Classified as Sus domesticus, hoofed mammals in the pig family, domestic pigs are thought to have originated in the Middle East and across Eurasia around 9,000 years ago, and are descendants of the wild boar. Current DNA and archeological research suggests that the transition to livestock animals occurred in many different regions independently during the Neolithic period, when nomadic peoples began to settle in villages and farms.1 (Goats and sheep were domesticated first, followed shortly by cattle and pigs.) Trade and human migration also contributed to the spread of pig agriculture. By the 16th Century, Spanish explorers had brought pigs to the Western Hemisphere, where enough escaped to create an indigenous feral population.
Pigs are the smartest of domesticated animals, with fascinating personalities. They are engaging, curious, social, affectionate, and playful. As the focus of thousands of studies by researchers and ethologists, pigs have been closely observed in many settings. They are very popular subjects, and scientists have discovered that pigs have surprisingly complex, sophisticated, and agile mental abilities. Pigs can concentrate, think, observe, learn, remember, and communicate. Pigs strategize and compete; they dream and they forgive. They listen to music and they play with toys.
According to one Cambridge University professor, pigs "have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated; even more so than dogs and certainly more so than three-year-olds."2 Pigs can play video games, and when offered a choice, they have indicated environmental temperature preferences.3 A London study found that pigs could discriminate between feeling "normal" and feeling "anxious."4 They have a great sense of smell, can live up to a decade, are very protective of their young, and form bonds with other pigs. Pigs are clean animals, but they do not have sweat glands so they bathe in water or roll in mud to stay cool and ward off flies. At one shelter in New York, the pigs enjoy a shower when the horses in the next door paddock get their daily summer bath. These pigs take advantage of their spacious yard, separating their eating and sleeping areas from their manure pile.
Sadly, pigs are intensively farmed in the hundreds of millions worldwide for human consumption. They are overfed, crammed into tiny spaces without access to mud; they are denied a natural long life, mental stimulation, and the chance to form lasting relationships with their own kind. The number of pigs slaughtered is so large that it is hard to comprehend. In the U.S., just two businesses (Tyson Foods and Smithfield Farms) kill 130,000 pigs every day.
The consumption of pork is forbidden under both Jewish and Islamic law. In spite of that, more than 170,000 pigs are killed annually in Israel to meet demand.5, 6 Most are supposed to be raised on farms in Arab-owned land, since pigs cannot legally be raised on Jewish land.7 However, Kibbutz Lahav, in the northern Negev, is the largest producer of pigs in Israel and the main supplier to the slaughterhouse and processing plant at Kibbutz Mizra, in the Galil. They circumvent the law against raising pigs by housing them on platforms above the earth. Kibbutz Mizra proudly boasts of operating the most advanced slaughterhouse in the Middle East, and it is producing 150 tons of pork products monthly.
Outside of the Halachic and Qur'anic traditions, Seventh Day Adventists, Hindus, Jains, and many Buddhists also refrain from eating pork for religious reasons. Even in secular society, cultural influences to avoid pork affect Jews, Moslems, Hindus, and Buddhists. Yet, an astonishing total of 1.3 billion pigs are slaughtered worldwide annually (600 million in China). The ten largest producers are China, the U.S., Germany, Brazil, Spain, Vietnam, France, Poland, Canada, and Denmark.8
A farmer is paid about 20 Euros ($25) for each market-weight pig, and a processing plant might realize another 100 Euros ($125). But the bones, skin, hair, fat, body parts, and sludge derived from processing are far more valuable to the pharmaceutical, medical, cosmetic, and chemical industries. Over 40 pharmaceuticals are extracted from pigs, from insulin and cortisone to estrogen. Their body parts, such as their heart valves and skin, are transplanted to humans. The cosmetic industry uses the fatty acids and glycerin, among other things. They are a source for highly profitable industrial ingredients used to manufacture adhesives, antifreeze, buttons, cellophane, cement, china, crayons, chalk, fabric softeners, fertilizer, filters, floor waxes, glass, glue, insecticides, linoleum, lubricants, matches, plastics, putty, rubber, waterproofing agents, and weed killers. Their skin is tanned and finished as leather (pigskin) for clothing, gloves, and shoes. Their hair is used to produce brushes, fabrics, and insulation. Pigs are raised for animal research experiments where they are blinded, bombed, and burned. The police and military use pigs to sniff for bombs, find smuggled drugs, and locate buried people.
How Pigs Live
Commercial piglet production, as in all forms of confined intensive animal farming systems, is designed to create the most amount of product (piglets) using the smallest space, with the least amount of labor and the cheapest cost, in as short a time as possible.
Breeding female pigs (sows) are impregnated through artificial insemination (AI) for the first time as young as 6 or 7 months old. They endure continuous breeding cycles, producing 5-7 litters, before they are exhausted and slaughtered after 3 to 4 years. Once serviced, each sow is kept in a steel-barred cage the size of her body. It is 2m (7 ft) long and so narrow that she cannot even turn around. She remains confined in this body cage, called a "gestation crate," until a week before she gives birth, for the first time at 16½ weeks. Then she is moved to a divided cage, or "farrowing crate," which is only wide enough for her to lie on her side and nurse her piglets through a separating barrier. A typical litter can be as large as 25 piglets, and all are taken away within 2-4 weeks, instead of the natural nursing period of 12-14 weeks. The mother is then returned to her gestation crate, and after a single week interval the cycle is started again.9 Intensive confinement like this produces stress and boredom-related behaviors, such as chewing on cage bars or obsessively pressing on their water bottles.
Weanlings spend the next 6 weeks in groups, sometimes arranged in a battery system where small metal cages are stacked on top of one another in rows. Because the piglets are overcrowded and prone to stress-related behaviors (such as cannibalism and tail-biting), farmers chop off their tails and use pliers to break off the ends of their teeth — with no anesthetics. Male pigs are castrated at only 2 weeks old to manage aggression brought on by confinement.10 Identification schemes include mutilating by cutting out a series of deep notches around the edges of their ears, which can be deciphered like a hallmark,11 riveting a plastic tag through the ear, or using a tattooing device called a "slap marker" that punctures numbers into their skin.12
When they are between 8-12 weeks old, young pigs are transferred to fattening sheds called "hog parlors." They remain there for another 4-12 weeks before being sent to slaughter. Twenty pigs crouch and huddle in each pen of about 2m square (7½ ft by 7½ ft), with 25 pens in every shed. A typical operation has 10 such buildings, houses about 5,000 pigs, and is staffed by one caretaker. The barns are dark to keep the animals quiet, but when a visitor enters, all 500 pigs erupt in panic with squeals and shrieks.
Matthew Scully, on such a visit, describes the pandemonium and the sick and dead pigs who are "...never examined by a vet...never even noticed by anyone." He condemns the disregard and "the powerful betrayal of veterinarian ethics...tumors, fractured bones, festering sores, whatever, none of these receive serious medical attention anymore."13 When noticed, the downer pigs are thrown into the dead pile to be rendered and even turned into pig feed. With horror and grief, Scully relates that "in this strawless dungeon of pens are all these living creatures...never leaving except to die, hardly able to turn or lie down."14
No wonder they are sick; no wonder the mortality rate is so high. Approximately 150 different physical problems and diseases compromise pigs on factory farms; many are fatal, many are transmissible to humans, and many have a potential epidemic effect on the entire herd.
There are 22 zoonotic diseases in farmed pigs that cross over to humans and other animals. Of those, 14 are considered so dangerous that they must be reported so action can be taken to prevent widespread epidemics. No manpower is devoted to medical treatment because it is simply cheaper to render or bury or burn the carcasses.
Reportable Pathogenic Diseases in Pigs
How Pigs Die
Once pigs reach market weight of 100-115 kg (about 250 lbs) at 12-24 weeks, the industry refers to them as "hogs," and they are loaded onto trucks and sent to be slaughtered. There are no laws to regulate the duration of transport, frequency of rest, or provisions of food and water for the animals. One study confirmed that vibrations, like those made by a moving truck, are "very aversive" to pigs. When pigs "were trained to press a switch panel, to stop for 30 seconds the vibration and noise in a transport simulator...the animals worked very hard to get the 30 seconds of rest."15
A review of pork industry practices in the United States found that more than 100,000 pigs die on the way to slaughter each year, and more than 400,000 are crippled from the journey by the time they arrive at the slaughterhouse.16 Further, the number of pigs who died during transportation was because of "rough handling and incorrect management at the time of loading and transportation."17
At a typical slaughterhouse, the sheer number of animals killed makes it impossible for them to be given humane, painless deaths. Because of improper use or malfunction of stun guns, many hogs are alive when they reach the scalding water bath, which is intended to soften their skin and remove their hair. The United States Department of Agriculture documented 14 humane-slaughter violations at one processing plant, where inspectors found hogs who "were walking and squealing after being stunned as many as four times."18 An industry report explains that "continuous pig squealing is a sign of... rough handling and excessive use of electric prods." The report found that the pigs at one federally inspected slaughter plant squealed 100 percent of the time "because electric prods were used to force pigs to jump on top of each other."19 Gail Eisnitz, in her landmark exposé of the slaughter industry, documents workers' descriptions of the killing line. Hysterical pigs climb on one another trying to escape, and inevitably they are forced on, shackled, and have their throats slit whether stunned or not. They also confirm reports that some pigs make it as far as the scalding tanks, or even the butchery process, while still conscious.20
The consumption of pork and other animal products has been linked to numerous cancers, and a study of more than 90,000 women concluded that "frequent consumption of bacon, hot dogs, and sausage was...associated with an increased risk of diabetes."21 Another study found that the children of pregnant women who consume cured meats on a daily basis run a "substantial risk of developing a pediatric brain tumor."22
Pork products are known carriers of foodborne pathogens. One study found that more than 50 percent of the tested samples of ham were contaminated with staphylococcus, and another study determined that "traditional salting, drying and smoking of raw pork meat was not anti-microbiologically effective" against Salmonella typhimurium.23 Outbreaks of potentially fatal trichinosis, which comes from the consumption of improperly cooked pork, have occurred in Israel.24
Each day, pig factory farms produce billions of pounds of manure. The solid and liquid waste is collected in man-made holding ponds called "lagoons." The vast quantity generated is impossible to dispose of completely and is polluting the land, underground aquifers, lakes, rivers, and eventually drinking water. The nutrient-rich runoff from factory farms turns rivers into a perfect environment for the proliferation of Pfiesteria piscicida, an organism that emits a deadly toxin. Millions of fish are killed, and humans exposed to this polluted water have been reporting body sores and seizures.25
Because crowding creates an atmosphere that encourages disease, pigs on factory farms are fed and sprayed with huge amounts of pesticides and antibiotics, which remain in their bodies and are passed on to the people who eat them, creating serious human health hazards. Scientists believe that meat-eaters' involuntary consumption of these drugs is giving rise to strains of bacteria that are resistant to treatment.26 The World Health Organization has recommended that factory farms stop using antibiotics.27 In addition, the routine use of antibiotics in feed has resulted in the spread of the "superbug" MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). Recent studies in Europe and the United States suggest that almost half of the pigs on factory farms, as well as half of the pig farmers, carry a new MRSA strain (ST398), which can cause a dangerous human heart inflammation and result in a heart attack or aneurysm. More broadly, by 2005 MRSA was responsible for the deaths of more than 18,000 people a year in the United States — a higher mortality rate than AIDS. Now, with the added vector of the enormous farmed pig population, the risk has grown exponentially.
Monsanto (the firm that controls patents for many genetically modified plants, and the producer of deadly PCBs) is attempting to gain control of pig production. They are claiming intellectual property rights for certain methods of artificial insemination, including a specific device. The patents would give the company rights over pigs produced following certain breeding protocols. Claims have already been filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization, seeking legal patent protection in more than 100 countries. Farmers and consumer advocates are concerned that Monsanto will take control of basic farming techniques.28
11 Scott Brady, "Proper Way to Ear Notch Pigs," Nebraska Cooperative Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NB:
15 A.J. Zanella and O. Duran, "Pig Welfare During Loading and Transportation: A North American Perspective," I Conferencia Virtual Internacional Sobre Qualidade de Carne Suina, via Internet, 16 Nov. 2000.
19 Temple Grandin, "2001 Restaurant Audits of Stunning and Handling in Federally Inspected Beef and Pork Slaughter Plants," 2002 Meat Institute Animal Handling and Stunning Conference, Colorado State University: Department of Animal Sciences, 2002.