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Investigation: Horrific treatment of animals at KY hog farm

An undercover investigation has revealed that female pigs confined in cramped cages at a Kentucky hog farm were fed ground up remains from diseased piglets.

This post has been updated to include the reponse from the National Pork Producers Council and includes information about a Philadelphia protest tonight (Saturday) against Chipolte Mexican Grill over the treatment of animals by its suppliers.

An undercover investigation has revealed that female pigs confined in cramped cages at a Kentucky hog farm were fed ground up remains from diseased piglets.The film footage of Iron Maiden Hog Farm in Owensboro taken earlier this year by an investigator working for fhe Humane Society of the United States, found more than 900 piglets died from diarrheal disease in a two day period and their intestines were ground up into "a smoothie" and fed to their mothers and other sows.

The Humane Society said it believes the practice is prohibited by state and federal law banning feeding animals "unprocessed waste" including meat products.

This practice appears to be fairly widespread within the industrial sector of the pig industry, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that the practice is inhumane, said Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection at HSUS.

"The entire atmosphere at this facility is awful for animals, many of whom are perpetually immobilized and suffering from body sores, diarrhea attacks and prolapsed uteruses," he said.

A spokesman for the pork industry said defended U.S. hog farms for producing the safest pork products in the world and said the practice of feeding the remains of dead piglets to the adult sows or "feedback" is common and used to inoculate the adults against disease. In this case, the farm was trying to stem an outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV), a fast spreading disease.

"The Humane Society is more committed to making scary movies than it is to saving baby pigs, said David Warner, spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council. "In pursuit of its mission to end animal agriculture and the production of essential proteins, it actually is working to eliminate one of the best methods for fighting a disease that already has killed millions of baby pigs. "

Warner also defended the use of gestation crates saying the housing practice in 2-by-7 foot enclosures is supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association. But the AVMA, in a 2012 article on its website appears not to have taken a position, agreeing that it is easier to administer medicine and protect sows by confining them this way, but saying it usually does not provide for socialization or adequate mobility - "all potential welfare negatives."

Animal welfare groups have long advocated for an end to the use of gestation crates in hog farming. (A bill banning the practice passed the New Jersey General Assembly last year but was vetoed by Gov. Christie. No such bill has been introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature.)

Some of the world's biggest fast food chains, like McDonald's and Burger King, along with major retailers like Target and Costco, have pledged to phase out the purchase of pork products from suppliers that use the crates.

Warner wrote in an email "there is no public outcry against gestation stalls, only the rabid rantings from the vegan members of animal rights groups - people who don't eat our product." He said the corporations made changes after their brand name was threatened by the HSUS.

(Tonight - Saturday - at 6 p.m. animal rights activists with Direct Action Everywhere will demonstrate at a Chipolte Restaurant at 39th and Walnut in Philadelphia as part of a global protest the Mexican food chains miniseries "Farmed and Dangerous," which it says masks the company's violence against animals.)

Shapiro noted that the Kentucky farm name - Iron Maiden - is the same term used for a Medieval torture device that confined women in small cages.

"There is no way a sow can remain sane in a gestation crate her whole reproductive life, said Michael Blackwell, senior director of veterinary policy for the HSUS.

The group is calling on the Kentucky Livestock Care Standards Commission to end gestation crate confinement of pigs and to examine the practice of feeding diseased piglets to surviving pigs on the factory farm.

The HSUS is also calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to examine the practice of feeding dead piglets to mother pigs.

Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the New York Times, asks "Is that sausage worth this?" here. And NPR blogs on the investigation here.

Among the HSUS's documented findings:

-Animals locked in cages so small, they couldn't even turn around for essentially their entire lives.

Intestines of piglets who died from severe diarrhea—a highly contagious disease plaguing pig facilities nationwide—were routinely fed back to their mothers and other breeding females.

-Piglets left to die – often suffering for days. Over a 2-3 day period more than 900 piglets died of the highly contagious diarrheal disease;

-Sick and injured sows left without care, including one sow who suffered from an extreme uterine prolapse for nearly two days before finally dying;

-Lame sows – whose hind legs became too weak from strict confinement to support their weight – "hobbled" to keep their legs from splaying. Their legs are bound together so they could stand in their crates. Some sows had tight hobbles on for so long that the rope had cut into their flesh or had grown over the rope hobble.