HBO’s Whistleblower Talks About Hog Farm

It was a Rodney King moment for the animal movement. A sow being hung by a Creston, Ohio hog farmer as a method of “euthanasia” in full view of a hidden camera.

For excruciating minutes the sow, hanging by a logging chain from a front loader, suffocates and convulses while authority figures look on. Photos even show a farmhand hugging the animal while she dies to mock an upset employee.

And when the perpetrators are brought to court and the video introduced as evidence? Not guilty! (See: Rodney King; Simi Valley trial.)

Even though the HBO documentary that grew out of the 2006 incidents, Death on a Factory Farm broadcast in March, feels like a victory — it documents the agony of pigs on Ken Wiles’ 6,000 sow farrowing operation and the trial that found him not guilty of cruelty — nothing viewers see is illegal or considered cruel.

Worse, Wiles, and his son Joe, still have their jobs, their pigs and their macabre way of putting pork on America’s dinner table.

Ken Wiles was a stickler for manure management says “Pete,” the Humane Farming Association (HFA) investigator/employee who shot the HBO video. Farm hands had to pressure wash every inch of manure from farrowing crates — sometimes using knives — while Wiles watched and corrected them.

He just wasn’t a stickler about animal care.

“There were two different ‘vaccines’ with different names and different colored labels we were supposed to give the pigs to prevent diseases,” says Pete in an exclusive interview. “I asked when we should be giving one versus the other and Wiles said it didn’t matter as long as the animals got one.”

Unfortunately “one” was nothing but sterile diluent.

Call it “triage” on an unmanageable 6,000-sow farm or the banality of factory farming says Pete but amid the rows of breeding sows — who bit and resisted their piglets removal — were pigs Wiles let starve to death.

“I’d watch them get thinner every day until they died,” says Pete noting that Wayne County Municipal Judge Stuart Miller threw out the starvation charges in the original indictment and refused to allow most of the video into evidence because “he didn’t want to watch it.”

Vaginal prolapses as big as two feet, encouraged by slippery floors and confinement crates say veterinarians, were ignored — as were ubiquitous bleeding and infected vulvas.

Hanging was considered cheaper than lethal injection and safer than shooting an animal especially since some farm hands were “convicted felons forbidden to use firearms,” said Ken Wiles in court. Yet Pete also witnessed Joe Wiles take a gun out of a pail and shoot a pig three times while never taking a break from his cell phone conversation or even taking aim. The wounded animal was still breathing minutes later.

Nor did “handling” make any sense.

“Shock poles were used on pigs even when there was nowhere for them to go or when they were so piled together they couldn’t stand up anyway,” says Pete. “They were even used when they would cause the animal to charge you. It made no sense at all.”

Of course, the court testimony from Iowa veterinarian Paul Armbrecht that acquitted Wiles — that hanging was an acceptable method of euthanasia — also made no sense. Aren’t veterinarians sworn to alleviate animal suffering?

Nor did the $10,000 the Ohio Pork Producers Council donated to the Wiles’ legal defense make sense in light of the National Pork Producers Council statement that the HBO’s documentary “shows practices at a hog farm that are not condoned and, in fact, are abhorred by responsible pork producers.” Make up your mind folks.

But most confusing is why agribusiness, the press and the eating public continue to view factory farm animal abuse as isolated instead of endemic and definitional.

And how the latter day “hanging judge” could view a sow suspended from a front loader and not see cruelty.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. Her first book, titled Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health, has just been released by Prometheus Books. She can be reached at: Read other articles by Martha.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. kalidas said on April 7th, 2009 at 7:05pm #

    “To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being.”
    Mahatma Gandhi

    Upton Sinclair. 1878-1968. American muckraker. From The Jungle: “At the same instant the ear was assailed by a most terrifying shriek; the visitors started in alarm, the women turned pale and shrank back. The shriek was followed by another, louder and yet more agonizing–for once started upon that journey, the hog never came back; at the top of the wheel he was shunted off upon a trolley, and went sailing down the room. And meantime another was swung up, and then another, and another, until there was a double line of them, each dangling by a foot and kicking in frenzy–and squealing. The uproar was appalling, perilous to the eardrums; one feared there was too much sound for the room to hold–that the walls must give way or the ceiling crack. There were high squeals and low squeals, grunts, and wails of agony; there would come a momentary lull, and then a fresh outburst, louder than ever, surging up to a deafening climax. It was too much for some of the visitors–the men would look at each other, laughing nervously, and the women would stand with hands clenched and the blood rushing to their faces, and the tears starting in their eyes.”

  2. JustDee said on April 8th, 2009 at 12:38am #

    Is there something wrong with me that I am weeping for these poor hogs and that I’d like to go and truss up that man and the jackass who thought it would be “humorous” to hug the dying pig. My gawd! What’s the matter with people.

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain said on April 8th, 2009 at 2:21am #

    ‘We kill because we die’. Human murderous and destructiveness are boundless. The ‘eternal Treblinka’ of our cruelty to animals has never slackened, and to that we may add our peculiar gift for mass murder and genocide of our fellows. Indeed as the Israelis and the US amply demonstrate, even the most perverted cruelty can be impiously dressed in the raiments of ‘moral purity’. Madeleine Albright states that the unnecessary and cruel deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children were a price that was ‘worth it’, and she remains not just able to walk amongst us unhindered, but is fawned upon with all due obsequiousness. Humanity contains within its rich variety every type from the saint to the serial killer. Unfortunately the killers have slowly worked their way to the top, mostly by eradicating those of more ‘humane’ (there’s a rich irony!) disposition. Mankind’s innate destructiveness, or should I say the insatiable lust for death and carnage of the psychopaths amongst us, was always bound to lead to our self-destruction, as soon as we perfected the techno-scientific means to that end. The debacle seems to have arrived not through military means, the feared nuclear holocaust, although it may play a part in delivering the coup de grace, but by the inexorable playing out of the ecocidal imperative of neoplastic market capitalism, with its modus operandi of endless, undifferentiated growth. While we were mostly unaware, the slow accumulation of greenhouse gases sealed our fate. Our inability to put life before the dead hand of greed and profit, and address this calamity, guarantees our fate. We are taking most higher life with us, but the reconstruction of the rich diversity of life on the planet is almost certainly inevitable, and all life will breathe a sigh of relief that we are gone. What a shame.

  4. Don Hawkins said on April 8th, 2009 at 3:21am #

    While we were mostly unaware, the slow accumulation of greenhouse gases sealed our fate. Our inability to put life before the dead hand of greed and profit, and address this calamity, guarantees our fate.

    with its modus operandi of endless, undifferentiated growth. That’s the part many have a problem with. There is still time not much but a little. Now the good guy’s who want to try and know full well it will not be easy do we see them on TV? Once in a great while in between commercials. It’s like take one news story. A bridge ice bridge has melted and this seems to be moving much to fast and we are told will have dire consequences for the human race anyway let’s move on to more important things like a word from our sponsor. Unless that can change we are lost. Total focus and of course to do that means it is real well it is. A new way of thinking has to happen and a few want to keep the old way of thinking now don’t they and that will guarantee our fate. In just a few months here in the States in the Senate this little problem will come up and so far it looks like greed and profit has the votes. Ok but just remember at that point the shit is going to hit the fan and then the problem itself climate breakdown this summer and next will show itself. Then what happens listen to your leaders and watch your parking meters and call call now. Two million to start calm at peace one voice and think of this as kind of a war. In the twenty first century the few who run the show and want to keep the old way of thinking are very good at using the illusion of knowledge but is just that an illusion. Remember reality is still with us it hasn’t gone anywhere. Just watch the Senate when they get back from vacation and tell me if you see something called an illusion of knowledge and stupidity the game where nobody wins and remember the man behind the curtain with Alligator shoes and check book in hand that will guarantee our fate.

  5. StephanieB said on April 8th, 2009 at 6:57pm #

    Oh PLEASE tell me there is something we can do about this. I’m so sick over this, I cannot believe that this is allowed to continue, especially after HBO showed this. I hope that guy enjoys his karmic payback.

    I am so grateful I’m vegan.

  6. Krl said on April 9th, 2009 at 10:51am #

    “It was a Rodney King moment for the animal movement. ” – the usage of that right there, that comparison is precisely why I spit on the face of any animal rights person that crosses my path…racist friggin misanthropes…you filth are doing to iraqis etc what happens to the pig and then have the gaul to babble on about how you’re happy to be vegan…die slow…all of you

  7. veganvet said on April 11th, 2009 at 12:51pm #

    Krl provides evidence of the effects of all those stress hormones present in the animal as it was slaughtered that comprised his last meal…pent up aggression, frustration and neuronal misfiring. Or maybe he’s just suffering from Cruetzfeld-Jacob disease from eating meat infected with prions. If so, it is his death that will be slow.

  8. kalidas said on April 13th, 2009 at 8:26am #

    Though you may not believe in karma, karma surely believes in you.