MINNEAPOLIS - An animal welfare group is calling on Walmart to stop using pork products from a Minnesota producer following an undercover investigation that uncovered what the group calls criminal animal cruelty.
"Pregnant pigs and piglets are forced to endue extreme abuse and lives of unrelenting confinement," said Matt Rice, Mercy for Animals Director of Investigations.
Mercy For Animals released undercover video at a press conference Tuesday morning, showing what it described as "shocking animal abuse" by employees of Pipestone Systems. The group claims that the footage shows:
- Thousands of mother pigs confined to filthy, metal gestation crates so small they are unable to even turn around or lie down comfortably for nearly their entire lives
- Workers hitting, slapping, throwing, and dropping pigs and piglets
- Workers slamming piglets into the ground and leaving them to slowly suffer and die
- Workers ripping out the testicles and slicing off the tails of fully conscious piglets without the use of any painkillers
- Sick and injured pigs with severe, bleeding wounds or infections left to suffer without veterinary care
"The suffering experienced by the animals is gratuitous, unnecessary, abusive, and counterproductive," world-renowned animal welfare expert Dr. Bernard Rollin said after viewing the footage. "[The use of gestation crates is] arguably the worst practice in confinement agriculture. I fully expect that, in a few years, we will see the end of the use of such crates everywhere in the civilized world."
Pipestone System says the complaint of animal mistreatment was filed by a former employee named Jessica Marie Buck, who the company believes is an undercover activist with Mercy For Animals. President and CEO Dr. Luke Minion says it is his understanding that county prosecutors will not file charges against employees whose actions were captured on videotape.
Still, the company admits that in the wake of Buck's accusations Pipestone System launched its own internal investigation that ended in the termination of one employee, reassignment of a second and extensive retraining of others.
"We have taken action," said Minion. "A person lost their job. Certain parts of the video are not defensible and we do not condone them. Other parts of the video are industry accepted practices that we support and do everyday. We have continued to go through our investigation internally to make sure we are doing the right things, but the video and how it gets released and how it gets taken, I think is unfair in terms of how it portrays the effort we put forth to do the right thing everyday."
Company officials add that Pipestone System also requested and underwent an immediate third party external audit of the operations at this farm.
"We remain absolutely committed to animal welfare and will continue to improve upon training and oversight everyday," said Dr. Carissa Odland, Director of Animal Welfare for the Pipestone System.
Dr. Minon asserts that through her undercover work, Jessica Buck's actions violated Pipestone System guidelines for animal welfare.
"Ms. Buck signed on to this pledge, specifically committing to report any animal welfare issues or concerns she witnessed. Unfortunately, no report of abuse or mistreatment from Ms. Buck was ever reported," maintained Minion in a written statement. "Ms. Buck's own actions while on the sow farm clearly violated our animal welfare policy. It is clear that Ms. Buck did not take specific actions aimed at protecting the welfare of the animals as the Pipestone System policies dictate, but instead was solely motivated to obtain undercover footage for Mercy for Animals without any true regard for the immediate welfare of the animals."
A local industry trade representative scoffed at the motives of the Mercy for Animals group. "They really have one very clear agenda," said Dave Preisler, Executive Director of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association. "It is a vegan society. They do not want anyone to eat meat."
"Well, Mercy for Animals does proudly promote a vegetarian diet," said Rice. "but we are also a pragmatic organization. We understand that not everybody is going to go vegetarian, especially not overnight. In the meantime, we are talking about literally millions of animals who are suffering nightmarish conditions inside these factory farms."
KARE 11 has attempted to contact Walmart to see if the undercover footage will impact whether the grocery giant purchases pork product from Pipestone System in the future or requires suppliers to stop using gestation crates. At this time there has been no response.
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