Many people think of Charlotte’s Web and Babe when they imagine how pigs are raised for meat. Unfortunately, these Hollywood tales do not depict reality.
Almost all of the 100 million pigs killed for food in the United States every year endure horrific conditions in controlled animal feeding operations (CAFOs), the meat industry’s euphemism for factory farms.
Smarter than dogs, these social, sensitive animals spend their lives in overcrowded, filthy warehouses, often seeing direct sunlight for the first time as they are crammed onto a truck bound for the slaughterhouse.
Many people who know pigs compare them to dogs because they are friendly, loyal, and intelligent. Pigs are naturally very clean and avoid, if at all possible, soiling their living areas. When given the chance to live away from factory farms, pigs will spend hours playing, lying in the sun, and exploring their surroundings with their powerful sense of smell.
Considered smarter than 3-year-old human children, pigs are very clever animals.
Most people rarely have the opportunity to interact with these outgoing, sensitive animals because almost every pig raised today is raised on a factory farm. These pigs spend their entire lives in cramped, filthy warehouses, under constant stress from the intense confinement and denied everything that is natural to them.
As piglets, they are taken away from their mothers when they are less than 1 month old; their tails are cut off, some of their teeth are cut off, and the males have their testicles ripped out of their scrotums (castration), all without any pain relief.
They spend their entire lives in overcrowded pens on a tiny slab of filthy concrete.
Many breeding sows spend their entire miserable lives in tiny metal crates where they can’t even turn around.
Shortly after giving birth, they are once again forcibly impregnated. This cycle continues for years until their bodies finally give out and they are sent to be killed. When the time comes for slaughter, these smart and sensitive animals are forced onto transport trucks that travel for many miles through all weather extremes—many die of heat exhaustion in the summer and arrive frozen to the inside of the truck in the winter.
A mother pig, or sow, spends her adult life confined to a tiny metal crate. She will never feel the warmth of a nest or the affectionate nuzzle of her mate—she will spend her life surrounded by thick, cold metal bars, living on wet, feces-caked concrete floors. When she is old enough to give birth, she will be artificially impregnated and then imprisoned again for the entire length of her pregnancy in a “gestation crate,” a cage only 60cm wide—too small for her even to turn around or lie down in comfortably.
The piglets are taken away from their mother after less than a month—in nature, they would stay with their mother for several months.
She is impregnated again, and the cycle of forced breeding and imprisonment continues. For such an intelligent animal, this intensive confinement causes debilitating stress and boredom. With nothing to do but stare at the bars in front of her, a mother pig may go insane. This is often exhibited by neurotic chewing on the cage bars or obsessive pressing on her water bottle. After three or four years, when her body is exhausted and her mind pushed to or even past the brink of insanity, she is shipped off to slaughter.
Meanwhile, the sow’s piglets have their testicles cut out of their scrotums, their tails cut off, many of their teeth clipped in half, and their ears mutilated, all without any pain relief. Terrified and in extreme pain, the piglets are often put alone into tiny metal wire cages (called “battery cages” by the farmers). These cages are stacked on top of each other, and urine and excrement constantly fall on the piglets in the lower cages.
Once the piglets have grown too big for the cages, they are placed into small, cramped pens crowded with many other piglets, where they are kept until they are large enough for slaughter. The animals are given almost no room to move because, as one pork-industry journal put it, “Overcrowding pigs pays”. Impeccably clean by nature, pigs on factory farms are forced to live in their own faeces, vomit, and even amid the corpses of other pigs.
Overcrowding, poor ventilation, and filth cause rampant disease.
Respiratory problems are common because of high levels of humidity and toxic gases from the manure pits—in fact, 70 percent of pigs on factory farms have pneumonia by the time they’re sent to the slaughterhouse. Many pigs die from infections caused by the noxious fumes and filth of their enclosures. Pigs are fed massive doses of antibiotics to keep them alive in these conditions. Conditions are so filthy that at any given time, more than one-quarter of pigs suffer from mange.
Because of illness, lack of space to exercise, and genetic manipulation that forces them to grow too big too fast, pigs often develop arthritis and other joint problems. Many pigs on factory farms live on slatted floors above giant manure pits. Smaller pigs often suffer severe leg injuries when their legs get caught between the slats.
Always concerned with their bottom line, some farmers kill sick animals instead of giving them medicine or veterinary care. In nature, pigs live for 15 years, but pigs on factory farms are sent to slaughter after just six months of life. To get the terrified pigs onto the transport trucks bound for the slaughterhouse, workers may beat them on their sensitive noses and backs or stick electric prods in their rectums.
Crammed into 18-wheelers, pigs struggle to get air and are usually given no food or water for the entire journey (often hundreds of kilometres).
A former pig transporter told PETA that pigs are “packed in so tight, their guts actually pop out their butts—a little softball of guts actually comes out.