By Dan Paden
According to a poll released last year, the vast majority of us favor transparency in food labeling. Eighty-two percent of respondents said that foods containing genetically modified ingredients should be labeled as such, and in May, Vermont passed the nation’s first GMO labeling law. For most of us, our food matters. We want to know if what we’re buying and eating is locally grown or organic or sustainable. I would add one more criterion to that list: Are the foods we eat kind or cruel? If you consume meat and other animal products, the answer is the latter.
Every time PETA has sent an investigator to a factory farm, we’ve found cruelty and unmitigated suffering. Every single time. Our latest investigation is no exception. For more than two months, a PETA investigator worked at a pig factory farm owned by a worldwide leader in pig breeding. The company is a leading U.S. supplier of pig semen and of sows who are sold to other meat companies and will be artificially inseminated. When most of us think of GMOs, we probably think about corn or soybeans, but animals are also routinely genetically manipulated for our dinner plates.
At this facility, lame and injured pigs were left to languish without any apparent veterinary care. PETA’s investigator documented one pig who pitifully dragged himself along the hard floor by his front legs, until he collapsed, apparently exhausted. He lay immobile for days in a pen with other pigs, unable to eat or drink, and was finally hauled to slaughter. Other pigs suffer from rectal prolapse, a painful condition in which internal tissue protrudes from the anus, or “belly ruptures,” in which the animals’ abdomens bulge with protruding intestines—again, without any apparent veterinary care.
Lame and injured animals are simply put in what workers call the “junk pen” and are held there until they are taken to the slaughterhouse. Mother pigs are confined to metal crates so small that they can’t even turn around, and many develop painful ulcers on their shoulders from the constant pressure of lying, nearly immobile, on the hard slatted floor. Their crying, writhing piglets are castrated—without any anesthetics or pain relief whatsoever—right in front of them. Mother pigs are fiercely protective, and some thrashed and struggled in the metal crates or tried to bite the workers in a desperate attempt to protect their precious babies. Boars used for semen production are also confined to tight metal crates, jammed together inside a filthy shed.
Many pigs at this facility die in the sheds where animals are fattened for later breeding or slaughter, and a company vice president blamed some of the deaths on workers’ “not really caring about the pigs.” At this factory farm—as at others—animals are viewed as commodities, not as the smart, social, feeling individuals they are. Unwanted pigs have the word “CULL” callously spray-painted on their backs, and they are eventually taken to slaughter. We have a right to know where our food comes from and how it is produced. That’s the impetus behind the movement to require labels on GMO foods.
We should also insist on transparency when it comes to the way that animals who are raised and killed for food are treated. Until that day comes, there’s one thing that we as consumers can do to ensure that we are not supporting animal suffering with our food choices: Look for the label that says “vegan.”