In this file:
· Livestock welfare: 'It doesn't sound humane, and it's not'
… "There's very little margin for error in this system, and there's very little flexibility," said Dena Jones, farm animal program director for the Animal Welfare Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit group. The group's priorities aim to "abolish factory farms, support high-welfare family farms, and achieve humane slaughter for animals raised for food"…
· Why euthanize 600,000 pigs?
There exists a deeper and more concerning reason that should trouble the farmers who raise these hogs, the economic structure of the packing plants that process them, and the consumers…
Livestock welfare: 'It doesn't sound humane, and it's not'
Marc Heller, Environment & Energy News/Greenwire
May 19, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic is drawing new attention to what life is like for farm animals in their final days.
With a food supply system that can't easily handle meatpacking plant closures, American agriculture has been faced with the unpleasant reality that hundreds of thousands of hogs and chickens can neither go to market nor be kept indefinitely on farms.
Animal welfare groups are seizing on the pandemic to point to loosely applied standards for how to humanely end the lives of farm animals that aren't sick, as well as to the shortcomings of industrial-scale livestock agriculture that puts most of the meat supply chain in the hands of a few big companies.
"There's very little margin for error in this system, and there's very little flexibility," said Dena Jones, farm animal program director for the Animal Welfare Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit group.
The group's priorities aim to "abolish factory farms, support high-welfare family farms, and achieve humane slaughter for animals raised for food."
The crisis also provides a platform for groups opposed to animal agriculture and meat consumption, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which says on its website, "Animal agriculture is cruel, unsustainable, and bad for the environment, and people should make the shift to vegan eating."
The pandemic has hit the meatpacking industry especially hard because of the easy spread of the coronavirus among employees who work in close proximity. A handful of temporary plant closures cut off the supply chain for much of the hog industry in the Midwest and has sparked meat shortages and rationing in supermarkets.
Among the difficulties, she said, is widespread confusion over the terms "euthanization" and "depopulation."
Euthanizing is humanely ending the life of an animal that's sick or injured, Jones said, if following the guidelines of the American Veterinary Medical Association. In that situation, she said, methods that minimize the animal's pain may be paramount.
Depopulation is killing larger numbers of animals in emergency situations, and the AVMA's standards are different. In those cases, the AVMA guidelines say, ensuring the welfare of animals is one of several considerations because the operation often has to be done quickly and on a larger scale.
"Therefore, the emergency destruction of animals through depopulation techniques may not guarantee that the deaths the animals face are painless and distress free," the AVMA said in the guidelines, updated last year.
Depopulation is a grim and traumatic task that shouldn't be carried out on the farm but handled in processing facilities, House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) recently told reporters. He shared information about farm workers spending hours shooting hogs after meatpacking plants closed (Greenwire, May 4).
Pigs and chickens grow fast. With pigs in particular, plants are designed to handle animals of a certain size and won't accept them at heavier weights. In some cases, Jones said, smaller facilities have more flexibility to do so, highlighting a weakness in an industry geared toward large-scale production.
Jones said her organization has received reports of chickens being depopulated by turning up the heat in the confined areas where they're kept and turning off the ventilation — a method called "ventilation shutdown," which is allowed under AVMA depopulation guidelines.
"Obviously, it doesn't sound humane, and it's not," Jones said.
She said her group has tried without luck to persuade the AVMA to revise its standards. The killings underway shouldn't be considered depopulation, she said, because the conditions for spreading the coronavirus in plants were avoidable...
Why euthanize 600,000 pigs?
Michael Slattery, Opinion, Wisconsin State Farmer
May 19, 2020
A New York Times article on May 14, 2020 noted that Iowa hog farmers are estimated to euthanize 600,000 hogs in the following six weeks while Minnesota farmers already had killed 90,000 hogs. For these farmers, this pencils out roughly to losses of $96.85 million and $14.53 million respective for Iowa and Minnesota hog farmers (at $57.65/cwt for a 280 lb. hog). The National Pork Producers Association estimates that between April and September 2020 about 10 million hogs may have to be euthanized, a loss of $1.6 billion to farmers.
The reason? The COVID-19 pandemic striking workers in meat packing plants has either reduced operations or temporarily shuttered them such that these hogs cannot be slaughtered, butchered, and shipped for meat that consumers were expected to acquire—a justifiable reason for shuttering these plants. While at its peak, year on year processing was down by close to 45 percent of capacity; this has now narrowed to 20 percent as of May 18, 2020.
It is not that these hogs are no longer consumable as meat. There exists a deeper and more concerning reason that should trouble the farmers who raise these hogs, the economic structure of the packing plants that process them, and the consumers that demand a certain type of product both from the grocers and the service providers.
Large hog packing plants will only procure hogs of a specific size and quality. Anything outside that they reject, and for mega-hog farmers, they cannot easily find other processors. Thus, hog farmers are unable to ship their pigs to these large plants once the pigs exceed the weight limit. With contracts and other arrangements that farmers have in sourcing slaughter hogs for these plants, this means that if the plants cannot process the hogs at a specific time, these hog farmers must dispose of their over-weight livestock. This is monumental waste!
Large packing plants of major processors are set up to operate most efficiently with little waste with a fixed infrastructure and through robotic cutting, specialized worker operations, and packaging in order to garner the highest profit. They also contract with service providers such as restaurants, cafeterias, etc. and with grocers that only want cuts of specific sizes and forms that the consumer demands on average. Packer profitability and consumers’ narrow demand are driving this waste.
This shortage of slaughter has generated higher prices for the consumer, more profit for the packers, and losses for the hog farmer. While the July futures’ markets may show a live hog price of $57.65/cwt, the actual USDA daily carcass price for cornbelt hog packers had a weighted average of $37.85/cwt and nationally was $36.90/cwt, while the national live weighted average price was $30.02/cwt. Nevertheless, the weekly primal loin value was $160.69. This spread indicates the hog farmers are effectively subsidizing at their loss the enlarged profit of the packers and the consumers are paying inflated market prices due to irrational demand.
We should question why these packers are unwilling or incapable of adapting their operations, even on a temporary basis, to process these overweight hogs. We should also raise the consciousness of the consumer to restrict their purchases of only specific product characteristics. Years ago when we farmers did our own butchering, we took every part of the animal and put it to some use, no matter the size of the animal or the size of the cut.
While we as farmers are partially responsible for over-production of not only livestock, but grain, dairy, etc., we should address the processing structure also. For example, Smithfield Foods...