Editorial feature: Who is speaking out for pigs & who is eating them
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2011:
Park described the suicides of some of the workers who performed the live burials, and said she found the scenes she videotaped so depressing that she wanted to jump into the pits herself, but she could not get close enough…”
Mercy for Animals, having already produced more shocking undercover videos of mistreatment of animals on factory farms than all other U.S. animal advocacy organizations combined, on June 29, 2011 shocked television and web viewers yet again with footage from inside an Iowa Select Farms facility in Kamrar, Iowa.
Iowa Select Farms supplies Swift, one of the biggest names in meatpacking.
Recited Mercy for Animals publicist Gary Smith, “Abuses include workers cutting off piglets’ tails with dull clippers and castrating them by ripping out their testes with their bare hands–all without any anesthesia or follow up medical care; pigs suffering from large, open, pus-filled wounds and pressure sores; mother pigs–physically taxed from constant birthing–suffering from distended, inflamed, bleeding, and usually fatal uterine prolapses; thousands of pregnant pigs confined in metal crates so small that they could not turn around, fully extend their legs, or even lie down comfortably; and management training workers to throw piglets across the room–comparing it to a ‘roller coaster ride.'”
Added Smith, “Ironically, this investigation comes at a time when legislators in Iowa, the nation’s largest pork-producing state, are attempting to criminalize undercover investigations.
While Florida, Minnesota, and New York have allowed their ‘ag gag’ bills to languish this session, Iowa continues to try to shield animal abusers from public scrutiny.”
Equally ironically, the “ag gag” legislation promoted by agribusiness in essence seeks to criminalize obtaining, distributing, and even possessing visual documentation of problems that agricultural trade journals have exposed and documented for decades, albeit almost entirely in abstruse tables of production statistics. Mercy for Animals and the dozens of other animal advocacy organizations which have produced undercover videos in recent years mostly learned what to videotape, and where, from the major media serving agribusiness itself. The issues exposed by Mercy for Animals et al are certainly much more vivid and disturbing to people of normal sensibility toward animal suffering than the numbers on economic losses due to bruised meat, for example, but all the videos really do is put faces on the data.
Advocates for farmed animals, veganism, vegetarianism, and a healthy environment often read more agricultural trade journals than most farmers–because that is where the information is. Though published to promote agribusiness, agricultural trade journals are typically invaluable sources of quantification and technical perspective about livestock and poultry mortality, afflictions such as chronic lameness and disease, and disease control measures, such as lacing feed with antibiotics.
Agricultural trade journals also devote much page space to discussion of manure storage and disposal, air and water quality, and pesticide use to control the insects typically infesting livestock and poultry barns. These are all issues to which farmers must respond, for farming to be profitable, albeit that the most profitable approach is usually to respond as little as possible.
Of course few agricultural trade journals editorially recognize having anything in common with animal and environmental advocates, even though they are detailing and exposing the same problems. Most agricultural trade journals denounce animal and environmental advocacy as fervently as revivalist ministers rail against sin.
Typically agricultural trade journals include many paens to maintaining and improving animal welfare and a clean environment–but assert that factory farming, not animal or environmental advocacy, is the way to do it, despite more than 50 years of mounting evidence that raising animals in intensive confinement only makes the animal welfare and environmental problems associated with agribusiness ever worse. Most agricultural trade journals are ultimately all about how to produce more meat, eggs, and milk from animals, at less cost. Most are funded chiefly by advertisers of the equipment, drugs, chemicals, and miscellaneous services that make factory farming possible. Even the few agricultural trade journals that focus on animal husbandry for high-end markets exist to promote growth within their sectors of agribusiness.
Wang Qian, of Chengdu, China, teaches at a local agricultural university and is editor of Livestock & Poultry, one of the leading Chinese agricultural trade journals. That he was invited to address the June 2011 Asia for Animals conference in Chengdu was a bit of a surprise, though the conference was held in his home city.
Wrote Wang Qian in the abstract he submitted to the Asia for Animals conference proceedings, “In Southern China the raising of pigs has increased from a farmer raising one or two pigs to pig farming on a grand scale. However, the factory farming of pigs has led to an increase in their incidence of disease and death, which has deteriorated the level of animal welfare on pig farms. The way of feeding pigs on pig farms and using corn/bean pulp as daily food should be changed to improve the welfare of the pigs. Also, by promoting a healthy diet to reduce pork consumption, we can improve the lives of pigs on pig farms.”
There were hints in the abstract that Wang Qian had a unique perspective, considering his role, but he spoke toward the end of a long afternoon session which had already left much of the audience numb. So-Yeon Park of Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth in the opening presentation aired video clandestinely obtained in December 2010 near her home in Pocheon, South Korea, near the North Korean border, showing pigs being buried alive by the truckload in a futile effort to contain foot-and-mouth disease.
In all, 3.5 million pigs were buried alive between October 2010 and April 2011. This atrocity resulted from the combination of overcrowded and filthy conditions on factory farms plus the longtime stubborn refusal of the South Korean government to vaccinate livestock against foot-and-mouth disease, since vaccinated livestock cannot be distinguished from livestock actually incubating infection and therefore may not be exported.
Summarized So-Yeon Park, “Animals roaming in nature do not usually get infected by a virus all at the same time,” and tend to develop herd immunity from experiencing individual low-level exposure. Intensive confinement farming, by contrast, results in hundreds or even tens of thousands of animals all becoming ill at once. “In the event of Nationally Notifiable Diseases, such as foot and mouth disease or avian influenza, Korea destroys infected livestock,” Park continued. “Cattle are destroyed by lethal injection since 2009, but 99% of pigs and 100% of birds are still buried alive. They choose to bury alive to save money and resources, but it takes an even longer time,” than lethally injecting the animals would take, Park said from her own observation, because pigs kept climbing out of the pits and trying to run away. Park described the suicides of some of the workers who performed the live burials, and said she found the scenes she videotaped so depressing that she wanted to jump into the pits herself, but she could not get close enough.
Killing was unnecessary
ANIMAL PEOPLE extensively reported about the live burials in January/February 2011, just as South Korean president Lee Myung-bak announced that his government would begin to “actively review the possibility of producing vaccines in Korea.”
Reported ProMed infectious diseases moderator Arnon Shimshony on April 21, 2011, “Since then, mass vaccinations have been carried out extensively throughout South Korea to protect all susceptible species. The vaccine was supplied from international banks and from European producers.”
On May 6, 2011 the journal Science published findings by Mark Woolhouse of the University of Edinburgh that most of the killing done to contain outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease is pointless to begin with. Summarized Agence France-Presse, “Researchers at Britain’s Pirbright Institute for Animal Health tried 28 times to infect healthy cows with foot-and-mouth disease by placing them next to infected cattle. But the disease was only transmitted eight times, researchers say, leading them to determine that cattle are not actually contagious until about half a day after the first clinical symptoms appear.” Concluded Woolhouse in a statement distributed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the publisher of Science, “If affected cattle are detected and removed from the herd promptly, there may be no need for pre-emptive culling in the immediate area of an infected farm.”
Most of the six million British livestock who were killed during a 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease were killed out of ignorant panic, as were most of the 3.5 million pigs who were killed in South Korea, and most of the countless millions of other animals who have been killed during foot-and-mouth outbreaks worldwide, all because in the 114 years since foot-and-moth disease was first discovered to be of viral origin, no one had previously conducted a simple experiment to discover the etiology of transmission.
Back in South Korea, “The government is sluggishly recognizing the problem with their way of destroying livestock, and is at last considering different methods,” So-Yeon Park conceded. “However, they have no interest in improving existing animal husbandry practices,” she emphasized. Factory farming, to the South Korean government and agribusiness, is still the perceived way of the future, no matter what the cost to animals, the environment, and the psychological well-being of citizens.
Even had her presentation been less visually shocking and emotionally charged, So-Yeon Park might have been a difficult act to follow. Three times in eight months her dramatic initiatives on other animal advocacy fronts have drawn global media notice. So-Yeon Park has also attracted more favorable publicity within South Korea lately than the oligarchic South Korean media have ever extended to campaigners before her, including the sisters Sunnan and Kyenan Kum, founders in 1982 and 1997, respectively, of the Korean Animal Protection Society and International Aid to Korean Animals.
So-Yeon Park, 40, has steadily sharpened her media skills and political savvy since abandoning a stage and singing career in 2000 to promote animal rights. Founding the CARE shelter in 2004, So-Yeon Park waged a successful campaign for passage of a law against animal hoarding in 2005. She developed a depth of knowledge about South Korean agribusiness while monitoring response to the H5N1 avian influenza outbreak of 2006-2007. In 2008-2009 So-Yeon Park exposed poor conditions at government dog pounds throughout South Korea and won passage of national pound regulations. So-Yeon Park emerged as a media star in November 2010, venturing to Yeonpyong Island to rescue animals who were left behind when the residents fled North Korean shelling that killed two South Korean marines.
Sudden celebrity helped So-Yeon Park to expose the live pig burials more intensively than any animal welfare issue has ever before been exposed in South Korea. Her efforts may have been politically aided by circumstantial evidence that the South Korean foot-and-mouth disease outbreak apparently spread from North Korea, hitting first a pig farm near Pocheon.
But So-Yeon Park, disturbed though she was by the live pig burials, did not allow herself to become mired in any one issue or allow her greater message on behalf of animals to be subsumed by any other political agenda. In early June, only days before the Asia for Animals conference, So-Yeon Park and about 200 allies thoroughly upstaged a Fendi fur fashion show in Seoul with the most vigorous anti-fur rally even seen in South Korea, a hub of the global fur trade. A week after the Asia for Animals conference, the Korea Dog Farmers’ Association retreated from an announced plan to hold a dog meat festival at the Moran Traditional Market near Seoul, after So-Yeon Park and supporters pledged to disrupt it.
Walking quietly to the podium in Chengdu to discuss pig feeding regimens, after several other speakers had followed the dynamic So-Yeon Park, Livestock & Poultry editor Wang Qian opened his talk by describing the magnitude of the Chinese pig industry. Nearly 60% of the world’s pigs live and are slaughtered in China. The U.S. is second in world pig production, but China has sixteen times as many pigs on farms at any given time–and has comparably greater animal welfare and pollution problems.
Wang Qian discussed the suffering of pigs on factory farms. He mentioned the loss of dignity among both pigs and pig farmers that he perceives inherent in factory farming conditions. But, true to the outline of his speech, Wang Qian spoke most about how pigs are fed, as compared to how they ought to be fed to maintain good health. Wang Qian described disease outbreaks, such as foot-and-mouth and the mysterious blue ear disease that killed more than 20 million Chinese pigs in 2007. Proper nutrition and exercise, Wang Qian suggested, could enable pigs to better withstand infections that fell whole herds in close confinement.
Then Wang Qian questioned where the food and water might come from, if 650 million Chinese pigs per year are to be properly fed. He reviewed the problems of scale that agricultural economists have for decades predicted might eventually limit global meat production–and concluded that the limits have already been exceeded.
Rather than proposing technological fixes to enable animal agribusiness to continue expanding, Wang Qian suggested that the urgently needed technological fix is to downsize meat consumption. Humans should eat less meat, Wang Qian argued–much less. Wang Qian projected that China could most successfully address the animal welfare and environmental issues inherent in pig farming if the volume of Chinese pig production is reduced from about 650 million pigs per year to about 400 million, a drop of nearly 40%. Even at that, China would still produce ten times as many pigs as the U.S., and far more than any other nation.
Wang Qian contended that sharply curtailing pig production need not mean reducing farmers’ incomes. Rather, Wang Qian asserted, as an industry insider, Chinese consumers could be persuaded to pay 40% more for meat, if they could feel assured that pigs were raised and slaughtered without suffering and without environmental cost.
ANIMAL PEOPLE approached Wang Qian afterward to confirm that his arguments that people should eat less meat and that the Chinese pig industry should drastically downsize had been correctly translated. Yes, Wang Qian said. “Only in this way,” Wang Qian struggled to say in English, “can we raise pigs with the respect and dignity they deserve.”
Wang Qian’s message was not entirely without precendent among Chinese pig industry leaders. Interest in improving pig welfare on farms and in slaughter has repeatedly surfaced in mainstream Chinese news media in recent years. The World Society for the Protection of Animals employs a fulltime humane slaughter trainer in China, JinJuan Sun, who told the Asia for Animals conference about his work.
Other international animal advocacy organizations with offices in China have addressed factory farming in various ways, among them ActAsia for Animals, the Animals Asia Foundation, Compassion In World Farming, Humane Society International, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and the Royal SPCA of Britain.
But none of the international groups stepped forward as Wang Qian did to say, “Eat less meat.”
The pro-vegetarian and pro-vegan message at Asia for Animals 2011 was amplified by speakers from a variety of pro-vegetarian and vegan societies, chiefly headquartered in India and South Korea. The major international organizations were conspicuously quiet about the whole matter.
Amid hundreds of vegetarian and vegan delegates from more than 25 Asian nations, and others in Europe and North America, some representatives of the major international animal charities were observed eating pork sausages and bacon in the breakfast hall.
Several speakers from the floor expressed profound disappointment in this behavior at the closing session, among them Asian Animal Protection Network founder John Wedderburn, M.D .
That the pig eaters could even stomach pork sausage and bacon after So-Yeon Park’s presentation was to say the least disturbing. Whatever rationales they might have offered were surely countered by Wang Qian, whose concluding hope was that the fast-growing animal welfare movement, in China and worldwide, might convince the world to eat less meat.