Undercover look at pig-raising operation brings grocer reaction

Costco says it will investigate. The local warehouse-store company changed its practices after an earlier investigation by the same animal-rights group into the treatment of calves.

Costco says it will investigate. The local warehouse-store company changed its practices after an earlier investigation by the same animal-rights group into the treatment of calves.

An undercover investigation by an animal-rights group into hog-farming practices has gotten the attention of Costco, the locally based wholesale club.

Mercy for Animals, a non-profit organization that focuses on preventing what it views as cruelty to farmed animals, held a press conference in Seattle on Wednesday (June 29) to pressure Costco and other companies to stop using Swift Pork Company as a supplier due to its treatment of farm animals at their Iowa Select Farms in Kamrar, Iowa. Mercy for Animals' undercover investigation operation at Iowa Select Farms revealed a variety of practices, including mother sows confined to gestation crates and piglets being castrated and having their tails cut off without painkillers. From April to June, Mercy for Animals recorded footage that was used to make a short video, which was played at the press conference. (The video launches automatically on the group's web site; some of the content is distrubing.)

Mercy for Animals has done 16 undercover operations, and the group says it selects its targets randomly rather than on the basis of tips or efforts to check out particular food sellers' suppliers. Daniel Hauff, director of investigations, said during the press conference that in each investigation, instances of what the group regards as animal abuse were discovered.

The end of gestation crates seems to be a main focus of Mercy For Animals. These crates have been outlawed in the European Union, New Zealand, and the states of Florida, Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, California, Maine, and Michigan. Mercy for Animals also provides information on vegan and vegetarian diets.

In an Associated Press report carried in The Seattle Times, Costco President Craig Jelinek said the company met with a Mercy for Animals representative at the start of the week and will investigate. Crosscut's calls to company spokespeople for further comment on Thursday weren't immediately returned. AP reported that Kroger and Safeway have both suspended purchases from Swift, pending investigations into what the video found. A Swift company executive told AP that the video gives an inaccurate presentation of operations but the firm would withhold further comment until an investigation is completed.

Costco last year condemned the practices of a veal supplier following another Mercy For Animals undercover investigation. In a letter about the new investigation, Mercy for Animals commended Costco for "implementing a company-wide policy against the sale of veal from calves kept chained by the neck in narrow wooden crates." About the new investigation, Mercy For Animals (MFA) wrote: “MFA is not only asking you to immediately end the sale of Swift pork brand products at Costco stores but to adopt animal welfare policies prohibiting the sale of products from facilities that cruelly confine mother sows in [small] crates. … MFA further asks that you also immediately implement policies prohibiting the sale of products from supplier who fail to provide even basic anesthesia during castration and tail docking procedures.”

Hauff, who said he met with Costco officials, expressed hope for an early response from the company.


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