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 bottles.(14,15)
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 brain tumour.”(40)
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 Salmonella typhimurium.(42)
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 treatment.(43)
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 slaughter plant.(47)
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. 2002.
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. 2006.
7) Lisa Anderson, “Canada Livestock and Products Semi-Annual 2006,” USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, Gain Report 1 Feb. 2006.
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. 2007.
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. 2006.
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 Fall 1996.
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 (2001): 1303-5.
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 Nov. 2006.
52) John J. McGlone, “Current Status of Housing and Penning Systems for Sows,” Pork Industry Institute, Texas Tech University, May 2002.