143 million pounds of beef were recalled after the Humane Society of the United States released the undercover video, showing employees of Westland/Hallmark Meat Company abusing non-ambulatory cattle.
The incident prompted the Agriculture department to ban all non-ambulatory, or so called "downer" cattle from the human food chain, but the undercover videotape did irreparable damage to the company, which ultimately went out of business.
Unfortunately, livestock abuse is in the news again this week. As part of its campaign against what it calls abuses in the meat production process, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA released to the media and on the Internet a video of workers allegedly abusing animals on a Iowa hog operation. Portions of the undercover video, videotaped and edited by a member of PETA, is used in the upcoming Market to Market story you are about to see. We offer a word of caution: portions of what you about to see contains video that depicts graphic animal abuse and some viewers may find it disturbing.
Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA Vice President: "This is not our first undercover investigation at a pig breeding farm and each one of them covered very similar things. The second point on that is that some of the things even on the short video that has been made public are customary or standard practices like the thumping and slamming these baby pigs against the cement floor. Like castration without anesthesia."
Representatives of the pork industry quickly condemned the actions of workers in the PETA video. Speaking on behalf of the National Pork Board, Dr. Tom Burkgren, the Executive Director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians called some of the practices "shocking".
Dr. Tom Burkgren, American Association of Swine Veterinarians: "It's certainly given us a wakeup call and the wakeup call is we can always do better. But the story that never gets out is that pork producers wake up every morning and go to work trying to make a living. They run their operations humanely and they like working with pigs and its their livelyhood. That's really the good story that never gets told."
After the video was released, the National Pork Board moved swiftly to condemn the workers' actions. In a written statement, Pork Board President Steve Weaver said:
"The pork industry condemns the abuse of any animal. The National Pork Board and America's pork producers take their ethical responsibility for the proper care of pigs seriously and will not tolerate any mistreatment of animals."
PETA, long known for its adversarial relationship with livestock producers, has recently campaigned for a federal excise tax on meat and a nationwide ban on hog gestation crates.
According to PETA, the videotape footage was acquired over multiple months which spanned changes in facility ownership. Current owners of the Iowa hog confinement facility, Mowmar Farms of Fairmont, Minnesota, declined interview requests from Market to Market but released a formal statement:
"MowMar farms will continue to enforce a zero-tolerance policy with respect to the mistreatment or abuse of farm animals and is committed to correcting this inexcusable situation as quickly as possible."
PETA's Vice President of Investigations told Market to Market that the animal rights group was "tipped off" by a former employee of the Bayard, Iowa hog facility. PETA claims one of its employees was hired at the facility in June and soon began videotaping routine activities.
PETA called on food company Hormel Foods, which is supplied, in part, by Mowmar farms, to immediately enforce humane treatment of pigs. Hormel Foods replied with this statement:
"It is important to note that the farm in the video is not a Hormel Foods' farm and the people are not Hormel Foods' employees. We find the images in the video appalling and they are inconsistent with our standards and industry standards for animal handling."
Greene County, Iowa, law enforcement officials have already launched a criminal investigation of the incidents shown on the PETA videotape.
Daphna, PETA Vice President of Investigations: "We would like to see vigorous prosecution and the maximum penalty allowable by law."
Despite the graphic nature of the video, at least one action is considered an approved practice according to the head of American Association of Swine Veterinarians. Dr. Tom Burkgren says the method for euthanizing baby pigs deemed runts is blunt force trauma, but he says workers did not handle the action appropriately.
Dr. Tom Burkgren, American Association of Swine Veterinarians: "It's an approved practice, blunt trauma. Our guidelines don't give specifics on the technique and that really is left up for training between the veterinarian and the livestock producer. Certainly the cutaway in the video where it showed the baby pigs in the box still kicking was improper euthanasia. That would not be an appropriate way to euthanize pigs."