A Side Of Diarrhea
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.