Story at-a-glance

  • Animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) rescued two dying piglets from a Smithfield-owned CAFO in Utah, while filming the inhumane and deplorable conditions
  • Armed with search warrants and bulletproof vests, FBI agents stormed two farm animal sanctuaries in search of the piglets, in an attempt to intimidate those who try to expose the realities of industrialized agriculture
  • Ag-gag laws and the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) further protect CAFOs while small farmers are often unjustly targeted

By Dr. Mercola

Few would argue that an FBI raid on two small farm animal sanctuaries — in search of two piglets named Lucy and Ethel — makes good use of the U.S. Department of Justice’s time or money. But when you learn the backstory — that the pigs were found near death at Circle Four Farm in Utah, which is owned by the world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods, and brought to a sanctuary to recover — the raid seems not only nonsensical but also barbaric.

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It’s the latest demonstration of intimidation by the federal government against those who dare speak out against industrial agriculture. Animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) was behind the undercover rescue, which also involved filming the deplorable conditions at the concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), as Circle Four “Farm” is not a farm by most people’s definition of the word.

Instead, it’s a CAFO where more than 1 million pigs are slaughtered every year, and a prime example of all that is wrong with modern-day livestock rearing. What is both incredulous and sad is that, rather than call out the cruel and public health-endangering practices at these CAFOs, the U.S. government goes to great lengths to protect and conceal them. In a comprehensive expose on the case, The Intercept wrote:

“The Justice Department’s grave attention to a case of two missing piglets reflects how vigilantly the U.S. government uses extreme measures to protect the agricultural industry — not from unjust economic loss, violent crime, or theft, but from political embarrassment and accurate reporting that damages the industry’s reputation.”

FBI Agents Actually Raided Animal Sanctuaries, Traumatizing the Volunteers and Animals

Armed with search warrants and bulletproof vests, FBI agents stormed Ching Farm Rescue in Riverton, Utah, and Luvin Arms in Erie, Colorado, in search of the two piglets rescued by DxE. “Under normal circumstances, a large industrial farming company such as Smithfield Foods would never notice that two sick piglets of the millions it breeds and then slaughters were missing. Nor would they care: A sick and dying piglet has no commercial value to them,” The Intercept reported.

Indeed. Yet, they came in and took a DNA sample of one small piglet by cutting off nearly 2 inches of her ear. The Intercept described the disturbing scene:

“The piglet’s pain was so severe, and her screams so piercing, that the sanctuary’s staff members screamed and cried. Even the FBI agents were so sufficiently disturbed by the resulting trauma, that they directed the veterinarians not to subject the second piglet to the procedure. The sanctuary representative recounted that the piglet who had part of her ear removed spent weeks depressed and scared, barely moving or eating, and still has not fully recovered.”

It’s thought that the FBI’s involvement in the case goes even deeper than this. Some of the sanctuary volunteers were questioned by FBI agents in their homes, even though the sanctuaries were not involved in the rescue, and later were informed of a “complaint” that they lacked required legal licenses. The animal rights activists also believe they’re under surveillance, with their private communications being monitored, all in a show of force to deter anyone from trying to expose what’s really going on behind the closed doors of CAFOs.

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This cas, in particular, was likely taken up by the FBI because it received a good amount of media attention, especially after The New York Times wrote about the rescue in July 2017. They also featured a virtual reality experience that’s been created to allow people to get a glimpse into the inhumane reality of CAFOs. As The Intercept put it:

“What has vested these two piglets with such importance to the FBI is that their rescue is now part of what has become an increasingly visible public campaign by DxE and other activists to highlight the barbaric suffering and abuse that animals endure on farms like Circle Four. Obviously, the FBI and Smithfield — the nation’s largest industrial farm corporation — don’t really care about the missing piglets they are searching for.

What they care about is the efficacy of a political campaign intent on showing the public how animals are abused at factory farms, and they are determined to intimidate those responsible. Deterring such campaigns and intimidating the activists behind them is, manifestly, the only goal here.”

Gestation Crates Still Used Despite Promises to the Contrary

Gestation crates are 2-feet-wide cages where breeding pigs spend nearly their entire lives, unable to even turn around. Commonly used on CAFOs, the crates are the definition of inhumane and cause severe stress to the animals, who in some cases will resort to chewing the bars of the cages incessantly, causing them to become covered in blood. It was in gestation crates, by the way, that the activists found the near-dead piglets, surrounded by others that had already died.

While several U.S. pork producers, including Smithfield, Cargill and Hormel, have pledged to phase the crates out, and fast-food chains including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Subway have promised to stop buying from pork producers who use them, the practice remains widespread in the U.S. Europe, however, banned gestation crates entirely in 2012, as did Canada in 2014. In the U.S., only nine states (those without many CAFOs) have banned gestation crates.

While Smithfield said they would transition from gestation crates to “group housing systems” by the end of 2017, DxE’s undercover video revealed that the crates are still widely used. “[W]hen … DxE visited Circle Four over the summer, they saw no signs whatsoever of any construction or reform efforts to move away from gestational crates … As the videos show, Circle Four had thousands of pigs suffering in such crates,” The Intercept reported.

Ag-Gag Laws, Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act Protect CAFOs

Ag-gag laws are heavily promoted by lobbyists for the meat, egg and dairy industries, as they essentially prevent anyone from exposing animal cruelty and food safety issues at CAFOs by:

  • Making it illegal to take undercover photos or videos
  • Requiring anyone applying for a job at a CAFO to disclose affiliations with animal rights groups
  • Requiring activists to hand over undercover videos immediately
  • Requiring mandatory reporting with extremely short timelines so patterns of abuse cannot be documented

While some courts have ruled ag-gag laws to be unconstitutional, they’re still in place in many states. As a result, undercover videos and revelations by whistleblowers are often the only glimpse that Americans get into the cruel world of CAFOs.

There’s also the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), a federal law that labels animal rights activists as terrorists if their action “intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property (including animals or records) used by an animal enterprise … for the purpose of damaging or interfering with its operations” — even if such interference is nonviolent in nature and minimal in terms of economic losses.

It was already illegal for animal rights activists to damage property, but AETA, passed in 2006, makes property damage caused by animal rights activists an act of domestic terrorism. The factory farm industry and its armies of lobbyists wield great influence in the halls of federal and state power, while animal rights activists wield virtually none, The Intercept reported, adding:

“This imbalance has produced increasingly oppressive laws, accompanied by massive law enforcement resources devoted to punishing animal activists even for the most inconsequential nonviolent infractions — as the FBI search warrant and raid in search of “Lucy and Ethel” illustrates.”

Organic Farms, Raw Milk Farmers Also Targeted

The FBI raids on animal sanctuaries are but one display of overzealous power against the wrong “enemies.” In 2015, a SWAT team raided “Garden of Eden” organic farm in Arlington, Texas, because they believed the commune was growing marijuana. It turned out there was no marijuana, only tomato plants. It’s similar to the raids that have occurred against raw milk farmers. On CAFOs, milk can be produced in filthy conditions, then heated until all the pathogens are gone.

Never mind that, along with killing “germs,” pasteurization kills off beneficial organisms in the milk and prevents natural souring (while naturally soured milk can still be consumed, pasteurized milk past its prime will quickly go bad).

Rather than forcing dirty and dangerous CAFOs to clean up their acts, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has waged a war against raw milk producers — those who are typically producing milk using far healthier, more humane and more sustainable methods than the industrial dairy industry ever could.

As more Americans demand the right to purchase and consume locally sourced food of their own choosing, increasing numbers of states are introducing legislation to loosen restrictions regarding intrastate sales of raw milk. Raw milk, by the way, is the only food banned from interstate commerce.

Small Farmer Raising Heritage-Breed Pigs Targeted by State of Michigan

The trend of targeting small farmers who threaten the CAFO status quo knows no boundaries. In 2010, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued an Invasive Species Order (ISO) to a small family-run farm, Bakers Green Acres, raising heritage-breed pigs. The ISO was intended to “help stop the spread of feral swine and the disease risk they pose to humans, domestic pigs and wildlife, as well as their potential for extensive agricultural and ecosystem damage.”

But hybrid or heritage swine, such as those raised by Bakers Green Acres, are not feral in the sense that they run around in the wild. Many hog farmers destroyed their heritage swine herds once the ISO was issued, but Bakers Green Acres sued the DNR for loss of livelihood instead. After a legal battle, the DNR reversed its decision, saying the pigs were legal after all.

Owner Mark Baker has, however, since been targeted with suspicious “routine” inspections, including one over a complaint that Baker was not licensed to sell prosciutto ham to restaurants, in which the inspectors were accompanied by Michigan state police. The Inquisitr reported, “Baker’s supporters allege that he was targeted after his legal battle with the DNR over the invasive species regulations. ‘This is complete and utter retribution,’ Baker told Mlive, ‘for the stance we took on the feral swine issue.'”

Smithfield Is Owned by a Chinese Company, Undermining Local Food Production

The federal protection of CAFOs at the expense of small family farms is undermining local food production systems. Chinese companies, for instance, are increasingly buying up American farmland and U.S. food producers. In 2013, Smithfield was bought by Shaunghui, the largest meat processing company in China. At $7.1 billion — 30 percent above its estimated market value — it was the largest-ever Chinese buyout of an American company.

Also included in the deal was $480 million worth of American farmland. With this buyout, the Chinese now own 1 out of every 4 pigs raised in the U.S. It should be noted, too, that Smithfield CAFOs in the U.S. are responsible for tremendous environmental pollution. North Carolina is the second biggest pork-producing state, which means it’s home to more pig CAFOs than average.

Smithfield owns most of them in the state. Some CAFOs treat animal feces in open-air lagoons and dispose of the waste by spraying it onto nearby fields.

The creation of new CAFO lagoons, and the spray systems, were banned in 2007, but older farms were allowed to continue their use. The term “lagoon” is a misnomer, by the way. Cesspool would be more accurate, as CAFOs do not treat the animal feces in any way. They simply add it to the often-unlined lagoons until they figure out where they can spray it.

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In the meantime, the liquefied waste often leaches into groundwater and wells, poisoning drinking water. When it’s sprayed onto fields, it often runs off into waterways, where the excess nutrients lead to algae overgrowth that depletes the water of oxygen and kills fish and other marine life.

It’s hard to imagine the magnitude of waste being produced by Smithfield’s North Carolina CAFOs, but this may help — the state’s pig CAFOs alone produce nearly 10 billion gallons of fecal waste annually, which is enough to fill more than 15,000 Olympic-size swimming pools, according to an analysis of maps and data of the state’s CAFOs by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Carefully Consider Where Your Food Comes From

If you want to take a stand against industrialized agriculture in favor of locally, humanely and sustainably produced food, consciously consider where your next meal will come from. You vote three times a day when you choose the foods for your meals. Will you vote for the system that is systematically destroying your health, animal welfare and the planet — or will you support those who are changing the world for the better, one meal at a time?

There are basically two different models of food production today, and there’s growing conflict between them. The first, and most prevalent, is the CAFO model that takes a very mechanistic view toward life, whereas the other — the local, sustainable farm model — has a biological and holistic view.

I encourage you to support the small family farms in your area that respect the laws of nature and use the relationships between animals, plants, insects, soil, water and habitat to create synergistic, self-supporting, nonpolluting and GMO-free ecosystems. Whereas industrial agriculturists want to hide their practices from you, traditional farmers will welcome you onto their land, as they have nothing to hide.

Whether you do so for ethical, environmental or health reasons — or all of the above — the closer you can get to nature the better. You’ll want to get your meat, chickens and eggs from smaller community farms with free-ranging, pastured animals, organically fed and locally marketed. This is the way food has been raised and distributed for centuries, before it was corrupted by politics, corporate greed and the blaring arrogance of the industrial food industry.

You can do this not only by visiting the farm directly, if you have one nearby, but also by taking part in farmers markets and community-supported agriculture programs. The following organizations can also help you locate farm-fresh foods in your local area, raised in a humane, sustainable manner.

*Article originally appeared at Mercola.