For International Bacon Day held today, a brief glance at the lives of the animals behind this so beloved torturous flesh.
Meet The So Beloved Torturous Flesh
The pig industry consists of two different herds, each with its own function.
The breeding sows function is to produce as many piglets as possible. The role of the piglets is to produce meat. They are reared to the age of 4-6 months then they are slaughtered.
18 to 20 piglets per sow per year is common in the industry. By selective breeding, pig breeders attempt to increase the number of piglets per sow and some have already reached more than 30. The more baby pigs born, the greater the fight between them over their mother’s teats. The industry’s solution is more genetic manipulations of course. They have simply “created” a sow with two more teats. There is no limit to the industry’s effort to squeeze more money at the expense of the poor animals.
The sows are kept in metal-barred stalls or tether stalls which are so narrow that the sow cannot even turn around, she can only take a step forwards or backwards. The sows are confined in these stalls throughout their 16½ weeks of pregnancy. Pregnancy after pregnancy after pregnancy.
A sow is fed at one end of the crate, and her feces collects at the other. Some crates are so narrow that simply standing up and lying down require immense effort. In some factory farms, the sow is tied to the floor by a short chain or a strap around her neck.
All the sows are deprived of all exercise and of any opportunity to fulfill their social and psychological needs.
In January 2013 new welfare regulations regarding the sow stalls came into force in the EU. As usual, 12 years adjustment was given to the farmers at the animals’ expense, and as usual it barely even addressed one aspect of a life full of suffering.
As opposed to what is sometimes professed, sow stalls weren’t banned but their time use was restricted. The sows are legally imprisoned in them for the first month of their pregnancy, and illegally for as long as their captors desire, since as long as these torture devices are there and as long as nobody is going to enforce the new regulations, sows will keep being crumpled in these stalls.
To this day not all of the EU members have implemented the required welfare regulations despite that they were given 12 years to do so. In response EU officials have sent rebuke letters to these countries, another evidence of the irrelevancy of legislation.
And that only goes for the EU, several US states, Canada and New-Zealand. All represent a relatively small portion of the pigs industry. Most of the pigs are tortured in the rest of the US states and in China which is by far the biggest pig producer in the world. And maybe the saddest thing about the EU reform is that as lame as it is, activists can only dream of such reforms implemented in China where the industry has only started to shift from small backyard farms to massive intensive factory farms, and is growing in frightening scale.
With population growth, rapid economic development, continuous urbanization and an expanding middle class, China’s total pig consumption has increased fivefold since 1980. In the mid-1970s, in the midst of the country’s Green Revolution, an average Chinese citizen ate an average of 8 kilograms of pig flesh per year. Today, each person in China eats about 39 kilograms – even more than Americans.
Until the 1980s 95% of Chinese pigs came from smallholdings with fewer than five animals. Today just 20% come from these backyard farms. Some industrial facilities, often owned by the state or by multinationals, produce as many as 100,000 pigs a year each.
About a week before the sows give birth, they are moved to another type of cage, one that the EU 2013 reform didn’t include – the farrowing crate.
Sows are devoted mothers and would normally spend days building a nest of leaves or straw. On the concrete or metal floor of the farrowing crate, they cannot do this and so lapse into a stereotype behavior. They simply go mad.
The bars on the crates totally restrict the pregnant sows’ ability to move. This causes their whole body to ache and many have back and leg problems. The bars prevent them from reaching their babies, though the babies can reach their mothers’ teats to suck. Sometimes short chains or rubber straps are used to immobilize the mother to give the piglets easy access to her. Five days after her piglets are taken away, the sow is being raped again and the whole misery-cycle starts all over again.
Animals produced for meat are ‘crop’.
It starts with the sows which are treated as reproduction machines, production units of baby pigs.
The worth of a sow is measured by the number of piglets she successfully weans per year.
Life In The Pens
Normally, piglets would stay with their mother for about 15 weeks. However, on factory farms, they are taken away at 2 to 3 weeks, weighing only about 15 pounds. They are crowded into small filthy “nursery” pens surrounded by metal bars and concrete.
The air in these factories is laden with dust and noxious gases which are produced by the animals’ urine and feces. Studies of workers in pig confinement buildings have found that 60% have breathing problems, despite the fact that they spend only a few hours a day inside the confinement buildings. Imagine how the pigs who have an acute sense of smell must feel like. Ammonia fumes damage their lungs and unsurprisingly many die of respiratory diseases.
Lameness, sores and other leg, back and hip problems are all very common in the pig industry. Urinary tract infections are also very common, especially among sows, as result of low levels of activity and since pigs have to lie and sit in their feces.
The pigs are deprived of fresh air, quietness, natural diet and exercise, freedom to forage, walk, roam, explore, dig and interact, wallow in mud and develop natural social relationships. This confinement in semi-darkness would torture any sentient being.
The lack of environmental stimulation in the pens and in the sow stalls prevents any normal behaviors and leads to psychological disorders including: chronic stress, aggression, depression and frustration.
The result is that the pigs and the sows develop abnormal and neurotic coping behaviors, like waving their heads from side to side, biting bars over and over again, or biting each other’s tails. Some sows become apathetic and unresponsive. They are in a severe state of depression.
Bored and frustrated, many chew and bite the other pigs’ tails. Tail-biting can lead to infections and abscesses, so to prevent tail-biting, most farmers cut the piglets’ tails with pliers or a hot docking iron.
Many piglets’ pointed side-teeth are clipped down to the gum with pliers, in the first few days of life. This is done to prevent them from injuring either the sow’s udder or the faces of their litter mates, leaving them shocked and bleeding.
Ear notching is the most popular method of identification in commercial farms.
Pigs are ear notched using specially designed pliers, which leave v-shaped notches in the ear.
Most male piglets are castrated. Castration is done because consumers find the meat of intact males objectionable. The piglets are castrated without anesthesia.
Although many drugs are given to pigs throughout their lives, pain relievers are not among them, not in any of the mentioned procedures.
Selective breeding is being used to develop pigs with faster growth rates and quicker, heavier muscle development. Pigs’ legs are simply unable to keep pace with the growth rate of the rest of their body. As a result pigs suffer from painful joint and leg problems.
Selective breeding also forces the pigs’ muscles to grow out of proportion to their blood-vessels, lungs and heart. They can be physiologically affected by not being able to get enough oxygen into their muscles, and so even a young pig can have a heart attack.
Loading, Unloading and Transportation
After 4 to 6 months of hell, when the pigs reach the industry’s desirable weight, they are violently loaded on the transport trucks off to the slaughterhouse.
The pigs who are denied normal movement for most of their lives, are suddenly expected to get as fast as possible from the transport trucks into the slaughterhouse.
And as always time is money so all the “necessary” means are being used to load and unload the pigs on and off the truck, as fast as possible.
Pigs cannot sweat. If the weather in the truck is too hot, pigs’ temperatures soar. They pile up over one another to get to the air vents. In cold weather, they huddle together for warmth. Consequently some die from suffocation.
When the trucks reach the slaughterhouse, if the pigs refuse to “co-operate” with their tormentors, they are bludgeoned, kicked and brutally assaulted until they are totally subdued. In many cases it happens while the pigs are so terrified and traumatized that they silently dream-walk.
Once inside the slaughterhouse, the first thing that probably strikes the pigs is the noise. In some locations it is like a roaring mechanical tide, elsewhere it is the sound of metallic slamming and clanking of chains and hooks, coupling and uncoupling, the hiss of power hoses, the bang of the “captive bolt” as it penetrates the skulls of cattle, mixed with the shrieks of terror from doomed animals.
Prior to being hung upside down by their back legs and bled to death, pigs are supposed to be ‘stunned’ and rendered unconscious. However, ‘stunning’ is terribly imprecise, and this results in conscious animals hanging upside down, kicking and struggling, while a slaughterhouse worker tries to ‘stick’ them in the neck with a knife.
If the worker misses, the pig is carried to the next station on the slaughterhouse assembly line, the scalding tank, where he is boiled alive.
Simply mumble ‘MMM…Bacon!…’ became the icon of the idiotic responses humans make when they encounter a serious, well based, rational arguments against consuming nonhuman animals. But that notorious “response” is not the most common one. The most common is conveniently looking away while continuing with the same cruel habits. Whether humans are defying and trolling or aphetic and dogmatic, the victims keep losing.