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PETA; More oversight needed in livestock industry

Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — An animal rights group called Wednesday for increased oversight of factory farms to help prevent the kind of livestock abuse it found in an undercover investigation at a hog farm in western Iowa.

The call came as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals announced it had filed complaints against a farm near Bayard after an undercover employee filmed video of workers abusing pigs.

The video graphically depicts workers castrating piglets and cutting their tails off without anesthetic, slamming piglets who aren’t deemed healthy enough on the ground to kill them, repeatedly kicking pigs, and hitting them with rods. In at least one instance, a pig had paint sprayed into its snout and onto its face.

The PETA investigator also found that employees used Blu-Kote to help shrink tissues around wounds and prevent infection in pigs. The substance is prohibited by the federal government for use on animals intended for human consumption because it’s carcinogenic, a PETA official said.

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"It doesn’t take an animal rights person to be outraged by the abuse of these animals," said Daphna Nachminovitch, the vice president of cruelty investigation for the Virgina-based PETA. "It was a complete culture of cruelty on this farm."

Nachminovitch said PETA is working in Washington to get legislation passed that would require more government oversight of factory farms.

"The USDA does not actually oversee the breeding farms. They oversee the slaughterhouses for human safety and health code violations and making sure contaminated meat does not make it through to your plate," she said. "As for animal welfare and protection, local and federal governments should play a much bigger role."

She said that even in slaughterhouses, which have USDA inspectors, the agency is slow to respond.

"The USDA is on site in those facilities and sees a lot of things that our investigators see but the facility isn’t cited until the video becomes public," Nachminovitch said.

PETA Vice President Bruce Friedrich said Wednesday that the group is working to expand the scope of the Animal Welfare Act, which excludes farm animals, and the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act, which only applies to the final moments of an animal’s life.

"We believe it should also include how animals are treated from the moment they’re born," Friedrich said.

He said PETA asked the USDA several years ago to re-evaluate its interpretation of the humane slaughter act but that the agency has not responded.

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Amanda Emich, a spokeswoman for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, which administers the humane slaughter act, said it does not address concerns dealing with abuse of livestock at farms.

Jessica Milteer, a spokesman for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the Animal Welfare Act only covers livestock that are being exhibited or those being used for research. It does not cover livestock being used for food, she said.

"There is no pending legislation to amend (the law) to include livestock on farms," Milteer said in an e-mail to The Associated Press .

Dustin Vande Hoef, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Agriculture, said the state does not have any laws that call for monitoring of livestock for abuse.

"We have things for clean water and the environment but not for monitoring abuse," he said.

Nachminovitch said PETA has sent an eight-point policy proposal to the Bayard farm and Hormel Foods in Austin, Minn., which buys hogs from the farm.

The plan includes the immediate termination and prosecution of any employee who abuses animals; protection for whistleblowers who go public with the abuse; a ban on all shocking devices; the installation of cameras; an annual animal welfare audit; and a phase-out of gestation crates.

Nachminovitch said PETA met with officials from Suidae, the company the manages the Bayard farm, to discuss the plan.

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"We’re cautiously optimistic that our dialogue will continue," she said.

She said complaints have been filed with the Greene County sheriff and county attorney and with the USDA.

"I hope criminal charges will be filed against the people responsible for the abuse of these pigs," Nachminovitch said. "I believe the local officials are taking this very seriously."

Greene County Attorney Nick Martino and Sheriff Tom Heater said Wednesday that the investigation is ongoing.

"We met with the PETA people on Tuesday and we received certain information from them and the investigators still need to review that information," Martino said.

Nachminovitch said the abuse found at the Bayard farm is not unique.

"Unfortunately, it’s a nationwide problem and we get whistleblower calls from all over the country," she said.

But she hopes that by spotlighting the abuse in Iowa, the nation’s largest hog producing state, it will raise awareness of the problem.

"Our purpose is two-fold — we want to make sure this stops and that the industry changes and that the public understands what they’re eating, where it’s coming from and what that animal may have suffered," she said.

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