An animal welfare group known for publishing graphic video of farm conditions says the pork products that come a farm in Pipestone, Minn., come at the cost of cruelty.
"This is blatant animal abuse, plain and simple," Matt Rice said.
Mercy for Animals has targeted Minnesota pork producers before, taking aim at Christensen Farms a year ago for the same types of pork production practices. In fact, the procedures found in the undercover video they released are common at hog farms nationwide.
NOTE: Fox 9 News has opted not to show all of the graphic footage; however, viewers should be aware that some of the following content could be disturbing.
The video shows pregnant sows held in narrow cages called gestation pens at a Pipestone Systems facility that is one of the major pork suppliers to Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
"Inside these crates, they're unable to turn around or lie down comfortably for nearly their entire lives," Rice explained.
Gestation pens are banned in the entire European Union and 9 U.S. states, and Mercy for Animals is calling on the retail giant to stop sourcing pork from farms that use gestation pens; however, the group says the crates aren't the only concerns they have with the Pipestone farm. Their undercover videographer also caught workers killing piglets by smashing their heads on concrete floors.
The farm conducted its own investigation as well, and issued a statement admitting it had "discovered certain violations of its Animal Welfare Policy that resulted in the immediate termination of one employee, reassignment of another, and follow-up training for the remaining employees."
Yet, beyond the worker training, a question of ethics has been raised once more. St. Catherine professor Jeff Johnson said the video should give consumers some food for thought.
"If we wouldn't want these things done to our cats and our dogs, how can we be OK with them being done to pigs or cows or chickens?" he asked.
Another question is also raised -- what is the alternative? According to Dr. John Deen, a veterinarian with the University of Minnesota, alternatives to gestation pens can be worse for the animals.
"There are housing systems that result in more injuries, more mortality and higher levels of stress for the sows," he said.
The U has conducted research on the pens, and Deen said they are currently testing other housing methods at a research farm in Waseca. So far, they've examined the shapes of the pens and the flooring, and though he says the methods are improving in many ways, it will take the industry a long time to adapt.