Sows confined in cramped cages known as gestation crates were fed ground up intestines from piglets who had recently succumbed to a highly contagious diarrheal disease, an undercover exposé of Iron Maiden Hog Farm in Owensboro, Kentucky revealed. This investigation, conducted during early 2014 by The Humane Society of the United States, found that more than 900 piglets died from the diarrheal disease in a two-day period. The animals’ intestines were ground up and fed back to their mothers and other sows, a practice prohibited by state law. This practice appears to be fairly widespread within the industrial sector of the pig industry.
Ironically sharing a name with the medieval torture device, Iron Maiden Hog Farm’s practices are harsh and inhumane, resulting in a wide range of health problems for pigs. The HSUS is calling on the Kentucky Livestock Care Standards Commission, created to "establish, maintain, or revise standards governing the care and well-being" of farm animals, 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.
The investigation at Iron Maiden Hog Farm documented:
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.
"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," said Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection at The HSUS.
“Routine practices at many hog factories—immobilizing sows for their entire lives, feeding dead pigs to live pigs, denying medical treatment to injured or ailing animals—just don’t sit well with American consumers," added Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. "This industry is long overdue for a major course correction, and we hope this investigation triggers an examination at what’s happening behind closed doors on factory farms.”
Studies of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus in Europe have consistently found higher risk of infection in large industrial factory farming operations, compared to smaller farms that raise their pigs outdoors. The diarrheal disease is coursing through U.S. pigs, especially at factory farms, while smaller family farms with higher animal welfare standards typically don’t engage in these practices. Since the outbreak started in the U.S. in April 2013, several million pigs have died from the virus.
The factory farming practices that led to the emergence and global spread of this virus are the same risky practices that can lead to the emergence of diseases that kill people. Swine flu, which killed thousands of people, is an example of this.
More than 60 major food companies—McDonald’s, Costco, Target and dozens more—have mandated that their pork providers eliminate the crates from within their supply chains. As well, major pork producers including Smithfield, Tyson and Cargill are moving away from gestation crates. Meanwhile, many traditional farmers have avoided gestation crates for generations. These policies signal a reversal in a three-decade-old trend in the pork industry that leaves most breeding pigs confined day and night in gestation crates.
Kentucky state law prohibits the feeding of dead pigs to pigs. The federal Swine Health Protection Act is intended to prevent the feeding of unsanitary substances to pigs, and The HSUS is urging USDA ban the practice.