Posted: 03/14/2009

 

Death on a Factory Farm

by Elaine Hegwood Bowen




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Death on a Factory Farm is a disturbing documentary to be aired exclusively on HBO March 16. The documentary investigates owners of a hog farm in Creston, Ohio, who have been accused of blatant abuse of their animals. An undercover documentarian talks his way into a job on the hog farm to find abuse at every turn. The film is so riveting that it would turn anyone against ever yearning for a hot dog again, let alone a nice pork loin roast.
More than 10 billion animals are raised for consumption in the United States annually, and most of these animals are bred on industrialized farms, with virtually no federal laws mandating the animals’ treatment. In most cases even state guidelines are basically ineffective.
Death on a Factory Farm reveals just how gory things get for the hogs being raised on the Wiles Hog Farm.
After becoming pregnant, sows are kept in close quarters in pens that allow little movement, only to be sent to similar confining steel cages shortly before they are due to give birth.
Once the piglets are born, the documentary reveals, they are abused, thrown around and horded together on a stripped down school bus as they are sent off to farms for slaughter.
But it gets better—or in this case, worse—for the piglets who are just too weak to survive the abrupt removal away from their mothers. Piglets that just can’t survive are killed on the spot, with some being tossed from crates across the room. One scene suggested that a factory worker shot one piglet after taking it outside, and yet another piglet was slammed against a wall and then placed in a bucket while his life slowly slipped away.
After the piglets are destroyed, they are thrown into a pit for burial, until the pit becomes too crowded and is then covered with dirt, right there on farm property!
The crippled sows are hung from their necks with the help of a fork lift. The film shows one sow thrashing for minutes, with the hog farmers watching, until it’s finally dead. The hog farmers view this as their own form of euthanasia, saying that to have a vet come onto the property every time they needed to dispose of a sick pig would be too costly.
Many of the sows die after their babies are taken away; and others bleed from the nipples from the unusually rough treatment. Some of the “downers,” or the sows that are too sick to stand on their own, are often cannibalized by the healthier pigs. Watching this on the film was totally disgusting!
While some workers did express remorse at what was standard procedure, nothing is done to stop “junk pigs” from being killed.
The six-week undercover investigation leads to charges brought against Wiles Hog Farm, with the assistance of animal rights group the Humane Farming Association.
“It’s definitely one of the most cruel things I have done in my life,” the undercover worker says about his experience working on the hog farm.
The factory owner and workers face their accusers in court. In the trial that followed, much is said about the legal and moral issues associated with the factory’s practices. The presiding judge called the evidence “distasteful and offensive,” while others deemed the actions “typical hog farm practices.”
But whose position prevails in the end: the rights of the hog farmers to make a living the best way they know how, while supplying America’s families with the “other white meat,” or the animal rights activists who serve as the “voice” for the silent animals? Tune in beginning Monday, March 16, to find out.
Death on a Factory Farm is great HBO investigative reporting. For more information, visit HBO.com.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.



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