A Viva! investigation reveals most pigs are crammed in disease-ridden, indoor units where they live in their own filth. A cocktail of drugs keeps them alive and forces fast growth. Please help us end the suffering.
I once had idyllic childhood images of pigs - happy, content and wallowing in a mud pool. When I recently saw what life is really like for pigs on today's farms, I was left feeling physically sick for days. I suppose I knew they lived on concrete, indoors in intensive factory farms. However, I was not prepared for the intensity of their confinement, the awful reality of their boredom, the noises their heads make hitting the doors to their cages and the overwhelming smell they have to endure. It's been a while since I saw those pigs, but thinking about it still upsets me deeply. The females are left in what are called gestation crates, where they are surrounded by metal bars and can barely move - they can't walk, turn around or even lie down comfortably.
Pregnant sows are kept in these prisons for most of their lives - four months at a time for the duration of each pregnancy. Their only relief is occasionally being moved to another metal-barred prison (where they give birth and feed their young), or when they are waiting to be impregnated again.
In the gestation shed, there was a constant clanging noise. It was the sows hitting their heads against the doors of their cages as if trying to escape. After a while, some would give up and lie down, while others again took up their futile action. All I could think of when I left the place was that these poor animals would remain there, probably for years to come, rotating between the two types of prison, for the rest of their lives.
A sow gives birth in a farrowing crate where she is again denied nearly all movement and is forced to provide her piglets with milk 24 hours a day. I saw charts on the wall that reduced her life to a series of statistics - the number of piglets she had, how many lived, and how many died. I knew that when those statistics showed a lowered production, the sow herself would be killed. In a more natural environment, her adorable little piglets would endlessly explore, play with one another and root in the ground. Here they could do none of these things and slept on grated metal flooring. I also saw the fattening pens where pigs are fattened up for slaughter. They are essentially concrete cells, each holding about a dozen pigs. In one cell, a pig had an ear missing. Another had a rupture the size of a grapefruit protruding from his stomach. There was a dead pig, constantly nudged and licked by his cell mates. The smell in these places is overwhelming. I had the option of walking away and I still cannot imagine how these poor animals - who have an acute sense of smell - can endure the stench. I know what has happened elsewhere - pigs have asphyxiated because the ventilation system failed.
What I saw was the obvious squalor and pain of intensive farming. Sadly, there is other, less obvious suffering. In time, the legs of breeding sows become weak, affecting their ability to give birth naturally and to walk. On some farms, workers have been known to viciously beat these weakened animals to get them to move from breeding areas to slaughter. Sows are being pushed to their biological limits, and mortality rates are increasing. Some herds have reported monthly mortality rates exceeding 15%.
Piglets can be forcibly weaned starting at two weeks old - two months before they're ready. Their tails are cut off to minimize tail-biting, which results from the unnatural environment. Their needle sharp teeth are clipped to prevent biting in such an intensive environment, and notches are cut in their ears for identification purposes. All these procedures are done without painkillers.
Death accompanies them at every stage of their short, five or six month life. Up to 70 percent of some herds may suffer from respiratory problems and a number of other diseases. On the farms of one huge producer, 420,000 hogs a year died prematurely. These losses are built into the economics of pig farming. Animals may not even survive the transport to slaughter - dying from heat stroke or freezing to death, depending on the time of year. In 1998, nearly 277,000 pigs were dead on arrival at the slaughterhouse.
The story doesn't even end here. Many pigs are inadequately stunned. Some are merely paralyzed and can feel all that happens to them during slaughter. Pigs have even been known to enter the scalding tank fully conscious and are essentially boiled alive.
Through all the misery I witnessed on my investigation, I still saw a little of the pigs of my childhood. Pigs whose ears flopped when they ran to me, hoping I had food; pigs whose eyes seemed to reflect the misery of their lives; sows whose intelligence shone through the hopelessness of their frustration. But what will remain with me forever is the sound of desperate pigs banging their heads against immovable doors and their constant and repeated biting at the prison bars that held them captive. This, I now know, is a sign of mental collapse. What has happened to the human race that it can close it eyes to this suffering?
I also visited some of the larger pig farms in North Carolina. There were thousands of pigs housed in sheds. Many were dead or dying - one actually died right in front of me. This was the same for the piglets being housed in what the industry so frightfully terms a nursery! The dying and dead pigs were still in the pens with the living pigs. A revealing insight on how this industry views animals is offered by its treatment of the dead and dying. They were tossed in the aisles: some barely alive, some rotting. Sick or injured pigs who were still alive could not reach food or water and were sure to die a painful death. There was a pig so thin he barely looked like a pig at all. He too had some type of rupture protruding from his stomach; in addition to this, his ribs were showing. He was in desperate need of veterinary care, but apparently none was being provided - if he was being monitored by anyone at all.
What can you do:
Go vegan! Animals raised for food live desolate lives of pain and misery.
With your help, we will print many thousands of leaflets about pig farming in the U.S., with a back page on why people should go veggie. The leaflet includes images from our investigation and will be available to concerned consumers and activists to help spread the message!
"I was excited to see Viva! launch in the USA, following years of victories in the UK. Since then, I have watched them have successes on their duck campaign here. I look forward to their new campaign for the pigs and their continued enthusiasm in reaching the public on behalf of all animals killed for food." Sir Paul McCartney