In two separate events, Safeway this week promised to phase out the use of sow gestation crates, while a new undercover video surfaced in Wyoming pointing to animal cruelty by a pork supplier.
Employees at Wyoming Premium Farms — a supplier to Tyson, albeit a small one — were seen on the videotape and in photos hitting, kicking, throwing and dragging pigs.
“I am sickened and outraged by what I’ve seen, and any right-thinking person will have the same reaction,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the U.S.
Denver-based Itoham America Inc., subsidiary of a Japanese company, was reported to be the owner of Wyoming Premium Farms, which is located about 150 miles north of Denver in Wheatland, WY. However, a Denver television station said that company filed dissolution papers with the Colorado Secretary of State on April 6.
The company is believed to be the target of an investigation into animal cruelty by the Platte County Sheriff. Tyson said Wyoming Premium does not provide pork used in its regular processing business.
Meanwhile this week, the retail giant Safeway announced it was going to “give preferences to pork suppliers who phase out individual sow housing,” or so-called gestation crates, that keep sows in a tight space for most of their lives.
“We hope that Safeway’s announcement will send a strong signal to the pork industry that confining pigs in crates so small they cannot even turn around or lie down comfortably is blatant animal abuse that will not be tolerated by socially responsible grocers,” said Mercy for Animals’ Nathan Runkle.
Last year, Iowa Select Farms, a Safeway pork supplier, was the target of an undercover video showing animal cruelty at that facility.
While the National Pork Producers Council said Safeway was “intimidated” by animal rights groups, Mercy’s Runkle called upon Walmart, Kroger and Costco to follow Safeway’s lead in “taking a stance against inherently cruel gestation crates.” Earlier this year, McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King announced plans to sever ties with pork suppliers who use gestation crates.
Gestation crates have been banned by the European Union and the states of Florida, Arizona, Ohio, Oregon, Colorado, California, Maine and Michigan. Veterinarians and scientists, including famed animal welfare expert Temple Grandin, discourage their use.
Asked about the Wyoming investigation, Runkle said: “This case graphically illustrates that the meat industry is incapable of self-regulation and that without undercover investigations, there are no meaningful watchdogs protecting animals from egregious cruelty
in these facilities.
“Animal cruelty runs rampant on factory farms, and the industry knows it. ”
Iowa and Utah earlier this year passed new laws designed to outlaw the kind of undercover investigations into animal treatment that have been used by animal rights groups like the Humane Society and Mercy for Animals.
“Rather than improve conditions for animals, pro-agribusiness legislators are attempting to silence individuals who seek to expose and stop it. That is why these ag-gag bills are so dangerous – they shield animal abusers from public scrutiny and create a safe haven for criminal activity inside factory farms.
“Mercy for Animals feels that the ag-gag laws are a clear violation of free speech and freedom of the press and is exploring all legal avenues to overturn them,” Runkle told Food Safety News. “In the meantime, MFA will continue with our undercover investigations in states where lawmakers are working to prevent and prosecute cruelty to animals, not make it harder to expose.”
Animal cruelty can cause animals to experience disease-causing stress, which often makes these undercover investigations as important to food safety as they as to inhumane treatment of animals.
The National Pork Producers Council says gestation stalls are appropriate for use for sows during pregnancy. It cites the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians as sources for its position.