VIDEO: What Happens to Piglets on Factory Farms

Screenshot of a video by the Humane Society of the United States, released Jan. 31., 2012.

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The remarkable thing about Humane Society of the United States’ latest factory farm video exposé is how banal it is. No illegal acts like “downer” animals being forced down the kill line with fork lifts, or getting their brains bashed in with a pickax. What we have here is the everyday reality of pigs’ lives on a factory farm, without regulations flouted or spectacular violence committed. It is abuse routinized and regimented, honed into a profitable business model.

The video looks at two aspects of the dirty business of raising thousands of pigs en masse in close quarters: 1) the way pregnant pigs live as they wait to have their litters; and 2) what happens to baby pigs with they’re weaned after just three days. Neither is for the squeamish.

In case you couldn’t watch, the video illustrates the well-known, widespread practice of confining gestating pigs for months on end in 2 foot by 7 foot crates that deny them room to move or even turn around; and the ghastly (though perfectly legal) custom of snipping off baby pigs’ tails without use of painkillers.

The targets are two relatively obscure but quite large companies in Oklahoma, Seaboard Foods and Prestage Farms, the nation’s third- and fifth-largest hog producers. In addition to raising hogs, Seaboard also slaughters them and sells pork to large retailers, including Walmart. Its brands include the rustic-sounding Prairie Fresh; and the company’s website proclaims its “strong commitment” to animal welfare.

A note on videos like this one. Factory animal farms routinely deny journalists and concerned citizens entry to animal factories, citing both proprietary and biohazard concerns. The USDA, which regulates meat production, has shown zero interest in educating the public about the conditions under which they’re meat is raised—much less in improving those conditions. So the few companies that US dominate meat production blithely go about their dirty business behind the cloak of bucolic supermarket labels—that is, they would do so if animal-welfare groups like HSUS didn’t keep sneaking investigators into factory farms posing as job seekers.

Groups like HSUS and Mercy for Animals have become our shadow regulators, the eyes through which the public can see what the meat industry gets up to behind its well-guarded gates. Naturally, the meat industry has tried to end the scrutiny, funding campaigns for so-called “ag gag” laws in various states that would criminalize the taking of undercover videos. So far, their efforts have failed.

Meanwhile, exposés like this one have been extremely effective. Stung by one such exposure, Smithfield—the globe’s largest hog producer—has promised to stop stuffing pregnant sows in gestation crates by 2017. In the absence of regulation from the USDA, such industry volunteerism is the best we can hope for. And HSUS deserves credit for exacting it.

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE A POSITIVE STORY—OR TWO?

“Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”

That’s what a civil rights lawyer wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated.

That’s awesome. As is the fact that Julia, who spent a full year reporting this challenging story, promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.

Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

Wow.

And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

If you can, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones—that exists to make a difference, not a profit—with a donation of any amount today. We need more donations than normal to come in from this specific blurb to help close our funding gap before it gets any bigger.

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