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Whistleblower video alleges hog abuses at Iowa Select Farms
Earlier this year, even as state lawmakers debated a proposal to criminalize undercover operations at agriculture facilities, investigators from animal advocacy group Mercy for Animals were shooting hidden video at one of the nation’s largest hog operations. The video footage, as well as the abuse it alleges, were released Wednesday.
The graphic video, which is embedded at the bottom of this report, was shot between April and June of this year at Iowa Select Farms in Kamrar. It shows a series of concerning images that include piglets being tossed about and slammed into concrete flooring, sows with uterine prolapses, piglet castrations and tail dockings without pain relief, botched castrations, open wounds and conditions within gestation crates (small cages that house sows, most not allowing the animal to lie down, which have been banned by seven states).
The company has stated that only “a small portion” of the video shows employees engaging in practices that are unacceptable. Given the average American’s distance from food production, however, many industry standard practices will likely be found troubling.
Illinois-based Mercy for Animals, which freely acknowledges its hopes for more Americans to become vegans, is specifically targeting the grocers who purchase pork from Iowa Select Farms via JBS Swift. Those grocers include Hy-Vee, Safeway, Kroger and Costco. At least two of the grocers have already registered their disapproval of the images on the video, and have halted purchases from Swift.
West Des Moines-based Hy-Vee released a statement that company officials had contacted Iowa Select Farms directly to discuss the video:
Hy-Vee will only do business with suppliers that are committed to the humane treatment of animals. This is an industry-wide issue that affects all producers, not just the facility portrayed in this video. It also affects all supermarkets, and ultimately all consumers who buy meat products. We share our customers’ concerns about animal welfare and will continue to monitor our suppliers’ policies and practices in this important area.
Hy-Vee has chosen not to switch its supplier at this time, preferring to see the results of the Iowa Select Farms own investigation. The statement also noted that Iowa Select Farms “shared with us that some of the scenes in the video may not be what they appear.”
Howard Hill, veterinarian for Iowa Select Farms, issued a statement saying that the company “has a long-standing commitment to animal welfare” and that an investigation had already begun into the portions of the video showing “unacceptable handling by a few employees.”
The company, he noted, will be working with an animal behavior and well-being researcher from Iowa State University “to provide additional consultation to deal with specific actions depicted in the video that do not reflect Iowa Select’s commitment to animal welfare and continuous improvement.”
And, perhaps echoing some of the debate that took place at the State Capitol in relation to a bill that would have criminalized such undercover efforts, Hill noted the instances of alleged abuse were not immediately reported so it could be stopped within the company’s existing “no tolerance” policy.
The Iowa legislative proposal hoped to carve out special legal penalties for individuals who helped in the creation or distribution of undercover videos or audio on agricultural sites. Nearly identical proposals were also debated in Minnesota and Florida.
“On the videotaping thing… first of all, there has been some amendments drawn, but I think the most important thing that you need to know is that it isn’t always described accurately in the news media,” Iowa Sen. Sandy Greiner told audience members at a League of Women Voters legislative forum in May.
“This is about someone who intentionally comes to [a farmer] and applies for a job with the intention of getting inside to take photographs. They never say, ‘I want to come to your farm and take photographs.’ They just say, ‘I want to be your top-notch power-washer,’ or your feed grinder, or whatever it is that they want to do. That’s what this bill is trying to get at: People who misrepresent themselves and their intentions.”
Greiner, a Keota Republican, added that the bill “is not about hiding anything,” but offers “protection for any employer.”
“I mean, it doesn’t matter if you own a hardware store and someone is not turning on the fans when they are mixing paint — you know, OSHA has all of the rules. If somebody comes in as an employee and seeks that jobs with the distinct purpose of doing something to defame you, that is where the problem lies.”
The bill before the legislature, however, does not provide these unique protections — or protections outside of existing trespass and fraud laws — to all businesses. The bill is specifically written to only address agricultural facilities with livestock or crops.
Investigators with Mercy for Animals did pose as employees, but Executive Director Nathan Runkle has noted that they did so while using their real names and Social Security numbers.
“Part of our message is there is not a single federal law that provides protection to factory animals. What we need are stricter, stronger laws,” he said.
Iowa Select Farms was founded in 1992 and is the largest pork producing company in Iowa. Nationally it ranks fourth among all pork producers. The company employs more than 900 Iowans in 43 counties.
The undercover video is embedded below; however, because it is age-restricted on YouTube, some readers may need to log onto that website in order to view it: