SALEM, Ohio — Two Oklahoma hog farms were the targets of a recent undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States, but what the HSUS is claiming is in the video is being disputed by others.
According to a news release, the Humane Society of the United States released undercover videos taken at Oklahoma pig breeding facilities owned by two leading U.S. pork producers. HSUS filed legal complaints with the U.S. Securities and Exchange and Federal Trade Commission alleging false and misleading statements about animal care by one of the producers.
The HSUS filed the complaints against Seaboard Foods because they feel the company is misleading shareholders and the public about how they treat the livestock.
The videos, shot in late 2011, were taken at two Goodwell, Okla., pig breeding facilities — one owned by Seaboard Foods and the other by Prestage Farms.
Lack of veterinary care
Some of the video reportedly shows animals inside gestation crates, lameness, and claims that a lack of veterinary care was given to some animals injured.
However, the Animal Agriculture Alliance says the video is a new tactic making false claims against the farms. The Alliance says the video, released Jan. 31 by HSUS, is more about politics than animal care.
Out of context
According to a statement released by the Animal Agriculture Alliance, the footage, filmed by an undercover activist in 2011, does not actually reveal any animal neglect or mistreatment, but attempts to mislead the public by showing common farm practices out of context.
Pork producers have created programs to ensure hogs are treated with the best methods. For example, the PQA Plus program was launched in 2007 to help pork producers measure, track and continuously improve animal well-being.
According to the Alliance, HSUS is using this new video to pressure grocery retailers to reject pork products from farms that use gestation stalls, and HSUS will also likely attempt to use this video to promote its federal legislative agenda, which includes a newly introduced bill that would dictate the housing of laying hens. There is no scientific consensus on the best way to house sows because each system has advantages and disadvantages.
Seaboard is the nation’s third largest pork producer, and a supplier to Walmart. Prestage is the nation’s fifth largest pork producer.
Livestock deserves better. “What crime have these animals committed to deserve to be treated like this? They can’t even move. Not even the most heinous criminals get this type of treatment.” said Paul Shapiro, HSUS senior director of farm animal protection.
He said the use of gestation crates, which he describes as a “rotten practice,” is considered standard practice in the industry.
HSUS is shareholder
Shapiro said HSUS is a shareholder in Seaboard Farms, and representatives have been attending shareholder meetings and brought up the issue of the gestation crates but nothing was done.
HSUS has asked for a meeting or a response from the company but has not received one as of Feb. 3.
Some companies like Smithfield and Cargill are taking steps to phase out gestation crates, Shapiro said, and HSUS wants to know why Seaboard Farms is not.
Shapiro said Smithfield Foods stands at a 30 percent conversion away from gestation crates, while Cargill is 50 percent completed with its conversion away from gestation crates into group housing.
Smithfield and Hormel Foods have reportedly pledged to be gestation-crate free by 2017.
Ohio industry response
Meanwhile, the Ohio Pork Producers Council is trying to get the word out that hog farmers do care about their livestock.
According to the council’s statement, hog farmers use industry standards and practices that have been designed with input from veterinarians and other animal-care experts.
The pork industry, both in Ohio and nationwide, is diverse in the types and sizes of operations, and in how sows are housed.
The OPPC supports the position taken by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, which recognize gestation stalls and group housing systems as appropriate for providing for the well-being of sows during pregnancy.