A Side Of Diarrhea

» February 20th, 2014

For those who follow the travails of factory farming nothing is shocking anymore. We’ve endured pink slime and Mad Cow and McFibs and we know the industry will literally shove all manner of deception down our throats while telling us how important their products are to human and economic health. But diarrhea? Yup. Add that one to the list.

Last night I got a call from a friend at HSUS. He told me about the details of an undercover investigation they’d just completed at a Kentucky pig operation named Iron Maiden Farms (yeah, I know, too much). Pig farms have suffered massive outbreaks of a disease called “porcine epidemic diarrhea” (PED)–which primarily kills piglets. To combat this disease, Iron Maiden has sought to foster immunity to PED in sows by feeding them a puree made from the infected intestines of their dead piglets.

In response to the accusation, the executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (according to Nicholas Kristof’s reporting), said that “From a public health standpoint, I don’t think there’s a risk there.” He also noted, though, that pig farmers were doing more than feeding PED infected piglet intestines to sows. They were also, as Kristof explained, “increasingly finding that it’s more effective simply to use diarrhea from an infected animal to expose sows to P.E.D.”

Kristof goes on to note that this sinister stew is yet another reason to not eat pigs from factory farms–places that disregard the basic welfare of pigs, not to mention the people who eat them. To guide consumers in the right direction, he contrasts Iron Maiden with the Niman Ranch Pork Company which, according to Kristof, raises “animals humanely.” But this is the wrong lesson to take from the HSUS’s Iron Maiden discovery. In fact, it only ensures that the Iron Maidens of the world will continue their awful work.

HSUS’s undercover work was exceptional. It provides an opportunity to remind ourselves that when people own animals for the purposes of killing them and profiting from that killing for food we don’t need, animals will suffer immensely. Iron Maiden confines it’s pigs and feeds them the diarrheal excretions of their offspring before killing them. Niman allows pigs more pasture time and does not feed them piglet intestines before killing them. But in both scenarios, animals smarter than your preschooler die prematurely and unnecessarily. Both animals become objects from which their owners will benefit. Both are slaughtered for no other good reason than the whimsical human desire to eat them.

All of which makes you kind of wonder why Niman wastes so much time and effort tending to their pigs’ welfare in the first place. They’re going to treat them like junk at the end of the day anyway, just like the factory farms do. Consumers are foolish to think that eating from Niman exonerates them from the horrors of Iron Maiden. In the long run, by reiterating that it’s fine to eat pigs, consumers choosing “humane” pork only guarantee that the Iron Maidens of the industry get to keep pulling off the same old shit.

When we will realize the implications of this connection? When will we react to these scandals in a way that actually prevents them from ever happening again?

Note: Here’s a link to a site on pig management that explicitly directs farmers to add diarrhea to the pigs’s water.

8 Responses to A Side Of Diarrhea

  1. Thank you for helping to expose this horrific treatment of pigs. Shared.

  2. mynamefluffy says:

    There will probably be three types of people and reactions to this revelation (not including those already vegan):

    1. Those who profit from this misery. They will continue to lie and pollute the “food” that they want to sell. They are a lost cause unless they can be convinced by market forces and/or legislation and/or criminal charges that their methods will cost them money. They will only listen to the dollar.

    2. Those who want to eat meat, revel in it, celebrate it (Anthony Bourdain and his ilk), don’t really care about the health aspects of it (because after all we all “have to die of something,”) and don’t give two shits about whether or how much the animals suffered so they can gorge on various parts of their dead bodies. They are, and always have been, a lost cause.

    3. Those who care about their health, care about the environment, and care about animal suffering, but still eat meat. These are the people we can affect, and hopefully, they are present in large enough numbers that they can exert enough market pressure or, even perhaps become vegetarian/vegan. These are the people we have to try and reach.


  3. María Vigo McMacken says:

    Thanks James for writing your bit about this. I too agree with Linda, and I am convinced that it’s all about “planting seeds” on people’s minds and allowing them to “take” or not. Hopefully they will, and soon, so we can all enjoy some fruits of our harvest!

  4. Mountain says:

    These are the wages of confinement. Animals that roam free get exposed to small doses of all kinds of icky things, and have stronger immune systems for it. Same basic mechanism as vaccination, but confinement is disgusting & leads to disgusting things like feeding intestines and diarrhea.

    Off-topic, but also vomit-inducing: James, what are your thoughts on the UT jogger arrested in Austin yesterday (by 4 officers!), apparently for jaywalking (jayjogging?) and failure to identity? Is arbitrary thuggishness standard for the Austin PD?

    • James says:

      I’ve no authority to judge the APD’s comparative penchant for thuggishness, but my thoughts on the incident are simple: it was absurd. The woman evidently had her earbuds in and, when grabbed from behind by an officer, reacted with understandable aggression, which precipitated the overreaction. The area where she “jayjogged” is a heavily trafficked intersection at the heart of campus, but that’s no excuse for the officers’ overreaction to a minor transgression.

  5. Bea Elliott says:

    We’ve all been quizzed dozens of times by nonvegans who want to know “where we draw the line?”. Information like this just begs the question in return. Exactly how much ugliness can they swallow before it’s enough?

    It’s unfortunate that your time and talents have to be spent on stories like this… It’s not a waste though. These practices have to be exposed. Thanks for doing so.

  6. Heath Putnam says:

    James –

    Heath Putnam here. I found your blog and was happy to read this.

    Your post reminds of what I heard about Sinclair’s “The Jungle”.

    He wrote it hoping that people would see that humans working for the meatpacking plants suffered. What people “took away” from his book was that stuff was going into their food that they found disgusting, and they really didn’t like that. That disgust resulted in a bunch of laws meant to promote food purity, not labor reform.

    Similarly, in this case, I suspect most people will be disgusted with the cannibalism and coprophagia. Of course, pigs, a bit like dogs, are eager cannibals; they need the protein. You can bet the sows at Iron Maiden eagerly chow down on the dead pigs; I’ve seen them do similar things with my own eyes.

    And it isn’t surprising pigs will eat diarrhea. My dog likes cat poop. The pigs (and dogs) that let a little bit of skatole deter them from chowing down have long since been eliminated from the gene pool.

    Like you, what I see is a bunch of people projecting their routine likes and dislikes onto pigs – but somehow failing to make that big leap – no pig wants to die prematurely. I think all this – the disgust at the cannibalism and coprophagia (which is natural) and the rationalizing of meat eating via things like Niman Ranch – shows that humans really don’t understand what the subjective experience of a pig is like.

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