Pigs are incredibly intelligent, social and complex individuals. Studies have shown that pigs have similar cognitive capabilities as dogs and small children.A typical myth, as well as general language involving pigs, revolves around the idea that pigs are dirty as they like to roll in mud. In fact, pigs don’t have functional sweat glands, so they use the mud to cool themselves down in the heat, as well as for cleaning purposes. They’re actually very clean and hygienic, and will always choose to urinate and defecate away from their living areas when they can.  

Open Sanctuary: Desmond wallowing in the mud

It’s hard to imagine a world where these animals are forcibly impregnated, held captive in small and crowded pens, mutilated, abused and brutally slaughtered. Yet, even though we have the resources and ability to find alternate food products, this is exactly what happens. Our society neglects to educate and inform consumers of where their meat comes from, who their meat is (or was), and of the life that was taken away from someone.  

Estimates show that the global pig production and pork market will be worth USD 464 by 2027. As well as for their flesh, they are also used in other industries that produce leather, dog food, medicine and makeup.

Artificial Insemination & Pregnancy

Boar (uncastrated domestic male pig) semen is used to artificially inseminate sows (adult female pigs). Dummy sows are used to arouse the boar, who mount the apparatus. Following this, the farmer grips the boar’s penis. The boar naturally thrusts against this pressure and ejaculates.

The legal requirement for housing boars is a stall at least 0.7m width by 2.4m length or a pen with floor space of 6m^2. They can be forced to repeat the process of unconsented genital manipulation 3 times a week for years, until they are slaughtered. In this genetically modified industry, boars typically live to about 4 years of age, which is less than a quarter of what their natural life span can be. The diagram below demonstrates how reasons such as ‘Low Semen Value’ and ‘Lack of Libido’ are commonly used for culling boars.

Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology: “The percentage of boars culled before and after 4 yr, by culling reasons. LSV- low semen value, LL- low or lack of libido, LP- leg problems, ID- infection diseases, OA- old age, RD- reduced demand for semen of the given boar, OT- others”

To complete the artificial insemination process, a sow is aroused and a catheter is inserted into her vagina, with a semen bottle containing boar semen attached to the other end. 

Once pregnant, sows are moved either to group housing or sow stalls. Sow stalls are metal cages slightly bigger than a fully grown sow; they only have room to sit, stand or lay down. In Australia, since 2017, the pork industry has been phasing out sow stalls, with around 80% of sows in “group housing” currently. Where sow stalls are still in use, the industry Model Code of Practice states farmers should confine the pregnant mother in a sow stall for a maximum of six weeks per reproductive cycle. The gestation period of a sow is roughly 116 days (approximately 16 weeks).

Though perceived as being “higher welfare”, group housing of pigs actually has it’s own unique set of welfare concerns, including aggression and lameness.

Farm Transparency Project: Sow stalls at Sheaoak Piggery, South Australia.

Shortly before birth, sows are put in farrowing crates, allowing them just enough room to lay down for their babies to feed. There’s no room to turn around, so accidentally squishing their babies is common, and can cause injury or death to the piglets.

Due to economical reasons, the mother’s babies are forcibly removed at 3-4 weeks old, and both mothers and babies can be heard crying out for each other after this occurs. 

Farm Transparency Project: Piglets finding comfort by sleeping on their mother in a farrowing crate.

Farmers will continue to exploit the mother with more pregnancies until her body starts “failing” reproductively, evident through issues including miscarriages, birthing less than a “required” number (typically 10 piglets) per pregnancy, or poor milking ability. Since these issues impede on her ability to deliver profit, she will be sent to slaughter. 

Farm Transparency Project: A sow with “CULL” spray painted on her body

Piglets/grower pigs

Piglets are separated from their mother at just 3-4 weeks old (naturally they would stay with their mother for several months) and kept in crowded pens together (grower sheds). 

Without the use of pain relief, their tails are cut off and teeth clipped. These practices are justified by the industry as a way to limit pigs’ ability to act on aggressive behaviours occurring due to unnatural living conditions, such as biting each others’ tails off and cannibalism.

Farm Transparency Project: Trolley full of piglets’ tails, cut off without pain relief.

Ear notching, a process involving cutting off sections of their ears, is used as a (painful) means of identification, again without any form of anaesthesia. 

Farm Transparency Project: Pigs with painful ear notching (used for identification). 

Since weak or sick piglets will be of no profit to farmers, they are killed immediately. The usual method of stunning piglets is through blunt force trauma to the head with a hammer or other heavy object. They are then bled out. 

Their diet consists of grains, as well as antibiotics to promote growth and to counteract diseases and infections that may occur due to their unhygienic and overcrowded living conditions. This causes concern for big picture issues such as human antibiotic resistance.

Transport & Slaughter 

Naturally, pigs can live up to 20 years. When they’re bred into the meat industry, slaughter is at 6 months of age. Globally, 1.47 billion pigs are slaughtered in the meat industry every single year. 

On route to slaughter, pigs are forced onto crowded trucks, using electric prods, paddles & scare tactics. Pigs often have food and water withheld prior to and during transport. Although the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for the Land Transport of Livestock advises that the maximum amount of time without water for pigs is 24 hours, compliancy is difficult to regulate. Transport can last from several hours to several days.

Once at the slaughterhouse, they are moved into holding pens. There have been a number of documented cases where workers use unnecessary physical force, including kicking, hitting, and using electric prodders for excessive amounts of time in places like their ears, anus & other sensitive body parts.

Pigs are stunned using a firearm, captive bolt gun to the head, electrical stunning, or most commonly today, CO2 gas chambers. An investigator who spent time in a pig gas chamber noticed their eyes burning immediately, and, as per Animal Liberation Victoria, this “led to the discovery that when carbon dioxide reacts with liquids or mucus coated membranes (like… the eyes, nostrils, sinuses, throat, and lungs), it forms carbonic acid. From their first lungful of gas, these pigs are burning from the inside out.” 

Farm Transparency Project: Pigs being gassed inside CO2 chamber.

Whether still conscious or not, their throats are then slit and their bodies are hung by one leg to bleed out. Their bodies (again, sometimes still alive) are then placed into scalding tanks to burn off hair and soften skin, followed by deboning & packaging for human consumption.

Australian Pork: Legal & standard methods of slaughter. 

Further Welfare Issues

Confinement restricts pigs from participating in natural behaviours such as socialising, foraging & nuzzling dirt. Due to this, they fall into behavioural patterns where they repeat actions such as swaying their heads, biting and chewing on the metal bars of their cage, and aggression. These are known as stereotypies. Further, inability to exercise in confinement causes deterioration of their muscles & bones, leading to issues moving.

Pregnant sows have natural tendencies for nesting, but in sow stalls they are confined with metal bars on cold, hard floors, in their own waste. The lack of ability to act on instinct places sows under severe stress and gives rise to aggression towards other sows and their own piglets. 

Disease is inevitable in farms due to the incredibly poor living conditions; extreme crowding, lack of clean air and ventilation, being forced to live on their urine, faeces and vomit, living closely among pigs with disease and dead bodies of pigs who died prematurely. 

Arthritis and other joint issues also appear, arising due to joint infections, as well as their unnatural rapid growth due to genetic manipulation. 

We Animals: “Piglets standing on a dead piglet at a factory farm. Sweden, 2009.”

Environmental Impacts

Water and air pollution

Farm Transparency Project: Waste Lagoon at piggery in South Australia

Deforestation

A late 2017 study found that each year, pork production emits around 668 mega tonnes CO2-eq of greenhouse gases. As well as this, excrement run-off spreads into surrounding neighbourhoods, polluting the air and the water of adjacent communities, and causing negative health effects to these populations. Research has shown that People of Colour and people with a lower socioeconomic status are more likely to live close to hog farms in the US, which means that these negative health effects are impacting already marginalised groups of people. This concept is known as environmental racism, or injustice. Additionally, waste run-off can contaminate surface water with nitrogen and phosphate, which can cause eutrophication and lead to oceanic dead zones and loss of marine life.

In 2013, approximately 75% of all farming land globally was for livestock production. A major cause of GHG emissions is through deforestation in order to grow food for livestock. 9% of all livestock emissions globally are due to pork production. 

Deforestation is also extremely detrimental to native flora, fauna and indigenous people, and is a huge cause of biodiversity loss throughout the world. All of this to grow food to feed animals, instead of growing food for humans to eat directly instead.

Human Impact

Mental and physical implications of pig farming

As mentioned above, there are large levels of air pollution due to pig farming. Pig faeces decomposes into hydrogen sulphide, which is toxic to humans, and both farmers and community members are constantly exposed to this. 
Being constantly exposed to death, as well as actually killing individuals, has strong links to Perpetration Induced Traumatic Stress (PITS) and other mental and behavioural issues.

Alternatives

The question is, why choose to be anything other than kind? Nowadays, there is such a wide variety of food options that don’t involve ending someone else’s life. The convenience of living in the 21st century means we have endless resources, such as the internet, TV and books, where we can find alternatives to flesh. Most large grocery chains, and even some smaller specialty food shops, cater for those wanting to keep animals off their plate.

Facon

Bacon is a diet staple for a large number of people around the world. Yet, as we’ve learnt, what the typical consumer sees regarding bacon neglects where bacon actually comes from. With brands such as Made With Plants, they are revolutionising this product in a delicious, cruelty free way.

Jackfruit

Jackfruit is a great substitute for pulled/shredded pork. Tacos, sliders, burgers (as shown in the image by Bianca Zapatka) or wraps – jackfruit is a great option! Jackfruit can be purchased in tins or whole, you use your fingers to pull the flesh apart into the “pulled pork” texture, which can be easily seasoned with herbs and spices.

Pepperoni

Pepperoni is one of the most popular pizza toppings, and these vegie delights plant-based slices ensure that this can still be on the dinner menu.

Roast Pork

Each serve of Plant Asia plant-based roast pork has minimal fat and a good amount of fibre. As well as this, it contains 21g of protein. As a mythical lack of protein can be a hesitation to start a plant based diet, products like this help to educate this falsity of this claim.