A national animal rights group is pressuring Arkansas-based Wal Mart to stop abusive animal practices by one of its pork suppliers.
The group Mercy for Animals has been conducting undercover investigations of animal abuse at factory farms throughout North America over the last decade and a half. Their latest takes aim at Wal Mart pork supplier Seaboard Foods. At a press conference in Little Rock, Mercy for Animals spokesman Alan Darer detailed what one investigator found at a Seaboard farm in Yuma, Colorado.
“Workers slicing off the tails and ripping out the testicles of piglets using dull razors and their fingers; mother pigs afflicted with open wounds and pressure soars left to suffer without proper veterinary care; and workers hitting piglets with rock-filled gas cans.”
Seaboard is also accused of keeping pregnant sows in gestation crates for most of their lives, preventing the animals from easily moving or resting.
“These crates are made of steel and concrete and are just barely larger than the pigs own bodies,” said Darer.
A farm worker captured conditions through hidden video this past September. Hollywood film actor Joaquin Phoenix narrated Mercy for Animals' produced footage. The videos show the animals living in what appear to be dank, fetid, cramped quarters.
Mercy for Animals says nearly 60 other top U.S. food sellers have shunned the practice of keeping hogs in gestation crates. Last year, the group conducted a similar investigation on a supplying farm for Springdale-based Tyson Foods. Videos showed pigs being thrown around and repeatedly hit. Then the world's second largest meat producer dropped its contract with that Oklahoma-based farm. The latest videos involving the Wal Mart supplier don’t show the same level of violence. Darer says his group's campaign to convince Wal Mart to change suppliers accompanies other efforts to lobby Congress to further regulate the industry.
“However because of Wal Mart's huge purchasing power, they have the power and the responsibility to make sure the pork sold in its stores is not the product of blatant animal abuse,” he said.
According to Mercy for Animals, nine states have banned the use of gestation crates in pig farms. Arkansas is not one of them. In response to the allegations Wal Mart spokesman John Forrest Ales says Wal Mart is making an effort to sell its customers pork not raised in gestation-crates, available in nearly 2,000 stores.
“We hold all of our suppliers to the highest standards and do not tolerate the mistreatment of animals. Our policy requires our suppliers and producers to source only from farms certified as adhering to pork industry and USDA standards for the treatment of animals,” said Forrest Ales, reading from a prepared statement.
Some hog farmers are moving away from the use of gestation crates, but Dallas Hockman of the National Pork Producers Council says it can be costly.
“The challenge in all of this gets around to the consuming public's willingness to pay for it,” he said.
Pig farms and pork producers pass the cost of more open spaces for pregnant sows to consumers in the form of higher pork prices.
“They're not changing because it gets them more production, they're not changing because they think its the right thing to do. They're changing because of pressure applied from somewhere else.”
Hockman also says cutting off piglets' tails and castrating them have been standard industry practices for generations. But that will not likely convince the advocates of Mercy for Animals that it is acceptable.