Advocates’ video targets farm of pork producers’ president

Published on December 04, 2013
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An advocacy organization says its secretly recorded video shows abuse on a Minnesota hog farm owned in part by the current National Pork Producers Council president. 

Randy Spronk, whose one-year term as NPPC president started in March, said the video published in late October by Mercy for Animals does not show criminal behavior, but one employee was fired for practices seen on the video that violated company policies.

The video was recorded on a Pipestone System farm owned by the Spronk Brothers III company, of which Spronk is the managing partner. His company sells about 120,000 pigs annually, according to the NPPC.

Mercy for Animals is using the video from Spronk’s farm and two other farms in a campaign to convince Wal-Mart to stop buying pork from suppliers that use gestation stalls, a type of individual confinement for pregnant sows. Some of Wal-Mart’s competitors, such as Kroger and Safeway, are among dozens of companies in the U.S. and Canada that make or sell pork and have pledged in recent years to eliminate use of the housing from their supply chain.

Matt Rice, the investigations director for Mercy for Animals, said his organization knew at the start of the investigation that Spronk was one of the farm owners, but did not target the farm for that reason. He said the farm was the first to offer a job to a Mercy for Animals investigator who applied for work on farms in and beyond Minnesota.

The four-minute video appears to show at least one worker hitting pigs and a worker performing tail trimming and castration without the use of anesthesia. 

Spronk said he and other managers reviewed, second by second, an extended eight-minute version that had been given to a local prosecutor. He estimates about 30 seconds showed animal treatment that was inappropriate and counter to company animal welfare policies, while other parts of the video showed sows resting in comfort.  

Rice described the gestation stalls shown in the video as “the cruelest form of institutionalized animal abuse that we saw at this facility” for its physical and psychological effects.

Spronk said he wants an open discussion on gestation stall housing and food production, and he thinks consumers are not fully informed about animal housing. He said all housing options have advantages and disadvantages, citing the competition among sows for food seen in group housing.

He also said animal owners are misleading themselves and society if they think that animal welfare problems will never occur, and suggested that owners need to concentrate their efforts on quickly identifying and immediately correcting such problems when they do crop up.

The employee who was fired, Spronk said, was shown on the video using manually applied blunt force trauma in an attempt to euthanize piglets, a task he was not permitted to perform.