When Hanging Isn't Cruel

Life on HBO's Factory Hog Farm

By MARTHA ROSENBERG

It was a Rodney King moment for the animal movement. A sow being hung by a Creston, Ohio hog farmer as a method of "euthanasia" in full view of a hidden camera http://www.hbo.com/docs/programs/deathfactoryfarm/index.html .

For excruciating minutes the sow, hanging by a logging chain from a front loader, suffocates and convulses while authority figures look on. Photos even show a farmhand hugging the animal while she dies to mock an upset employee.

And when the perpetrators are brought to court and the video introduced as evidence? Not guilty! (See: Rodney King; Simi Valley trial.)

Even though the HBO documentary that grew out of the 2006 incidents, Death on a Factory Farm broadcast in March, feels like a victory--it documents the agony of pigs on Ken Wiles' 6,000 sow farrowing operation and the trial that found him not guilty of cruelty--nothing viewers see is illegal or considered cruel.

Worse, Wiles, and his son Joe, still have their jobs, their pigs and their macabre way of putting pork on America's dinner table.

Ken Wiles was a stickler for manure management says "Pete," the Humane Farming Association (HFA) investigator/employee who shot the HBO video. Farm hands had to pressure wash every inch of manure from farrowing crates-- sometimes using knives-- while Wiles watched and corrected them.

He just wasn't a stickler about animal care.

"There were two different 'vaccines' with different names and different colored labels we were supposed to give the pigs to prevent diseases," says Pete in an exclusive interview. "I asked when we should be giving one versus the other and Wiles said it didn't matter as long as the animals got one."

Unfortunately "one" was nothing but sterile diluent.

Call it "triage" on an unmanageable 6,000-sow farm or the banality of factory farming says Pete but amid the rows of breeding sows--who bit and resisted their piglets removal--were pigs Wiles let starve to death.

"I'd watch them get thinner every day until they died," says Pete noting that Wayne County Municipal Judge Stuart Miller threw out the starvation charges in the original indictment and refused to allow most of the video into evidence because "he didn't want to watch it."

Vaginal prolapses as big as two feet, encouraged by slippery floors and confinement crates say veterinarians, were ignored--as were ubiquitous bleeding and infected vulvas.

Hanging was considered cheaper than lethal injection and safer than shooting an animal especially since some farm hands were "convicted felons forbidden to use firearms," said Ken Wiles in court. Yet Pete also witnessed Joe Wiles take a gun out of a pail and shoot a pig three times while never taking a break from his cell phone conversation or even taking aim. The wounded animal was still breathing minutes later.

Nor did "handling" make any sense.

"Shock poles were used on pigs even when there was nowhere for them to go or when they were so piled together they couldn't stand up anyway," says Pete. "They were even used when they would cause the animal to charge you. It made no sense at all."

Of course, the court testimony from Iowa veterinarian Paul Armbrecht that acquitted Wiles--that hanging was an acceptable method of euthanasia-- also made no sense. Aren't veterinarians sworn to alleviate animal suffering?

Nor did the $10,000 the Ohio Pork Producers Council donated to the Wiles' legal defense make sense in light of the National Pork Producers Council statement that the HBO's documentary "shows practices at a hog farm that are not condoned and, in fact, are abhorred by responsible pork producers." Make up your mind folks.

But most confusing is why agribusiness, the press and the eating public continue to view factory farm animal abuse as isolated instead of endemic and definitional.

And how the latter day "hanging judge" could view a sow suspended from a front loader and not see cruelty.

Martha Rosenberg can be reached at: martharosenberg@sbcglobal.net