Mark Bittman has an important blog post today highlighting a new investigation by the Humane Society into abuses of animals at Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer with annual revenues of about $12 billion.

Smithfield’s abuses are not new. For years, as Eric Schlosser chronicled in the pages of The Nation in 2006, this mega-agribusiness has used fear and intimidation to keep its workers in check. (As a 2005 Human Rights Watch report noted, their security force has even been charged with beating union members.)

The recent investigation is the latest examination by the HSUS into the operations of the nation’s top animal agribusinesses and its revelations are shocking, even for seasoned critics of industrial husbandry.  The investigator—who spent a month working undercover inside a Smithfield-owned facility in Waverly, Va.— documented numerous abuses:

  • Female breeding pigs crammed inside "gestation crates" so small the animals could barely move for virtually their entire lives. The animals consequently engaged in behaviors such as biting the bars of crates so incessantly that blood from their mouths coated the fronts of their crates.
  • The investigator never glimpsed a veterinarian on site. A barn manager told the investigator to ignore a pig with a basketball-sized abscess on her neck, and then cut the abscess open with an unsterilized razor.
  • Employees jabbed a lame pig’s neck and back with gate rods to force her to move.
  • Three times, the investigator informed employees that a pig was thrown into a dumpster alive. The animal had been shot in the forehead with a captive bolt gun and was thrown in the dumpster alive and breathing.
  • Employees mishandled piglets and tossed them into carts.
  • Piglets prematurely born in gestation crates fell through the slats into the manure pits.

The findings are powerfully distilled in this short video. Watch only if you can handle graphic testimony of animal torture. (I tried to embed it here but with no luck!) As you can see, the video shows that Smithfield sows spend their lives under unimaginably crowded, terrribly unhealthy conditions, overseen by incompetent workers who are indifferent to animal suffering.

As Bittman rightly writes, "I’m usually not one to cry "boycott," but…if you’re still eating industrially raised pork (or chicken or beef or fish for that matter) – get real. Any industry (and Smithfield is hardly alone, though it does seem to be performing most egregiously) that operates with such infuriating disregard for the welfare of their animals deserves all the trouble we can muster."

Please join the HSUS’s call and send Smithfield CEO C. Larry Pope a message imploring him to recommit to the company’s promise to stop the use of inhumane gestation crates on Smithfield’s factory farms.