The Humane Society of US has just completed a groundbreaking–and heartbreaking–undercover reporting from a huge hog farming operation in Kentucky, called Iron Maiden Farms. One brave HSUS worker went undercover to take a video of how the farm feeds ground up intestines of piglets to the mother pigs, apparently to immunize them against a virus called porcine epidemic diarrhea (P.E.D) that has been sweeping through the pig industry.
Tom Burkgren, the executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, responded by saying that P.E.D. poses no health risk to humans–and that furthermore, pig farmers have now figured out an easier way of immunizing the mother pigs–feeding them the diarrhea of the infected piglets, which are killed afterwards.
One of our favorite journalists Nicholas Kristof broke the news on The New York Times, and as ever I laud him for covering it. But his otherwise excellent article stops just short of pursuing the moral implications of this tragedy–and that speaks volumes about our society. How is it that making cannibals of intelligent animals, and feeding the mothers the flesh of their babies, is framed as a public health issue and not an ethical issue? How is it that Americans are more scandalized by nudity and promiscuity (remember Miley Cyrus?) than the truly grotesque, dystopian treatment of animals? What is more urgent and of greater significance?
The truly astonishing thing is that we don’t need an undercover operation to know that this practice is pervasive and long-standing. As a college freshman, one of the first things I noticed about the cafeteria was that it collected food scraps–not for composting, but for feeding to pigs. Although I hadn’t become vegan yet, I felt immediate recoil and horror knowing that all the scraps of bacon, sausages, and other meats will be fed to the pigs, along with napkins, bones, nauseating juices of foods, sometimes straight up trash. There are some animals that were meant to eat other animals, and others that were meant to eat grains, insects, and grass. But no animal was meant to survive on trash and the flesh of its own kind.
Against the evils of factory farming, Kristof proposes humane livestock farming as an alternative. Moving away from gestation crates is a welcome first step, and something many non vegans find appealing, as well. But the issue is far more urgent than just giving pigs a few additional inches of room: because ultimately, as long as most of the population eats meat, there won’t be an alternative that realistically enables humane, sustainable, traditional farming while also meeting the demands of the market. One doesn’t have to subscribe to the vegan philosophy to know that. And one doesn’t have to be vegan to feel that there is a big problem with a society that feeds pigs to pigs, cows to cows, and chickens to chickens. The true solution to this problem then, isn’t to look romantically back at the 19th century and earlier–but to look forward to the 21st century idea of not eating animals.
Photo: Vicki Somma via Flickr