Panel on undercover video


The Center for Food Integrity approaches food systems debate with as much scientific objectivity as I've seen out there. Organizing an expert panel to offer opinion on the increasing number of on-farm undercover video releases seems like a good idea to me. Here is how CFI described its goal in a recent press release. Do note that the panel they've assembled isn't stacked with yes-members. These are independently minded and often outspoken experts. 


The release...


Process Established for Addressing Hidden Camera Livestock Investigations

CFI’s Animal Welfare Review Panel analyzes latest undercover probe at Iowa hog farm


Hidden camera investigations at livestock farms have heightened public attention on animal care issues. In an effort to foster a more balanced conversation and to provide credible feedback to promote continuous improvement in farm animal care, the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) has created an Animal Care Review panel.


The Panel, made up of recognized animal well-being experts, will examine video footage and report back to the public. The process has been established initially for the pork industry but CFI is willing to engage with other sectors of animal agriculture as they show interest.


The Panel will include an animal scientist, a veterinarian and an ethicist to assure various perspectives are represented. CFI is recruiting several experts to participate in the process, but for the video investigation at a swine operation in Iowa released last week by Compassion Over Killing, the panel is comprised of Dr. Temple Grandin, Colorado State University; Dr. Candace Croney, Purdue University; and Dr. Tom Burkgren, American Association of Swine Veterinarians (biographies below).

Ideally, the panel will receive complete and in-context video footage from the organization that obtained it. This will provide the best opportunity for the experts to have a full understanding of the situation. Short of that, the panel will review edited segments that have been released to the public.

After reviewing the video released last week the panel made the following observations:

Most of what is shown in the video are normally accepted production practices and there was nothing that could be considered abusive. It was noted that employees appeared to be competent and well-trained and that the barn floors and the pigs themselves were clean.

In one scene, an employee is shown castrating and docking the tail of a piglet in close proximity to the mother. The video contends the sow is grunting in distress. One of the experts said that while it is likely that the sow experiences some distress in such a situation, both the sow and her piglets would probably experience similar or greater levels of stress if the piglet was transported elsewhere.

An employee is seen using tape on a piglet’s incisions following castration. One of the experts noted such a practice is considered more welfare friendly than stitches because it is less intrusive and requires less handling of the pig.

There was a short glimpse in the video of what appeared to be a herniated piglet and it was implied it was caused by incorrect castration. One expert noted the assertion is not correct – that the condition was likely related to genetics.

A scene showing several flies in a farrowing room was a point of concern and something the experts felt should be corrected.

Another point of concern is a portion of the video addressing the practice of “back feeding” – a process in which organs of piglets that have died are fed to the sows to boost their immune systems. The experts noted that it is unclear if this practice involves sows or pigs and its exact purpose. It is a normally accepted production practice used to stimulate the immune systems of pregnant sows late in gestation. This results in more effective and improved passive immunity that is passed from the mother to her offspring through the colostrum.

A sow shown walking awkwardly because its hooves had not been properly trimmed was also discussed. The experts noted the hooves should have been trimmed but they would have preferred seeing more than just a few seconds of the sow in question so it could be determined if there was a lameness issue.

The issue of only seeing brief scenes was a common concern for the experts. They noted that seeing longer excerpts from the video would allow them to place the practices in better context to allow for evaluation that encourages continuous improvement.  Attempts by CFI to secure longer video segments from Compassion Over Killing were unsuccessful.   CFI remains committed to working with animal protection groups to secure more complete video for evaluation.

The Animal Care Review Panel operates independently. Its reviews, assessments, recommendations and reports will not be submitted to the pork industry for review or approval. CFI’s only role is to facilitate the review process and release the panel’s findings.  The opinions expressed in the review are solely those of the expert panel.

About our Experts

Dr. Temple Grandin

Colorado State University

Dr. Temple Grandin is one of the most noted experts in animal behavior and animal welfare. She is a bestselling author and consultant to the livestock industry. Dr. Grandin is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and also designs livestock handling facilities. She has authored over 400 articles in both scientific journals and livestock periodicals on animal handling, welfare, and facility design.


Dr. Candace Croney

Purdue University

Dr. Candace Croney is a renowned expert in applied animal behavior, with an emphasis on animal learning, welfare and ethics. She is an associate professor of animal sciences at Purdue University. She has contributed to nationwide animal welfare efforts working with organizations such as the American Zoo and Aquarium Association and many others. She is on the Scientific Advisory Committee of the American Humane Certified program, and her research on farm animal cognition has been featured in national and international broadcast programs.


Dr. Tom Burkgren

American Association of Swine Veterinarians

Dr. Tom Burkgren, is the Executive Director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV). He provides analysis and advocacy on issues related to the practice of swine medicine. Further, he develops public policy and manages the business affairs of the AASV. Dr. Burkgren received his DVM from Iowa State University in 1980 and his MBA from Drake University in 1989. His practice experience includes mixed animal practice as well as exclusive swine practice.

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A word on "Your Vote Counts"

Guest opinion from Estil Fretwell director of public affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is circulating an initiative petition in Missouri deceptively called, “Your Vote Counts.” On the surface, it may sound appealing. But when you consider the size and influence of HSUS’s out-of-state budget, is it your vote that counts or is it the money?      

As you recall in 2010, Missouri voters – after HSUS and others spent $5 million for petition signature gatherers and slick advertising – approved Proposition B to further regulate dog breeders. In 2011, the Governor and a bipartisan, overwhelming majority of legislators passed a law to make the proposal reasonable and workable. HSUS’s Wayne Pacelle CEO was incensed Missouri’s elected officials would change his law and swore reprisal, giving rise to Your Vote Counts.

Pacelle’s initiative petition is a constitutional amendment that would require an almost-impossible-to-obtain three-fourths majority vote of the state legislature to change a law approved by a public vote. Your Vote Counts would give groups like HSUS more control and help protect the “public policy purchasing power” of their money. 

The Missouri legislature is an important part of our checks and balances system of government, but with HSUS’s proposal, just 9 of Missouri’s 197 legislators could prevent changing “bought laws” that are not in the best public interest.

In shaping Missouri public policy, the influence of HSUS and other extremists’ war chests is alarming. They are hijacking Missouri’s initiative petition process by simply paying people to collect signatures and their place on the ballot to advance their own agendas.

The fourth quarter fundraising report for the Your Vote Counts Committee shows 99.91 percent of its funding came from contributors outside of Missouri. Of the $164,853.92 raised, only $150 came from Missouri. In contrast, HSUS bankrolled the effort with $87,305.39, ASPCA (another animal rights group) gave $50,000 and the rest came from out-of-state contributors. All this money paid for gathering signatures, creating the false sense of a public groundswell.

Once the initiative petition proposal is placed on the ballot, their huge national budgets can be used to buy television, radio, newspaper and other advertising to sway a public vote. For the most part, voters will only see and hear one side of the story. In 2010, HSUS and other financers of Proposition B outspent opponents 25-to-1.

HSUS’s annual budget is almost $150 million.  Sadly, the Washington, D.C.-based organization has all this money because most contributors believe they are helping fund their local pet shelters. Not so. Less than one percent actually goes to sheltering animals, while the remainder goes for fundraising, salaries, lawsuits and lobbying to shut down animal agriculture and sport hunting.

Buy the signatures, buy the commercials and now buy a constitutional amendment to increase their money’s influence even more. No matter what HSUS may call it, Your Vote Counts is about increasing their power, not yours. It perhaps should be renamed, Big Money Talks!

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China and the rural stupor

Over at Sp!ked, Patrick Hayes reinforces what ag economists have been telling us for a few years now: China’s urbanizing population needs our agricultural exports. 

Hayes says, “According to the Chinese statistics bureau, 691 million people now live in cities, amounting to just over 51 per cent of the [Chinese] population.”alt

That’s mind boggling in the way that so much of China is—sheer and massive statistics of humanity. Hayes goes on to say that the number of people living in cities could reach 70 per cent – approximately one billion people – by just 2030.

There are great implications of such movement. Obviously, commodity farmers in the United States see that demand as a light on the horizon, hopefully an underpinning demand that smooths the traditional boom and bust commodity price cycles. And yet, such huge demographic and economic shifts can also bring the kind of disruption that affects political and trade relationships. 

Of that great shift, Hayes says:

The human implications of this are very real: over a short period of time, hundreds of millions of people have been freed from millennia of toiling on the land, farming wheat, rice and millet. They have been liberated from what Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels rightly described as ‘the idiocy of rural life’, and which Engels termed the state of ‘isolation and stupor in which [humankind] has vegetated almost unchanged for thousands of years’.

Hayes is writing from an overall human welfare bent. We understand the notion that some rural places haven’t evolved much over time, and we read Messrs. Marx and Engels with all the caution required given history’s refining lens. But, did they really “rightly describe,” as Hayes has it, “the idiocy of rural life”? Maybe, had it gone their way, the revolution would have rendered the description as apt, but those of us out here shudder when called idiots. 

Oh…and how did Marx/Engels really write it? Just like this: 

Only as uniform a distribution as possible of the population over the whole country, only an integral connection between industrial and agricultural production together with the thereby necessary extension of the means of communication — presupposing the abolition of the capitalist mode of production — would be able to save the rural population from the isolation and stupor in which it has vegetated almost unchanged for thousands of years. It is not utopian to declare that the emancipation of humanity from the chains which its historic past has forged will only be complete when the antithesis between town and country has been abolished; the utopia begins when one undertakes "from existing conditions" to prescribe the form in which this or any other of the antitheses of present-day society is to be solved.

We put the emphasis on “presupposing,” which we suppose is the key part of liberating that rural population from their isolation and stupor. Yet absent the realization of that presupposition, there has been a liberation by modern markets, technology and, yes, governmental guidance. 

Something to ponder as you decide how to leverage your capital into the spring growing season, grease up that million-dollar line of equipment and decide what, how and where to plant your crop. 

Power to the people. 

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