Friday, June 21, 2013

Mother Jones on Mother Pigs

It's one thing to hear about the cruel confinement conditions imposed on the millions of sows who give birth to nearly all the pigs in North America from PETA or your friendly neighbourhood vegan. It's another thing when a vivid description of the shameful truth comes from a writer who starts by admitting “I love pork.” Here's how the always exceptional food and agriculture columnist Tom Philpott spells it out in the July/August issue of Mother Jones:
“Throughout their four-month pregnancies, many of these sows live in cages just large enough to contain their bodies. As the sows grow bigger, the tight confinement means they can lie face down but can't flop over onto their sides. The floors under these ‘gestation crates’ are slotted so that urine and feces can slip through into vast cesspits. Immobilized above their own waste, the sows are exposed to high levels of ammonia, which causes respiratory problems. Just before they deliver, they're moved to farrowing crates, in which they have just enough space to nurse.
“Once the piglets are weaned, it's back to the gestation crate for the breeding sow, which averages two and a half pregnancies per year. After three or four years, the sow is slaughtered for meat.”
And this, among other disturbing peeks into the world of captive sows:

“In Smithfield cages—which hold about a seventh of the breeding sows in the United States—the HSUS [Humane Society of the United States] documented sows repeatedly biting the bars of their cage, sometimes until ‘blood from their mouths coated the fronts of their crates.’”
As Philpott explains, years of animal activism have had an effect; the 2 by 7 foot sow stalls – already banned across the European Union and a few American states – appear destined for extinction on this continent within a decade or two (not nearly soon enough for these victimized sows who would still have to endure them, in the tens of millions, until then).

You wouldn't lock up your pregnant dog like this, would you? 
But recently there has been a backlash, as epitomized by career schmuck “Richard Berman, a notorious PR flack who recently helped Smithfield bust its unions,” writes Philpott. Berman, who specializes in running ironically named industry front groups such as the Center for Consumer Freedom, “has taken to the pages of the industry trade publication PorkNetwork to urge producers to cling to their gestation crates, which he prefers to call ‘maternity pens.’” Oh Richard, fellow member of the tribe of Israel, chutzpah can be cute. In this case it's just evil.

Though Philpott considers it unlikely, he concludes that if the backlash succeeds “it might force many of us to forswear pork—and I, for one, would really miss it.”

Well Tom (although I suspect you buy most of your pork from farmers who house their sows in groups on straw), by the same logic you might consider forswearing pork right now, because most of those millions of sows are still stuck in those wicked, solitary cages, day in day out, biting the bars until their mouths bleed.
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