method—individual maternity pens or group housing—are more “humane” for sows. More than the lack of consensus, however, there is no scientific evidence that would support one method over the other in terms of animal wellbeing.

All we know is that the general public tends to have a more visceral reaction to images of sows kept in individual maternity pens, and unfortunately the public doesn’t often have the opportunity to tour a sow farm and observe for themselves.

In the two farm facilities we toured, one farm employed the group housing system and one farm exclusively used individual maternity pens. Both methods have their benefits, but when I observed the group housing system, one of the most surprising visuals for me was that in nearly every group housing pen, the sows were crowded together at either the front or back—not for lack of room mind you—laying in packs like a bunch of sardines—much closer together than the sows kept in individual maternity pens.

I also observed the sows in the group housing being quite aggressive with each other, which leads to a great increase in wounds and mortality. I am embarrassed to admit that I always envisioned pigs as rather docile, lazy animals. Not the case.

These sows instantly establish a pecking order within their assigned groups—and let me tell you, this isn’t a gentle process. The sows rub up against each other, step over the others, and forcibly push each other out of the way sans an “excuse me”—all to establish who is top dog.

When I told my dad this story, he jokingly remarked “girls will be girls,” but the more apt truth is that animals will be animals: sows have basic instincts that they act on and that drive their behavior.

Industry practices—like individual maternity pens—have evolved over hundreds of years during which animal instincts were observed and analyzed by farmers and other animal caretakers. No method is designed to be purposefully cruel—rather quite the opposite—the industry has created tools to protect animals from injury or suffering.

As I walked through the farm facilities, I couldn’t help notice the farm worker who stopped to stroke a sow on her flank, or pick up a newborn piglet who was trying to find his mother to nurse.

Meeting and speaking with those who work with the animals every day, I know that they weren’t putting on a show for my benefit. You can’t fake that attitude—I know they value their jobs and recognize that the animals in their charge deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

No matter the industry practices I observed that first day—from tail docking to castration to artificial insemination—that theme of respect carried through.

I saw no “factory” and all farm—just workers who took great pride in being the best herdsmen to happy, healthy and well cared for animals. 





Loading Comments