Pigs: Intelligent Animals Suffering in Factory Farms and Slaughterhouses
Pigs “have the cognitive ability to be quite
sophisticated. Even more so than dogs and certainly [more so
than] three-year-olds,” says Dr. Donald Broom, a Cambridge
University professor and a former scientific advisor to the
Council of Europe.(1) Pigs can play video games, and when given
the choice, they have indicated temperature preferences.(2)
These facts are not surprising to anyone who
has spent time around these social, playful animals. Pigs, who
have a great sense of smell and can live into their teens, are
protective of their young and form bonds with other pigs. Pigs
are clean animals, but they do not have sweat glands, so they
take to the mud to stay cool and ward off flies.(3,4)
Problems With Factory Farms Only pigs in
movies spend their lives running across sprawling pastures and
relaxing in the sun. On any given day in the United States,
there are nearly 63 million pigs in factory farms, and 104
million are killed for food each year.(5,6) Factory-farming
conditions are no better in Canada, which exports more than 8
million live pigs to the U.S. for slaughter each year.(7) In
2003, managers of Canada’s largest pig exporter faced
cruelty-to-animals charges after 10,000 dead and dying pigs were
found on the company’s farms. Investigators found dead pigs
stacked behind barns and dead piglets in manure tanks, and all
the live pigs “were in some form of distress.”(8)
Mother pigs (sows)—who account for more than 6
million of the pigs in the U.S.—spend most of their lives in
individual “gestation” crates.(9) These crates are about 7 feet
long and 2 feet wide—too small for them even to turn around.(10)
After giving birth to piglets, sows are moved to “farrowing”
crates, which are wide enough for them to lie down and nurse
their babies but not big enough for them to turn around or build
nests for their young.(11)
Piglets are separated from their mothers when
they are as young as 10 days old. Once her piglets are gone,
each sow is impregnated again, and the cycle continues for three
or four years before she is slaughtered.(12,13) This intensive
confinement produces stress- and boredom-related behaviors, such
as chewing on cage bars and obsessively pressing against water
After they are taken from their mothers,
piglets are confined to pens until they are separated to be
raised for breeding or meat.(16) Every year in the United
States, 50 million male piglets are castrated (usually without
anesthesia) because people who eat pork complain of “boar taint”
in meat that comes from intact animals.(17) Perhaps because of
the tremendous pain caused by the procedure, castration is
thought to have long-term negative effects on piglets. Research
conducted by Europe’s food safety agency found that castrated
piglets tended to spend less time with their mothers and other
piglets; according to one Norwegian researcher, “Sometimes they
get depressed.”(18) Norway banned piglet castration without
anesthesia in 2002, and the procedure will be prohibited
entirely as of 2009.(19)
Because they, too, are extremely crowded and
prone to stress-related behaviors (such as cannibalism and
tail-biting), farmers chop off piglets’ tails and use pliers to
break off the ends of their teeth—without any pinkillers.(20)
For identification purposes, farmers also cut out chunks of the
young animals’ ears.(21)
Transportation and Slaughter Farms all over
North America ship piglets (called “feeder pigs”) to Corn Belt
states such as Illinois and Indiana for “growing” and
“finishing.” When they are transported on trucks, piglets
weighing up to 100 pounds are given no more than 2.4 square feet
of space, and farmers are warned that the piglets “probably will
get sick within a few days after arrival.”(22) One study
confirmed that vibrations, like those made by a moving truck,
are “very aversive” to pigs. When pigs “were trained to press a
switch panel to stop for 30 seconds vibration and noise in a
transport simulator … the animals worked very hard to get the 30
seconds of rest.”(23)
Once pigs reach “market weight” (about 250 to
270 pounds), the industry refers to them as “hogs” and they are
sent to be slaughtered. The animals are shipped from all over
the U.S. and Canada to slaughterhouses, most of which are in the
Midwest. According to industry reports, more than 1 million pigs
die en route to slaughter each year.(24) There are no laws to
regulate the duration of transport, frequency of rest, or
provisions of food and water for the animals.(25,26) Pigs tend
to resist getting into the trailers, which can be made from
converted school buses or multidecked trucks with steep ramps,
so workers use electric prods to move them along. There are no
federal laws to regulate the voltage or use of electric prods on
pigs, and a study showed that when electric prods were used,
pigs “vocalized, lost their balance and tr[ied] to jump out of
the loading area” and that their “[h]eart rate and body
temperature was significantly higher … when compared to pigs
loaded using a hurdle [movable chute].”(27)
A former pig transporter told PETA that pigs
are “packed in so tight, their guts actually pop out their
butts—a little softball of guts actually comes out.”(28) When a
transport truck owned by Smithfield Foods—the largest pork
producer in the world—and loaded with 180 pigs flipped over in
Virginia, many pigs were killed in the accident, while others
lay along the side of the road, injured and dying. PETA
officials arrived on the scene and offered to humanely euthanize
the injured animals, but Smithfield refused to allow the
suffering animals a humane death because it is illegal to sell
the flesh of animals who have been euthanized.(29)
A typical slaughterhouse kills about 1,000
hogs per hour.(30) The sheer number of animals killed makes it
impossible for pigs’ deaths to be humane and painless. Because
of improper stunning, many hogs are alive when they reach the
scalding-hot water baths, which are intended to soften their
skin and remove their hair.(31) The U.S. Department of
Agriculture documented 14 humane-slaughter violations at one
processing plant, where inspectors found hogs who “were walking
and squealing after being stunned [with a stun gun] as many as
four times.”(32) An industry report explains that “continuous
pig squealing is a sign of … rough handling and excessive use of
electric prods.” The report found that the pigs at one federally
inspected slaughter plant squealed 100 percent of the time
“because electric prods were used to force pigs to jump on top
of each other.”(33) A PETA investigation found that workers at
an Oklahoma farm were killing pigs by slamming the animals’
heads against the floor and beating them with a hammer.(34)
Health Problems Caused by Eating Pork The
consumption of pork and other animal products has been linked to
cancers of the mouth, throat, colon, and stomach.(35,36,37) A
study of more than 90,000 women concluded that “frequent
consumption of bacon, hot dogs, and sausage was … associated
with an increased risk of diabetes.”(38) However, those pork
products are on the daily menu for 25 percent of kids between
the ages of 19 months and 2 years.(39) According to another
study, the children of pregnant women who consume cured meats on
a daily basis run a “substantial risk of [growing a] paediatric
Every year in the United States, food
poisoning sickens up to 76 million people and kills 5,000.(41)
Pork products are known carriers of foodborne pathogens: One
study found that more than 50 percent of the tested samples of
ham were contaminated with staphylococcus, and another study
determined that “traditional salting, drying and smoking of raw
pork meat was not antimicrobiologically effective” against
Because crowding creates an environment
conducive to the spread of disease, pigs in factory farms are
fed and sprayed with huge amounts of pesticides and antibiotics.
The pesticides and antibiotics remain in their bodies and are
passed on to people who eat them, creating serious human health
hazards. Pigs and other factory-farmed animals are fed 20
million pounds of antibiotics each year, and scientists believe
that meat-eaters’ involuntary consumption of these drugs is
giving rise to strains of bacteria that are resistant to
Environmental Hazards Each factory-farmed pig
produces about 9 pounds of manure per day.(44) As a result, many
tons of waste end up in giant pits in the ground or on crops,
polluting the air and groundwater. According to the
Environmental Protection Agency, agricultural runoff is the
number one source of pollution in our waterways.(45) A
Missouri-based hog farm had to pay a $1 million fine for
illegally dumping waste, which caused the contamination of a
nearby river and the deaths of more than 50,000 fish.(46)
Smithfield Foods was fined $12.6 million for polluting the Pagan
River with phosphorous-contaminated wastewater from its
Pigs and other farmed animals are the primary
consumers of water in the U.S.; a single pig may require up to
21 gallons of drinking water per day.(48) Eighty percent of
agricultural land in the U.S. is used to grow food to meet the
needs of pigs and other factory-farmed animals.(49) In the
“finishing” phase alone, during which pigs grow from 100 to 240
pounds, each hog consumes more than 500 pounds of grain, corn,
and soybeans; this means that across the U.S., pigs eat tens of
millions of tons of feed every year.(50)
What You Can Do
Stop factory-farming abuses by supporting legislation
that abolishes intensive-confinement systems. Florida and
Arizona voters have banned the use of gestation crates, as have
voters in the United Kingdom.(51,52)
Stop giving your money to pig farms and
slaughterhouses. Vegetarianism and veganism mean eating for
life—for your life and for animals’ lives. Call 1-888-VEG-FOOD
or visit GoVeg.com to order a free vegetarian starter kit.
1) “New Slant on Chump Chops,” Cambridge Daily News 29 Mar.
2) “The Millennium List,” The Times 9 Jan. 2000.
3) M.K. Holder, “Smart Puzzle #3 Pig,” Center for the
Integrative Study of Animal Behaviors, Indiana University, 1999.
4) Meg Meier, “Oink, Moo, Quack,” Star Tribune 27 Aug. 2002.
5) National Agricultural Statistics Service, “USDA Quarterly
Pigs and Hogs Report: September 2006,” U.S. Department of
Agriculture, 29 Sep. 2006.
6) Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,
“Pigmeat, Slaughtered/Production Animals (Head) 2002,” 1 Dec.
7) Lisa Anderson, “Canada Livestock and Products Semi-Annual
2006,” USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, Gain Report 1 Feb.
8) Kelly Pedro, “Pigs Found Dead, Dying. Seven Men Have Been
Charged Over the Grim Discovery Involving 10,000 Animals,” The
London Free Press 15 Sep. 2003.
9) National Agricultural Statistics Service, “USDA Quarterly
Pigs and Hogs Report: September 2006,” U.S. Department of
Agriculture, 29 Sep. 2006.
10) Marc Kaufman, “In Pig Farming, Growing Concern,” The
Washington Post 18 Jun. 2001.
11) Kaufman, “In Pig Farming, Growing Concern.”
12) A.J. Zanella and O. Duran, “Pig Welfare During Loading and
Transportation: A North American Perspective,” I Conferencia
Virtual Internacional Sobre Qualidade de Carne Suina, via
Internet, 16 Nov. 2000.
13) Kaufman, “In Pig Farming, Growing Concern.”
14) Zanella and Duran.
15) Kaufman, “In Pig Farming, Growing Concern.”
16) Glenn Selk, “Managing the Sow and Litter,” Oklahoma
Cooperative Extension Service, Jul. 2003.
17) Joellen Perry and Mary Jacoby, “These Little Pigs Get
Special Care From Norwegians,” The Wall Street Journal 6 Aug.
18) Perry and Jacoby.
19) Guro Å. Skarstad and Svein O. Borgen, “Norwegian Pig
Producers’ View on Animal Welfare,” Norwegian Agricultural
Economics Research Institute, Mar. 2007.
21) L. Michael Neary and Ann Yager, “Methods of Livestock
Identification,” Purdue University Department of Animal
Sciences, Dec. 2002.
22) John C. Rea and George W. Jesse, “Managing Purchased Feeder
Pigs,” Department of Animal Sciences, University of
Missouri-Columbia, 1 Oct. 1993.
23) Zanella and Duran.
24) “Research Looks at Transport Losses,” Feedstuffs 17 Apr.
25) Dennis A. Shields and Kenneth H. Mathews Jr., “Interstate
Livestock Movements,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, Jun. 2003.
26) Zanella and Duran.
27) Zanella and Duran.
28) Carla Bennett, “The Joy and Sorrow of Pigs,” Animal Times
29) Linda McNatt, “25 Hogs Die in Smithfield Truck Accident,”
The Virginian Pilot 30 Mar. 2004.
30) Lance Gay, “Faulty Practices Result in Inhumane
Slaughterhouses,” Scripps Howard News Service, Feb. 2001.
31) Joby Warrick, “‘They Die Piece by Piece’; In Overtaxed
Plants, Humane Treatment of Cattle Is Often a Battle Lost,” The
Washington Post 10 Apr. 2001.
33) Temple Grandin, “2001 Restaurant Audits of Stunning and
Handling in Federally Inspected Beef and Pork Slaughter Plants,”
2002 Meat Institute Animal Handling and Stunning Conference,
Colorado State University: Department of Animal Sciences, 2002.
34) Marc Kaufman, “Ex-Pig Farm Manager Charged With Cruelty,”
The Washington Post 9 Sep. 2001.
35) F. Levi et al., “Food Groups and Risk of Oral and Pharyngeal
Cancer,” International Journal of Cancer 77 (1998): 705-9.
36) F. Levi et al., “Food Groups and Colorectal Cancer Risk,”
British Journal of Cancer 79 (1999): 1283-7.
37) P.A. van den Brandt et al., “Salt Intake, Cured Meat
Consumption, Refrigerator Use and Stomach Cancer Incidence: A
Prospective Cohort Study (Netherlands),” Cancer Causes and
Control 14 (2003): 427-38.
38) M.B. Schulze et al., “Processed Meat Intake and Incidence of
Type 2 Diabetes in Younger and Middle-Aged Women,” Diabetologia
24 Oct. 2003.
39) T.A. Badger, “Infants, Toddlers Developing Bad Eating
Habits, Study Finds,” Associated Press, 26 Oct. 2003.
40) J.M. Pogoda, “Maternal Cured Meat Consumption During
Pregnancy and Risk of Paediatric Brain Tumour in Offspring:
Potentially Harmful Levels of Intake,” Public Health Nutrition 2
41) Paul S. Mead et al., “Food-Related Illness and Death in the
United States,” Emerging Infectious Diseases 5.5 (1999): 607-25.
42) P.L. Mertens, “An Epidemic of Salmonella Typhimurium
Associated With Traditional Salted, Smoked, and Dried Ham,” Ned
Tijdschr Geneeskd 143 (1999): 1046-9.
43) Jeff Donn, “Contaminated Meat Spurs Concern. Study Finds 1
in 5 Market Samples Contained Drug-Resistant Bacteria,”
Associated Press, 18 Oct. 2001.
44) “Rains Swell Waste Lagoons at Four Hog Farms,” Associated
Press, 1 Dec. 2006.
45) Sen. Tom Harkin, “Animal Waste Pollution in America: An
Emerging National Problem,” U.S. Senate Committee on
Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Dec. 1997.
46) “Cargill Fined $1 Million for Dumping Hog Waste in River,”
Associated Press, 20 Feb. 2002.
47) Bob Piazza and Rex Springston, “Smithfield Is Fined $12.6
Million,” Richmond Times-Dispatch 9 Aug. 1997.
48) Theo van Kempen, “Whole Farm Water Use,” North Carolina
State University Swine Extension, Jul. 2003.
49) Marlow Vesterby and Kenneth S. Krupa, “Major Uses of Land in
the United States, 1997,” Statistical Bulletin No. 973. U.S.
Department of Agriculture, 1997.
50) John Carlson, “Evaluation of Corn Processing By-Products in
Swine Diets,” Western Illinois University, 3 Apr. 1996.
51) “Arizona Says ‘No’ to Gestation Crates,” PigProgress.net, 9
52) John J. McGlone, “Current Status of Housing and Penning
Systems for Sows,” Pork Industry Institute, Texas Tech
University, May 2002.
Pigs Can Play Video Games