Industry, veterinarian say 'abuse' in video is common practice - KMSP-TV

Industry, veterinarian say sow 'abuse' in video is common practice

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The animal advocacy group that went undercover at Sparboe egg farms is now taking aim at a Minnesota pork production plant, but the pork producer's association and an industry veterinarian say the treatment seen in the undercover video is common practice.

Mercy for Animals took their cameras inside Christensen Farms in Hanska, which is located about 100 miles southwest of the Twin Cities and supplies pork to major stores across the state.

The video shows pregnant sows standing in what are called gestational stalls, a practice Mercy for Animals calls cruel.

"Many of these pigs were suffering from wounds and open sores, and pressure sores from rubbing up against their metal bars or the concrete floors of their cages," said Matt Rice, director of investigations with Mercy for Animals.

The video also shows workers castrating piglets and cutting off their tails. Yet, much of what Mercy for Animals witnessed is not uncommon -- a fact Rice himself admitted.

"The extreme cruelty documented at Christensen Farms would horrify most Americans, but it is considered standard practice in the pork industry," he said.

Horrifying, perhaps -- but is it cruelty?

"The simple answer is, 'No,'" said Dr. John Deen, professor of pig veterinary science at the University of Minnesota.

Deen told FOX 9 News that much of what Mercy for Animals found is not uncommon, and it's not illegal in Minnesota. In fact, it's the industry standard.

"The methods shown on this video tape, the procedures that the workers on the farm took their pigs through, were quite familiar," he said.

Deen says the gestational stalls were developed over the past 20 years to protect pregnant sows from attacking each other and killing their litters by laying on top of them.

"Actually, we've done research work that when we let them out of the stall, they will -- on their own -- spend greater than 95 percent of their time in the stall. They feel secure there; it provides protection from other animals," explained David Preisler, of Minnesota Pork Producers. "That's really why they've been used on farms."

However, there is increasing pressure for more humane treatment of the animals. Chipotle restaurants received critical acclaim for its Super Bowl ad promoting a more sustainable food chain -- and Christensen Farms says it is evolving.

On Wednesday, owner Bob Christensen released a statement saying, "The company continues to monitor trends and implement changes based on the latest research and customer feedback."

Still, Mercy for Animals hopes the video will ultimately force the farm to stop using gestational stalls by getting retailers like Walmart to stop buying pork from producers that use that method.

The group has also accused Christensen Farms of breeding sows until their bodies give out, euthanizing sick piglets by slamming them on concrete before leaving them to suffer and die, and failing to treat wounds even if they are reported by an investigator.

"As a civilized society, it is our moral obligation to protect all animals -- including farmed animals -- from needless cruelty," Rice said.

Yet, industry experts say some of the activist's concerns are done to keep the pigs healthy, saying that clipping the tails on piglets protects them because other pigs will chew the tails off and create a risk of infection.

As for the euthanasia, Christensen Farms says it began using carbon dioxide to put down sick pigs back in February, which is a change the animal advocates had wanted.

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