Full info link:
Hidden Video and Whistleblower Reveal Gruesome Mass-Extermination Method for Iowa Pigs Amid Pandemic
May 29 2020, 5:08 p.m.
Iowa’s largest pork producer, Iowa Select Farms, has been using a cruel and excruciating method to kill thousands of pigs that have become commercially worthless due to the coronavirus pandemic. As is true for so much of what the agricultural industry does, the company’s gruesome extermination of sentient animals that are emotionally complex and intelligent has been conducted entirely out of public view.
But The Intercept, as the result of an investigation by animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, has obtained video footage of the procedure and the resulting carnage that occurred at one of the company’s facilities in mid-May. Additionally, a whistleblower employed by Iowa Select has provided extensive details to The Intercept about the extraordinary methods now being employed to kill pigs — agonizingly and over the course of many hours — in increasingly large numbers.
What prompted both the DxE investigation and the whistleblower to come forward is Iowa Select’s recent adoption of the mass-extermination method known as “ventilation shutdown,” or VSD. Under this method, pigs at the company’s rural Grundy County facility are being “depopulated,” using the industry’s jargon, by sealing off all airways to their barns and inserting steam into them, intensifying the heat and humidity inside and leaving them to die overnight. Most pigs — though not all — die after hours of suffering from a combination of being suffocated and roasted to death. The recordings obtained by The Intercept include audio of the piercing cries of pigs as they succumb. The recordings also show that some pigs manage to survive the ordeal — but, on the morning after, Iowa Select dispatches armed workers to enter the barn to survey the mound of pig corpses for any lingering signs of life, and then use their bolt guns to extinguish any survivors.
The whistleblower told The Intercept that when Iowa Select began using the ventilation shutdown method in late April, it first experimented on a smaller group of hogs by just shutting off the airways into their barn and turning up the heat. Other employees told similar stories to DxE investigators. After those experiments failed — the oxygen-deprived pigs survived over the course of many hours, the whistleblower said, due to a failure to increase the heat to fatal levels — Iowa Select decided to begin injecting steam into the barns, to accelerate the accumulation of heat and humidity. That steam is visible in the video provided to The Intercept and is the culmination, at least thus far, of several attempts to perfect VSD. The whistleblower explained the process:
They shut the pit pans off, shut the ventilation fans off, and heat up the building. That’s what the plan is. It’s horrific as it is. It was first used on test cull sows: those were first given the VSD treatment. The first day they shut off all the fans and turned the heat up and the hottest they could get the building was 120 degrees. After four to five hours, none of the animals were dead. There was an attempt to induce steam into the building, along with the heat and the ventilation shutdown, and that is how they ultimately perfected their VSD operation. Every time they’ve been euthanizing the animals, it’s been a test in a sense. Piglets were killed off in a barn with gas generators.
The profit model of the agricultural industry depends, of course, on raising animals in ways that cause suffering for years and then ultimately killing them to convert them into meat. Though food lines are growing around the United States, the coronavirus pandemic has prompted factory farms to exterminate animals en masse because of the erosion of their commercial supply chains. Numerous slaughterhouses have been forced to close due to Covid-19 outbreaks among their insufficiently protected employees, and this has only increased the amount of “excess” animals the industry regards as worthless and disposable.
Rather than caring for these animals until pre-pandemic demand returns, or converting them into discounted or donated food for millions of people who have suddenly become unemployed and food insecure by caring for the animals until slaughterhouse capacity can accommodate them, many companies, including Iowa Select, have evidently made decisions driven exclusively by a goal to maximize profits. In sum, they are slaughtering these now “worthless” animals in vast numbers as fast as possible, using extermination methods that cause sustained suffering and agony, to avoid the costs of keeping them alive.
During the pandemic, mass slaughter has become commonplace at factory farms, even though many of these farms are not where large-scale killing is meant to occur. In normal times, the animals would be transported to slaughterhouses and killed there in ways that, at least in theory, minimize the cruelty by accelerating the death process. But mass killings that radically deviate from the normal slaughterhouse process are now rampant in this industry and are expected to increase. “At least two million animals have already reportedly been culled on farm, and that number is expected to rise,” The Guardian reported on April 29. Officials in Iowa “have warned that producers could be forced to kill 700,000 pigs a week due to meat plant slowdowns or closures.”
This mass extermination requires the use of life-extinguishing procedures which, prior to the pandemic, were not typically employed by this industry. And those procedures are anything but quick, painless, or humane, as this four-minute video produced by The Intercept demonstrates:
The Horrors of Ventilation Shutdown
The decision to kill healthy animals in unusually large numbers has led many factory farms to resort to methods that are novel and gruesome. The quickest and most merciful way to induce death for so many animals at once — shooting them in the head one by one — would be too emotionally traumatizing even for factory farm employees who are accustomed to raising animals in order to bring them to slaughter. Even when standard industrial methods of slaughter are used, factory farm work has been demonstrated to entail serious mental health harms for workers.
But the method of ventilation shutdown now being used at Iowa Select causes pigs to endure great anguish over many hours on their way to death. On the hidden audio recorders placed in the barn as part of DxE’s investigation, sustained screams of distress and agony are audible as the heat fills the building while the air supply is shut down. The deployment of armed workers to shoot any pigs who are clinging to life in the morning is designed to ensure 100 percent mortality. But the number of pigs in the barn is so great that standard methods to confirm death, such as pulse-checking, are not performed, making it quite possible that some pigs survived the ventilator shutdown, were not killed by bolt guns, and are therefore buried alive or crushed by the bulldozers that haul away the corpses.
Iowa Select has not responded to numerous questions submitted by The Intercept. But upon discovering that investigators from DxE had obtained video footage from inside one of its barns showing the suffering of pigs during this process, the company tried to preempt this reporting by admitting its use of VSD in an article published last week by a pork industry newsletter. “The thought of euthanizing entire herds is devastating,” a company spokesperson told the newsletter. “Sadly, Iowa Select has been forced to make this heartbreaking decision for some of its herd.”
To another industry outlet, the company “announced in a statement that they have been forced to euthanize some of its herd,” emphasizing not the pain endured by the animals that were exterminated, but the suffering of company executives: “‘It’s been hard on us to come to those decisions,’ says Pete Thomas, DVM at Iowa Select Farms.”
The video obtained during DxE’s investigation and provided to The Intercept viscerally conveys the inhumane cruelty of this extermination method. The video cameras placed inside the barn, along with audio recorders, were activated shortly after DxE investigators learned that a ventilation shutdown was scheduled for a particular night in mid-May.
Those video and audio devices recorded the start of the killing process, beginning with the sealing off of all airways, and continued all night as the pigs suffered and died. The devices continued recording through to the next morning, when Iowa Select employees entered the barn, finished the extermination process by shooting the pigs who managed to survive and then removed the corpses using bulldozers. The audio recorders document the noises of anguish emitted by the pigs during the procedure, as well as the sound of guns finishing off survivors. It also records discussions by Iowa Select Farms about what they were doing, followed by their eventual discovery that hidden cameras had captured everything that was done.
In an interview with The Intercept, the whistleblowing employee of Iowa Select, who originally wanted to speak on the record but changed their mind due to fear of reprisals from the industry that dominates their state, described the abuses that prompted them to reach out to DxE even prior to the pandemic. The whistleblower recounted how their pre-Covid-19 anguish escalated significantly over the last several months, and how they were pushed over the limits of their conscience by witnessing the unparalleled horrors of their employer’s use of ventilation shutdowns.
Prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus, the whistleblower decided to covertly communicate with DxE investigators after reading a study published by the group on the inhumane and often illegal confinement of factory farm pigs in which they linger for years with no adequate space even to turn around. The conditions in which the Iowa Select pigs were kept — with nowhere near enough room to be considered humane by the whistleblower — was increasingly weighing on their conscience. The whistleblower explained to The Intercept that a “massive increase” in pig production over 2019 led to the already cramped space for pigs becoming even smaller. Despite being around farms for decades, the whistleblower could hardly bear to see what was happening. “It’s immoral, hard to see every single day,” they said.
Months ago, the whistleblower even began conducting research into regulatory requirements, after observing that the pigs were being stored in ways that appeared to them to be “double what is permitted” by applicable standards. But they quickly determined that the state would have little interest in taking action.
Indeed, the agricultural industry has long used its economic dominance to influence both political parties and the legislative process to enact laws and regulations with little purpose other than to maximize their profit margins and conceal from the public the realities of how they operate. The industry succeeded even to the point of inducing the enactment of now-notorious and constitutionally invalidated “ag-gag” laws, designed to punish various forms of transparency intended to show the public the realities of what takes place inside industrial farms. A short documentary produced by The Intercept last year revealed pervasive abuses in Iowa’s meat industry and how those abuses are protected and enabled by industry-dominated politicians who receive substantial donations and dutifully subject themselves to industry lobbyist control.
The whistleblower’s growing concerns about the ethics of this industry “quickly evolved” as the coronavirus pandemic began seriously affecting factory farms. The pandemic caused “massive backups,” the whistleblower said. As market gluts and slaughterhouse shutdowns increased, the whistleblower began to suspect that “massive kill-offs of healthy pigs” were being planned by the company: Pigs, in the whistleblower’s words, “are now being killed for no reason.”
This realization of imminent mass extermination using methods that cause death slowly and painfully elevated the crisis of conscience to an entirely new level. “The weight of that was pretty heavy, to be honest,” the whistleblower said. Over the course of the last several months, the whistleblower began seeing Iowa Select implement new protocols and schedules for the transportation of pigs, reviewing documents describing new procedures, and hearing from other facility employees about plans for ventilation shutdown. That was when the whistleblower concluded that the reality of killing healthy pigs en masse was coming “very much sooner rather than later.”
The Iowa Select Farms whistleblower is far from being a coastal animal rights activist or vegan fanatic ideologically opposed to all animal agriculture. The source is virtually the opposite of that industry-peddled caricature: someone who has been around farming, including industrial agriculture, for their entire life. They are someone fully accustomed to the raising and slaughtering of animals for food, often under repressive and inhumane conditions. And yet, even with all of that mental conditioning and cultural immersion, the whistleblower was reaching the breaking point for what their conscience could withstand even before the Covid-19 pandemic. Once the pandemic ushered in all-new moral atrocities, they could no longer morally justify staying silent and complicit about an industry that has long provided them and much of their community with employment.
Rather than becoming inured to these abuses as the result of daily exposure, the whistleblower was becoming increasingly sickened by them. While this “is an industry I’ve grown up around,” the whistleblower said, “I wasn’t becoming numb to it. It was affecting me more and more every day: feeling the compassion and empathy for these animals that we were working with every day, then beginning to question” the ethics and morality of industrial practices.
As The Intercept has often documented, pigs are social animals at least as intelligent and emotionally complex as dogs, who experience the full range of emotions from life: joy, playfulness, love, connection, pain, loss, suffering, and grief. But at least prior to the coronavirus pandemic, even with all the immense suffering factory farm animals endure — bred by industrial agriculture to live in extreme deprivation, which often includes being confined for years in cages so small they can never even turn around, living in festering disease, and being genetically modified to be more profitable to the point that their own distorted bodies cause constant pain — the method of slaughter that finally ends their suffering is typically (though not always) free of sustained, enduring pain and agony.
But the pandemic, while having no effect on the inherent moral value of these sentient beings, has stripped them of their commercial worth. And that has resulted in the industry using extermination methods outside of the standard processes, producing new ethical and moral horrors in an industry that was already suffused with them.