On January 11, 800 people from across the US and Canada packed the New Bern, North Carolina Riverfront Convention Center to discuss strategies for combating pig factories and promoting humaneness and sustainability in pig farming.
The "Summit for Sustainable Hog Farming" was organized by Nicolette Hahn, Senior Attorney for the Water Keeper Alliance, Rick Dove, Board Member of the Water Keeper Alliance and Gary Grant, Chair of the North Carolina Hog Roundtable. The day-long event included presentations from fishermen, environmentalists, religious and labor leaders, family farmers, scientists, public officials, attorneys, community activists, and animal welfare advocates.
Poignantly, neighbors to industrial pig operations described from personal experience how pig factories fouled their houses and backyards with stench and toxic gases so intense they became ill. In chilling testimonials, they detailed incidents of intimidation, even threats of violence and death, which they received from pig factory owners or operators.
The Summit's animal welfare discussion featured presentations by Paul Willis and Sue and Kelly Ryan, family farmers who allow the pigs they raise to behave naturally, in accordance with the Animal Welfare Institute's Humane Husbandry Standards for Pigs. A video prepared by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) in cooperation with the Water Keeper Alliance showed the Ryan family farm and emphasized the value of preserving the culture of humane family farm husbandry that is being decimated by animal factories. Mike McConnell, Chairman of Niman Ranch, urged attendees not only to fight against the growth and pollution of pig factories but also to press their grocers to carry meat from humane, sustainable family farms rather than factories. Niman Ranch is the first marketing company to require that farmers whose hogs they purchase follow AWI's humane husbandry standards. Actress Rosemary Harris, winner of a Tony, an Emmy and a Golden Globe award and an Academy Award nominee, spoke on behalf of animals in a video presentation recorded in Los Angeles where Ms. Harris was filming the movie "Spiderman." Ms. Harris called on consumers to insist on meat from humane, family farms, saying that it is the plight of the sows confined to crates, unable to walk or turn around, that moves her most. A North Carolinian herself, Ms. Harris urged North Carolinians to take the lead in prohibiting animal factory practices, just as Sweden has done in Europe. Marlene Halverson, humane farming consultant to AWI, described the long history of ethical approaches to farming with animals in Sweden and their potential for serving as models for humane, sustainable farming in the US. AWI's Farm Animal Advisor, Diane Halverson, showed how factory production of pigs violates the nature of pigs, and how this leads, inevitably, to environmental and human health catastrophes. The suffering of animals in factories was also addressed in Rick Dove's video presentation which included footage of gross cruelty to pigs in a North Carolina factory, where workers beat and dismembered conscious sows. In Mr. Dove's words, "If we solve all of the environmental problems dealing with industrial hog raising, including stopping pollution, gaining restitution for pollution and solving the neighborhood odor and health problems, but we don't solve the issue of humane treatment of animals, then we haven't solved the problem of hog factories."
A captivating keynote address was given by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. who, in addressing the extreme confinement and physical abuse suffered by pigs in factories, said: "The way that we treat animals—somebody at sometime is going to be punished for that—we as a nation or somebody. Because you can't treat another work of the Creator with the kind of indignity that we are allowing to go on in this state or others without there being some kind of karmic retribution at some point in history. I think all of us understand that, and particularly the family farmers here who understand the notion of stewardship and how an animal should be treated with dignity if we want dignity for ourselves."
The Metropolitan AME Zion Church Choir, Washington, N.C. opened the Interfaith Prayer Service that followed Mr. Kennedy's address. Sister Evelyn Mattern of the North Carolina Council of Churches led the crowd in this prayer by St. Basil the Great (329-379): "O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, even our brothers and sisters the animals, to whom you have given the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised our high dominion with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to you in song, has been a groan of pain. May we realize that they live, not for us alone, but for themselves and for you, and that they love the sweetness of life."
Water Keeper Alliance
The Water Keeper Alliance is the umbrella organization for the fifty-eight River, Sound and Bay Keepers located throughout North and Central America and Europe. The Water Keeper Alliance protects and restores waterways—including those ravaged by pollution from animal factories—using a variety of methods, including litigation. To learn more about the Water Keeper Alliance or to view presentations delivered at the Summit, visit the organization's website at www.keeper.org.
North Carolina Hog Roundtable
The North Carolina Hog Roundtable is a coalition of state-wide, community, and neighborhood organizations, with over 65,000 members collectively, that are working toward reform of corporate pig raising. The Roundtable focuses on pig factories' threats to public health, the environment and property values and has a particular concern for the disproportionate impact of industrial pig operations on poor and minority communities.