Iowa’s agriculture secretary says the animal activist group is ‘kicking farmers when they’re down.” Des Moines Register
A national swine veterinarians group says shutting down a confinement’s ventilation is an acceptable form of euthanasia in “constrained circumstances” such as the COVID-19 meatpacking disruption.
A California animal rights group says an Iowa pork producer “roasted pigs alive” when it euthanized thousands of hogs it was unable to send to Midwest meatpacking plants that had slowed or halted production as workers fell ill with COVID-19.
Direct Action Everywhere describes the pigs as “shrieking in agony” after Iowa Select Farms, a large pork producer, shut down the ventilation in a rural confinement facility near Aplington in Grundy County to euthanize them.
Jeff Hansen, the company’s CEO, said it “exhausted every possible option,” from finding more barn space to donating pork to food banks and employees, before deciding to euthanize the animals.
Employees are in “tremendous pain knowing that this awful decision had to be made,” Hansen said.
Direct Action Everywhere said it worked with Iowa Select whistleblowers to secretly film company employees destroying the animals.
The company confirmed the video was taken at the Grundy Center facility where Iowa Select pigs were taken to be destroyed.
“This group illegally infiltrated our facility and installed cameras to record video of the euthanasia process and our team members,” Hansen said in a statement, adding that the group’s actions “only reinforce the hurt” felt by employees.
The video, which the group said was taken with a hidden camera last week, opens with a shot of pigs milling in a large, enclosed space. In another scene shot through a fog that the group says was steam, the barely visible pigs can be heard squealing. In a third scene, two men carrying what the group says are bolt guns walk among the apparently dead pigs, nudging them with their feet. In a final scene, a front-end loader scoops up the carcasses.
The state estimates that 600,000 pigs in Iowa could be destroyed as they back up on farms and cannot be processed into food. Iowa, the nation’s largest pork producer, raises about 50 million pigs a year.
Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig called the activists’ tactics “disgusting.”
“No producer wants to be faced with this decision. It goes against everything they stand for and do on a daily basis,” caring for the animals and raising them to feed families, Naig said Thursday when asked about the video during a press conference with Gov. Kim Reynolds about the coronavirus’ impact.
“We have folks with a clear agenda who are kicking our farmers when they’re down,” he said, adding that the producers are working with veterinarians who follow national guidelines when euthanizing animals.
The American Association of Swine Veterinarians says shutting down a confinement’s ventilation — which raises the herd’s temperature and causes animals to die of hyperthermia — is an acceptable form of euthanasia in “constrained circumstances.”
The group’s board this month identified the COVID-19 meatpacking disruption as one of those situations. But the board said priority should be given to eight other preferred methods, including shooting, electrocution, gassing with carbon dioxide and manual blunt force, which is used primarily on small pigs.
Chris Rademacher, an Iowa State University Extension swine veterinarian, said shutting down ventilation is likely the best approach to euthanizing a large number of pigs. It’s safer for farmers than shooting, electrocution or using other preferred methods, which are more appropriate options when euthanizing a small number of animals, he said.
Rademacher also said mass depopulation takes less toll on farmers emotionally. “I can’t tell you how many producers get choked up” talking about euthanizing animals, he said.
Matt Johnson, the Direct Action Everywhere investigator, filed a complaint last week with the Grundy County Sheriff’s Office, alleging Iowa Select committed criminal animal neglect.
Grundy County Sheriff Rick Penning said he talked with state veterinarian Jeff Kaisand, who indicated that Iowa Select followed proper procedures in euthanizing the animals. Penning said he would not take further action on the group’s complaint.
However, after filing their complaint last week, Johnson of Berkeley, California, and coworker Linda Cridge of Fishers, Indiana, were charged with trespass, a simple misdemeanor.
A veterinarian who works with Direct Action Everywhere and reviewed the group’s video said shutting down the ventilation “resulted in extreme, prolonged and unnecessary suffering.”
The group said that pigs are “blasted with steam and heat exceeding 140 degrees in a barn.” Two or three hours into the process, the group said, Iowa Select workers walk through the barn, “shooting pigs exhibiting obvious signs of life” with bolt guns.
The American Veterinary Medical Association states that additional action may be needed to ensure pigs succumb after shutting down ventilation systems, such as adding heat and humidity to the confined space. Rademacher said the pigs should quickly lose consciousness with the increased heat and humidity before dying.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture sent a letter to the state’s county attorneys this week, saying that “it is not uncommon for people to question the methods employed” in the challenging situation. It said the swine veterinarians association “recognizes the dire situation” producers face.
Johnson said an Iowa Select whistleblower contacted Direct Action Everywhere because he was concerned about animal welfare.
“When we have a system that is fundamentally broken — with government reinforcing, rather than regulating, an abusive industry which only serves those at the very top — it’s left to ordinary people to take action ourselves and hold our elected officials accountable to the will of the people,” Johnson said in a statement.
He and Direct Action Everywhere targeted state Sen. Ken Rozenboom’s family pig facility for an undercover investigation a year ago, releasing photos and video from the Oskaloosa farm in January.
The group said it sought to expose inhumane treatment of animals at the facility, which was leased to another farmer, because of Rozenboom’s support for the state’s so-called “ag-gag” law. The statute makes it a crime for animal welfare activists, journalists and others to go undercover at meatpacking plants and livestock facilities to document conditions.
Rozenboom called the action a “professional hit job.” State and local investigators said a complaint Johnson filed against Rozenboom, alleging animal abuse, was unfounded.