SALEM, Ohio – A City of Canton prosecutor is reviewing videotaped animal abuse allegations against a Wayne County hog farmer, but that farmer says the allegations are pure hogwash.
As of presstime, Prosecutor Frank Forchione said no charges have been filed against Ken Wiles or any of his employees after sheriff’s deputies and representatives of the Humane Farming Association raided the Wiles hog farm near Creston Nov. 8.
The Humane Farming Association bills itself as “the nation’s largest and most effective farm animal protection organization” and runs the world’s largest farm animal refuge, according to its Web site.
A report from The Humane Farming Association indicates the group started undercover investigations at the Wiles hog farm in September 2005. The farm is owned by Ken Wiles and managed by his son, Joe.
The farm includes about 1,600 sows, plus piglets and boars, for a total of around 6,000 animals, according to Ken Wiles.
Part of that group’s work was a two-month undercover stint where one of its investigators posed as a farm employee, taking video of animals allegedly being treated inhumanely, according to the association.
Ken Wiles said he was never aware anything on his farm was being videotaped, and is still unsure what he’s being charged or accused of.
The association claims it found several ongoing violations on the farm, including lack of humane euthanasia, veterinary care and adequate shelter, along with filthy conditions and inhumane handling. The association also alleges gross neglect and maltreatment.
Wiles, on the other hand, says the former employee who worked to turn him in is against animal agriculture in general and has threatened to kill him and his family, along with other farm employees, for the work they do.
That woman, Ingrid DiMarino, “always got upset when we used the gun” and would go off the deep end, “yelling and screaming that the hogs were going to meet a horrible, horrible death” when sows were sold at the nearby Creston auction barn, according to Wiles.
“These are not pets, they’re production animals. This is not a big, happy, roly-poly pig farm that can always keep everything,” Wiles said.
Wiles said DiMarino couldn’t bear to watch the animals go and would buy cull sows and house them on another farm in Wayne County.
“Now they lived in such conditions, they couldn’t walk because the mud was so deep, you had to take feed to them,” Wiles said.
In the association’s report to the prosecuting attorney, workers described situations where sick and debilitated pigs are left to die, and if they were killed, it was done inhumanely.
The report was accompanied by video footage of the alleged abuse and mistreatment broadcast on at least one Cleveland-area television station multiple times.
“But nothing ever looks very pretty when it comes to euthanizing,” Wiles said, noting he and farm employees shoot animals in the head, between the eyes, “exactly the way we’ve been taught.”
In a written statement, Dick Isler, director of the Ohio Pork Producers Council, says the practices shown on the undercover video “depicted mistreatment of hogs, including practices not condoned and in fact, abhorred by America’s pork producers.”
The national and state-level pork producers groups condemn the alleged mistreatment depicted on the video.
“This isolated incident on one farm in Ohio does not reflect the humane standards the pork industry follows in caring for its animals. Mistreatment of animals is appalling to pork producers just as it is to others. We do not defend and will not accept such mistreatment,” Isler said.
The Humane Farming Association report also claims the Wiles farm disposes of dead and live pigs in buckets and then dumps them in a large, excavated hole near one of the barns.
Wiles acknowledges death happens on his farm, but denies hogs are pushed into the hole while they’re alive.
“Things die. Where would they go if they didn’t go into a bucket and then into a hole in the ground?”
Wiles said he’s been in the hog business since 1960, when he was 9 years old, and his family has always buried or composted dead animals.
Two workers at the farm whose ties to the animal rights group have been revealed said in the report they rarely administered medication to the hogs, and were told not to because the medications were expensive.
Wiles says those employees weren’t typically present when hogs were given medication, and were rarely allowed to give the medication themselves.
“Eight-dollar-an-hour help doesn’t have the knowledge or expertise to treat disease, and with [withdrawal considerations] that say you can’t sell for 28 days, it’s my authority to decide whether to treat or sell any animal around here, and who does it,” Wiles said.
Wiles said his farm’s veterinarian does at least quarterly or semiannual walk-throughs of his facilities, and would have pointed out any mistreatment or substandard conditions.
The last time that veterinarian, Mitch Mihalik, was there prior to the raid was May 2006, Wiles said, but noted that she has been to his farm at least twice since Nov. 8. Mihalik was unavailable for comment.
In the report, the humane group says its investigators found broken floor slats – a method commonly used in hog operations, where the floors have holes that allow urine and manure to fall into pits below – and blamed them for broken and sore legs.
They also described situations where pigs actually fell through broken floor slats into the manure pits below. Wiles denies any hogs falling into the pits.
“We’re not in the business to kill stuff that has value,” Wiles said.
The association also maintains gestation and farrowing crates are to blame for open sores on sows, and said “a majority” of sows in the gestation crates have sores on their heads, faces, shoulders, back, legs and hindquarters.
The association also said the farm’s farrowing crates aren’t wide enough to meet industry standards.
Wiles said the well-known business that sold and built his crates have sold hundreds if not thousands of the exact same crates to farms all across Ohio.
“You explain to me what the standard is,” Wiles challenges. “It’s beyond me to know what is to be done.”
Investigators also allege floors of gestation and farrowing crates, which are slatted, become “caked with urine and fecal material,” which forces sows to lay in their own excrement.
“Manure becomes mixed with urine and excessive amounts of feed dust and daily organic dust resulting in a grossly unsanitary environment for the pigs,” the report claims.
“That sounds to me like a regular old hog barn. These people have an agenda,” Wiles says of the humane farming group. And he believes that agenda is to get Americans to quit eating meat, he said.
In addition, the report claims “… Wiles Farm’s policy of requiring employees to perpetrate acts of brutality against animals represents egregious violations of Ohio’s criminal law.”
Those accusations, which Wiles calls “total lies,” make him angry.
“It doesn’t make any sense – why would you ruin something that’s your total livelihood?” Wiles asks of the accusations.
Wiles blames the whole situation on video editing and point of view.
“That $7-an-hour guy with the camera, he helped load up, get out of crates, clean up anything that died. With that camera on 24/7 for months, you can put together a collage that lasts 30 seconds [of snippets] that in themselves look atrocious because they’re taken out of context.”
According to the National Pork Producers Council, the pork industry takes the well-being of its animals seriously and offers many education-certification programs for producers and their employees.
The industry soon will launch, with the support of leading animal scientists, veterinarians and retail customers, the Pork Quality Assurance Plus program to further enhance the care and well-being of pigs on all farms.
Ken Wiles said he completed both the Pork Quality Assurance and Trucker Quality Assurance programs.
Prosecutor Frank Forchione said the case has been moved to a court in Canton because a relative of Ken Wiles works in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office.
The search warrant issued and executed at the farm in November has been sealed for 75 days, or until an arrest is made, according to employees in the Wayne County Clerk of Courts office.