Tag Archives: pigs

Covid-19 harms both workers and animals

Slaughterhouses kill more than just animals. Meatpacking plants, along with prisons, have become the nation’s leading hot spots for the spread of COVID-19 infections.

Thousands of meatpacking workers have fallen ill, many have died. Virus outbreaks at meatpacking plants have lead to the virus spreading more widely in surrounding communities, said Nicholas Christakis, director of Yale University’s Human Nature Lab and a specialist in how contagion travels through social networks.

While we wrote back in June 2020 about Covid 19 spreading in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants, we now know so much more about how the virus spreads in these places. Slaughterhouses and meat processing plants are favorable environments for SARS-CoV-2 transmission. The virus thrives in lower temperatures and in very high or very low relative humidity. Metallic surfaces retain live viruses. Aerosols, densely combining dust, feathers, and feces, are produced in the plants, and intense water use carries materials extensively over surfaces. Workers must speak loudly or shout over the noise, releasing more droplets and spreading them further. Workplaces are crowded, and social distancing is difficult. The plight of the slaughterhouse workers was already dire, but this just puts another layer on their hardship.

The pandemic has also led to a massive increase in animal suffering. When the pandemic first hit, slaughterhouses across the nation were forced to close. Gruesome stories emerged of the mass killing of millions of chickens and pigs that could no longer be brought to market. Chickens sometimes had to be gassed or smothered with a foam in which they slowly suffocate. Among other methods, ready-for-market pigs, with cognitive abilities similar to dogs, that couldn’t be sold were killed by a method known as ventilation shutdown, in which the airways to a barn are closed off and steam is introduced. A whistleblower’s video shows thousands of pigs dying as they were slowly suffocated and roasted to death overnight.

Although the pandemic has focused attention on these incidents, they represent a tiny fraction of the daily abuses heaped on farmed animals. The billions of animals slaughtered every year in the United States are intelligent, sensitive beings capable of feeling a range of emotions. They are driven to raise their own young and form complex social communities, both impossible under the conditions of modern farming. Instead, they live short, painful, disease-ridden lives. Chickens, which make up over 90% of the animals slaughtered every year, suffer the worst. Their deaths are subject to effectively no federal regulation, meaning the birds are frequently frozen, boiled, drowned or suffocated to death.

Avoiding the consumption of meat, including chicken, would help alleviate many of these problems. By reducing the demand for meat, fewer workers would have to work in such awful conditions, and many fewer animals would be sent to the slaughterhouse.

Sick animals hurt!

Pig factoryIt hurts to be sick, and animals are no exception.  When animals are raised in factory farm conditions, they are usually crammed into small spaces, and held in very unhygienic conditions, such that diseases can run rampant. Sometimes these diseases spread from one factory to another causing a pandemic. Unfortunately farm animal disease pandemics plague our food system, destabilizing trade and markets and causing product shortages, and multiplying the amount of suffering that the animals themselves experience exponentially. Read more

HSUS Challenges False Pork Advertising – and wins

PigsPigs are some of the smartest animals on Earth. Highly social, intelligent, and curious, they engage in complex tasks, form elaborate, cooperative social groups and feel fear, pain, and stress. Studies show that they are more intelligent than dogs, and scientists have demonstrated that pigs are capable of playing simple video games, learning from each other, and even learning names.

Most breeding pigs in the U.S. are confined in “gestation crates” for virtually their entire lives. For several years, they’re confined to crates that nearly immobilize them, enduring a cycle of repeated impregnation. These individual cages are approximately 2 feet wide — so small the animals can’t even turn around or take more than a step forward or backward. Due to the duration and severity of their confinement, these pigs’ suffering is among the worst of all factory-farmed animals.

Following The Humane Society of the United States’ legal complaints to the Federal Trade Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission over false and misleading animal welfare statements made by Seaboard Foods, the nation’s third-largest pork producer, Seaboard has been forced to alter its online advertising around the hot-button topic of animal welfare throughout its operations.

Unfortunately, the company continues to use inhumane animal care practices at its farms, such as the extreme confinement of breeding pigs in small gestation crates.

“While we are pleased that Seaboard has been forced to abandon its misleading online advertising, it would be better if the company had changed its actual practices,” says Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president for animal protection litigation and investigations for The HSUS. “Seaboard is still confining animals in small cages where they can’t even turn around, contrary to good science, common sense and consumers’ desire for better treatment of animals.”

The complaints followed a 2011 HSUS undercover investigation that documented inhumane treatment of animals at a Seaboard facility. The investigation revealed pigs confined in tight gestation crates barely larger than their own bodies, preventing them from even turning around, and workers hitting animals, duct-taping their legs to their bodies and jabbing their eyes.

Seaboard’s lofty claims about animal care were in stark contrast to the findings in the investigation. Seaboard had claimed that the company uses “the most humane practices throughout the animal’s life…” In response to an FTC investigation triggered by the HSUS’ complaint, the company removed this false and misleading statement about its commitment to animal care.

Flu from the Farm

The flu is nothing to sneeze at. Most years we see outbreaks of the flu that involve a number of fatalities. In a typical year as many as five million people will die from influenza worldwide, and up to 50,000 people here in the US will succumb to the disease. But every once in a while, a severe epidemic comes through, such as the Spanish Flu of 1918 which killed over 50 million people worldwide. While not nearly as severe as the Spanish Flu, influenza is again making its way across the country. As if the flu weren’t bad enough, the new strain H3N2 out this year has already caused 306 cases reported from 10 states, and typically infections with this strain tend to be more severe.
 
Many people are unaware of the connection between the flu and raising livestock, especially those livestock raised on large scale farming operations, known as factory farms. Influenza viruses start out in aquatic birds, but humans are not readily directly infected by these strains. Pigs, however, are highly susceptible to both avian and human influenza A viruses. They are commonly referred to as “mixing vessels” in which avian and human viruses commingle.

In pigs, viruses swap genes, and new influenza strains emerge with the potential to infect humans. Pigs may have been the intermediate hosts responsible for the birth of the last two flu pandemics in 1957 and 1968, and the so-called bird flu everyone was worried about a couple of years ago, H1N1, was a triple hybrid avian/pig/human virus.

In factory farms, thousands of animals are confined, often crowded into huge sheds. The crowding leads to stressful and extremely unhygienic conditions. The combination of reduced immunity due to prolonged stress in the pigs, and the high density confinement, makes these farms the perfect breeding grounds for new viruses. Under these conditions, new strains of swine flu are rapidly generated and transmitted from one pig to another, and then finally to humans who work with the animals. Once it gets into the community, the virus can spread very rapidly, as we have seen.

What’s true for pigs is largely true of chickens as well, which can also be mixers and propagators of influenza.  Large scale chicken farms can become both the mixing vessels and breeding grounds for more strains of the influenza.
 
In order to better avert the threat of epidemics, public health efforts need to address the conditions that allow pigs and chickens to become breeding grounds for infectious disease. More focus needs to be placed on preventing flu viruses from getting into the human population in the first place, and that means starting at the farm.

Of course, if everyone changed to a vegetarian diet, there would be no need for factory farms, the livestock farm link in the influenza chain would be broken, and influenza epidemics and pandemics could become a thing of the past, saving both humanity and farm animals much suffering and premature death.