Undercover footage that appears to show horrifying conditions at a Walmart pork supplier has prompted investigations at a Minnesota factory farm.
Local law enforcement executed a search warrant at Pipestone System's Rosewood Farms in Pipestone, Minn., on Oct. 9, following a complaint filed by animal rights nonprofit Mercy for Animals. The organization says an undercover private investigator collected first-hand evidence, including video footage, of inhumane treatment of pigs raised and slaughtered at the facility.
The hidden-camera footage appears to show pregnant pigs confined in tiny "gestation crates," pigs being punched and abused, and piglets being thrown on their heads and mutilated without anesthetic.
Although the Pipestone County Sheriff’s Office told The Huffington Post it found "no evidence of animal neglect or abuse" during its search, the nonprofit's video has led to independent investigations by Walmart and Pipestone System.
Watch the video here: (WARNING: Content is extremely graphic and may disturb some viewers)
Matt Rice, the director of investigations at Mercy for Animals, told HuffPost the investigator -- whose identity has been kept private -- spent 10 weeks posing as an employee at Rosewood Farms earlier this year.
Animals were found to be living in "nightmarish conditions," Rice said over the phone Wednesday.
"Pregnant pigs are confined in tiny metal crates that are just barely big enough to hold them," he said of the factory farm. "They're basically immobile for their entire lives. They can't turn around, they can't lie down comfortably, and they suffer from large open wounds and pressure sores from rubbing against the bars."
Many of these sows "typically go mad in these conditions," Rice added. "They smash their heads against the bars and bite them out of stress and frustration."
Pregnant pigs in gestation crates at Rosewood Farms (Screenshot/Mercy for Animals)
Rice calls these gestation crates -- banned in the European Union and in nine U.S. states, including California, Colorado, Florida and Arizona -- "one of the most cruel forms of institutionalized cruelty."
Unlike more than 60 other major retailers, including Kroger, McDonald's, Safeway, Costco and Kmart, which have all refused to work with pork suppliers that use gestation crates, Walmart has not instituted such a policy.
"We're calling on Walmart to take a stand against this blatant animal abuse and to do what their competitors have already done," Rice said.
Pork producers have long maintained that gestation crates have many benefits that make them useful. For instance, the crates are said to allow for better management of individual sows and to protect the animals from the aggression of other pigs. Last year, the New York Times reported that "about 60 to 70 percent of the more than five million breeding sows" in the U.S. are kept in these crates.
Commenting on this issue, Danit Marquardt, a spokeswoman for Walmart, told HuffPost:
This is a complicated issue [...] We are currently engaged with pork suppliers, food safety experts and other organizations to work towards an industry-wide model that is not only respectful of farmers and animals, but also meets our customers’ expectations for quality and animal safety.
In addition to gestation crates, Mercy for Animals says the investigator found evidence of other inhumane practices at Rosewood Farms.
Boars who are kept for breeding purposes are kept in similarly tiny crates, Rice said, and animals who are sent to be slaughtered are forced to live in cramped pens, where they are deprived of sunlight and fresh air for their entire lives.
In the video above, narrated by "Babe" actor James Cromwell, employees of the farm appear to be cutting off the tails and testicles of piglets without anesthetic.
"Pigs are widely thought to be one of the world's smartest animals," Rice said. "They are incredibly intelligent and social, and are able to feel joy and pain and suffering just as dogs and cats do. Yet, they are subject to such needless cruelty."
An employee is seen grabbing several piglets by their feet at Rosewood Farms (Screenshot/Mercy For Animals)
Commenting specifically on the employees' seemingly haphazard handling of animals seen in undercover video, both Pipestone System and Walmart have expressed outrage. The companies have also vowed to address the allegations of abuse.
"Pipestone System does not condone any type of willful animal abuse," the company said in a statement obtained by HuffPost. Pipestone added that it has conducted an internal investigation into the alleged mistreatment of animals, which resulted in the "immediate termination of one employee, reassignment of another and follow-up training of the remaining employees."
A Walmart rep told HuffPost the company is conducting its own investigation into the allegations of abuse.
"The animal handling in this video is unacceptable," the rep said, adding that a "new comprehensive auditing and tracking program for pork" -- which promises to help ensure that the company purchases pork only from farms that are "certified to meet the highest standards for the treatment of animals" -- is scheduled to roll out in the coming weeks.
The nonprofit says it has conducted at least two dozen such undercover investigations at factory farms, dairy farms, hatcheries and slaughterhouses in recent years -- three of which, including the most recent at Rosewood, were at Walmart pork suppliers.
"Every single time, our investigators have brought back images that would horrify most Americans," Rice said. "This is a sign that mutilating animals without anesthesia and confining them in cages so small they can't turn around are considered standard industry practice."
A major problem, says Rice, is that though there are federal laws in place to guard against animal cruelty, many states have "common farming exemptions." In other words, farm practices that may otherwise be seen as inhumane are perfectly legal so long as they are considered standard policy in the farming world.
This means, Rice says, that a large proportion of the roughly 9 billion animals that are raised annually for human consumption in the United States may be subject to cruelty.
"Change starts with awareness. Once people know about the conditions that these animals are subject to, we hope they'll stand up and demand change," he said.