Opinion | Spy Cams Show What the Pork Industry Tries to Hide
The swine industry praises the gas chambers in which pigs are prepared for slaughter as “animal friendly,” “stress-free” And “no pain.” That would be a good thing, because on average, four pigs slaughtered every second in the United States.
But a California activist recently snuck into a slaughterhouse at night and installed spy cameras inside the gas chamber to document the supposedly humane process. The resulting videos are horrifying: They show the pigs squealing desperately, thrashing and panting before finally succumbing.
“People have been deceived,” says activist Raven Deerbrook. “It’s a huge scam for consumers.”
She may have a point. These gas chambers, which use carbon dioxide to stun pigs, are how modern “animal-friendly” meat factories across North America and Europe often prepare pigs for strangulation.
Deerbrook, a volunteer photographer with the animal rights group Live Action Everywhere, have been trying for years to get such footage. Finally, last October, with help from within, she managed to sneak in a California slaughterhouse owned by Smithfield Foods, the giant meatpacking company.
It was night, and Deerbrook said she was wearing a uniform and fake badge. She opened a trapdoor in the floor and climbed down a 26-foot metal ladder to the floor of the gas chamber. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air, so the gas chambers are below ground level.
Deerbrook installed three spy cameras and linked them to a cell phone hotspot she left behind so they could transmit the footage. Entering the gas chamber was risky and she said she was almost overwhelmed by the remaining carbon dioxide, even though the room was not functioning.
“I felt short of breath and started swallowing air,” she said. “No matter how hard I breathe, I don’t get air. It feels like I’m holding my breath, but I’m not. It filled me with a primal fear, like drowning.
When the factory starts up in the morning, she sits in a cheap hotel room nearby and watches live footage on her cell phone — and then she cries.
“I went to the bathroom and started crying and shaking uncontrollably,” she recalls. “I feel very helpless.”
Deerbrook and Direct Action shared a video with Wired magazines and publish them on a new website, StopGasChambers.org.
The swine industry insists that the process is humane, so watch this video clip and decide for yourself. (Note: The video is graphic.)
What worries me the most is that this doesn’t seem to be a bad run with faulty equipment. Instead, the video appears to document how pigs are slaughtered as often as every second in the US and Europe.
Smithfield executives declined to be interviewed, but in brief emails the company did not confirm that anything was amiss. Instead, the company offers a declare states that stuns with carbon dioxide are accepted by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Agriculture as humane American Veterinary Medical Association.
Industry groups refer me to Jason McAlister, president of a company that works with agribusiness on animal welfare. He told me that the videos showed the system working properly, rendering the animals unconscious within 10 to 17 seconds of inhaling the gas. He said what one saw afterward was an unintentional jerking after the animal passed out.
Jim Reynolds, a large animal veterinarian and professor at the Western University of Health Sciences, told me that’s completely wrong. He said the videos show some pigs squealing and awake for 40 seconds or more after being exposed to the gas.
Jim Reynolds told me: “It was terrible cruelty to the pigs in the room. “It’s a violation of federal law.”
Reynolds is one of 90 contracted veterinarians open letter says the procedure shown in the video may violate federal law on humane slaughter.
A fair point the industry makes is that other stun methods also have flaws. Electrocution, commonly used at smaller slaughterhouses, alarms pigs by separating them and the operator can make a mistake.
Industry officials introduced me to a video by Temple Grandin, an expert on cattle slaughter at Colorado State University, display the pigs calmly descended by elevator into the gas chamber and then passed out a few minutes later.
But Grandin told me that the new gas chamber videos show unacceptable suffering — and this suffering is perhaps typical of what goes on in gas chambers. She says she’s seen gas chambers in Denmark humanely killing pigs but the difference is the pigs’ genetics and how they react to the gas.
“This is fixable,” she said. “The solution is genetics.” She urges the industry to breed pigs that are not heavily affected by carbon dioxide but simply pass out, which she insists is possible.
These slaughter questions come after heated debates about how industrial farms keep sows for most of their lives in cramped, even unturned-pregnancy pens. The Supreme Court will consider early on a case involving California’s right to regulate the use of pregnancy crates in other states, and a court in particular that allowed the Humane Society to proceed a lawsuit against Smithfield for misrepresenting consumers how they treat sows.
I raised pigs on the family farm when I was young. (We sold them at the county auction, and I don’t know how they were slaughtered.) The sows are intelligent and have very distinct personalities – indeed, stronger personalities. Some people I know. That’s one reason I don’t eat pork from factory farms.
Small farms like ours are inefficient, and conversely, the modern pig business is a capitalist miracle of efficiency. Its victory is to bring consumers extremely cheap meat: Adjusted for inflationbacon is cheaper The current than before 1920.
But watch the video – or imagine pigs locked in crates for most of their lives – and you’ll understand the true price of pork.