How can I send pigs that were born and raised on the farm to be processed for bacon? How could I do that to pigs that trusted me to care for them, to feed them; to treat them when sick; to scratch their bellies? Of course, these are the very same pigs that regularly escaped, tore up bags of wood shavings and opened the grain bin. To turn them into pork I have to respect their trust and be sure their last minutes are without drama.
I’ve shared stories in this column about a boar attack and raising piglets. Feeding pigs in freezing weather is challenging and not fun in the Spring when boot-sucking mud snatches boots off my feet. Raising pigs is demanding but never do I want them to suffer as they do with high-speed processing practices.
A humane ending is often not in the cards for pigs destined for high-speed processing plants. Did you see the video? The images of pigs, still alive on the conveyor belt, are gruesome ... all in the name of ‘high-speed’ processing.
A facility in Minnesota processes between 19,000 and 22,000 hogs per day. That’s more than 21 swine a minute or 1,300 every hour. At that rate it’s not surprising that mistakes are made. Joe Ferguson, who retired last September as an on-line USDA inspector, said, “It is my personal opinion that there is no inspection of carcasses under this program.” In an article on the Mother Jones website, Ferguson attributed this decreased attention to food safety to increase line speeds. He also stated the USDA was reclassifying food-safety violations so that they no longer required work stoppages for cleaning. “We used to stop the line for contamination,” he said, “we are no longer allowed to stop the line so they may be removed. Put ’em in the cooler and ultimately out to the consumer.”
That is no way to kill a hog or feed the public. Pigs are subjected to this handling because consumers want cheap pork. We can blame the processors, but in the end the responsibility lies with each one of us. How do you know if you are buying ‘high-speed’ processed meat? Just look a the price. If you pay $2.50 a pound for ham, it was likely rendered on a 'high-speed' line.
Pigs can be obnoxious and stubborn, but all animals deserve respect. Your purchases have an impact. Local processing means a slower-line yielding higher-quality pork and a humane end for each pig. Buy pork from your local farmer - even if it costs more. How much you pay and who you buy from makes all the difference.
You can submit your comments about ‘high-speed’ processing at http://bit.ly/NSIScomment