http://www.sltrib.com/2003/Jan/01232003/utah/22578.aspA couple from Cedar City who worked briefly for Circle Four Farms say they quit in disgust after seeing what they called "inhumane" conditions at the hog production complex in southwestern Utah.
Wayne Jenson and his wife, Krysta Jenson, said they witnessed workers slamming small pigs against the wall or floor, beating uncooperative sows with metal rods and improperly castrating newborn pigs.
They also said they were disturbed by the assembly-line efficiency of the operation, saying it gave animals little freedom or space to move around.
Circle Four officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Paul Sundberg, assistant vice president of veterinary issues for the National Pork Board, based in Washington, said he could not comment on the veracity of the Jensons' allegations but noted some of the practices they cited are acceptable in the meat industry.
The Jensons began work at Circle Four on Nov. 28, 2001. They soon decided it was a bad career move.
"One day as we drove out [to work], I told Wayne I just couldn't do it anymore, and he said, 'You know what? Neither can I,' " said Krysta Jenson.
That was Dec. 14, 2001. Since that time, the Jensons, now living in Salt Lake County, say they have tried to put the Circle Four experience out of their minds.
They are now venting their concerns publicly after seeing news reports last week in which Circle Four defended itself against allegations of abuse lodged by the United Animal Rights Coalition. Members of the Salt Lake City-based animal-rights group covertly visited the pig production facility last fall, documented alleged abuses and took two pigs that they said appeared to be ill.
"When [Circle Four officials] say there is no harm done to the pigs out there, that's nothing but a bald-face lie," said Wayne Jenson. "They are very money oriented. . . . They don't have any concern for the care of the animals."
The Jensons' allegations come at a time when traditional family farms are giving way to larger corporate operations, or "factory farms," which can produce millions of animals each year.
With about 500,000 sows currently in production, Circle Four annually ships 1 million hogs to market. It is the 15th-largest hog producer in the United States.
As the industry grows, so has scrutiny from environmental groups, which decry the water and air pollution created by the factory farms. Animal rights groups complain the pigs are housed in cramped quarters that can cause respiratory and neurological disorders.
Although Circle Four was diligent about keeping the animals clean and well fed, the Jensons say, at least four situations caused them concern:
* Questionable castration methods.
Wayne Jenson, who grew up on a sheep farm in Iron County, said the castration tools and training that workers received at Circle Four were inadequate. As a result, young pigs suffered unnecessary pain and, in a few cases, death when intestines were pulled out of the animals along with testicles. Jenson said he saw a lot of ruptures during the procedure.
Clippers used to cut into the pig's scrotum often were dull, adding to the pain, he added.
Sundberg said industry guidelines call for workers to be properly trained and to use proper equipment.
* Blunt trauma to kill unwanted pigs.
If a piglet did not weigh at least 5 pounds after a week, it got "knocked," a euphemism for "beaten to death." They estimated about six piglets were killed each day.
The most common "knocking" method was to grab the animal by its hind legs and slam it into a wall or concrete floor. Sometimes, they said, it took two or three such blows to kill the animal.
Krysta Jenson said the sound of pig-knocking made her physically ill and she refused to do it.
The practice of slamming pigs against a hard surface, or knocking them in the head with a club, is known as "blunt trauma," an acceptable method for euthanizing unwanted animals that has passed muster with the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, said Sundberg.
"It is not a pleasant proposition. It is, however, humane." Ideally, Sundberg said, the pigs die from the first blow.
* Beating of sows.
The Jensons say they observed workers beat uncooperative sows twice. On one of those occasions, a sow that refused to be transferred from one shed to another was pummeled with an 18-inch-long piece of re-bar.
"They bloodied her up pretty good," said Wayne Jenson.
Sundberg said pork industry guidelines do not support beating animals.
"There can be nothing but zero tolerance for any abuse."
* The general treatment of sows.
After sows are impregnated artificially they are placed in cramped pens to birth and nurse their young, Krysta Jenson said. After the piglets were taken away, the sows were visibly upset, she said.
Sundberg acknowledged that spatial issues are still an inexact science. But an international panel of experts in animal welfare will soon publish an article concluding that a stall in which a sow cannot turn around is no more or less humane than a sow in a pen or in a pasture.
As for taking away a sow's babies, Sundberg said there is no science to say whether it is deleterious to the sow, but "I'm not so sure I would subscribe to the theory that it is a traumatic experience to the mother."
The Jensons said they are not anti-meat but hope their statements will help change how farm animals are treated. Currently, farm animals raised for food in Utah are exempt from animal-cruelty laws.
"They [Circle Four] could change a lot of their practices, and be more humane," said Wayne Jenson.
Sundberg said the National Pork Board is developing a certification program in which producers will be able to assess the humaneness of their operations according to a set of objective criteria.
So far, however, there are no plans for independent audits of animal welfare at factory farm operations.