MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - An animal welfare group called on prosecutors Tuesday to file criminal charges against workers and managers at a Minnesota hog farm, saying its undercover investigation documented 36 specific violations of the state’s animal cruelty laws - backed up by graphic video evidence.
Los Angeles-based Last Chance for Animals made the call as it released a five-minute video from footage shot over four months this spring at a Christensen Farms breeding facility in the southwestern Minnesota city of Luverne. Christensen Farms is one of the country’s largest pork producers.
Adam Wilson, the group’s director of investigations, said at a news conference that the video documents a “pattern of systematic neglect and abuse, all overseen by barn managers, and at times witnessed by corporate management.”
Sleepy Eye-based Christensen Farms said it found the video “disturbing.” The company said it has suspended seven employees, launched a full internal investigation and is working closely with local law enforcement.
“There is absolutely no place at Christensen Farms or in this industry for violations of animal welfare,” Christensen Farms CEO Glenn Stolt said in a statement. “As a family farm, the care and treatment of our animals is our highest priority. It is unacceptable that this behavior was allowed to continue, and was not brought to our attention immediately.”
The investigator for Last Chance for Animals recorded numerous instances of sick and severely injured sows being left to suffer for weeks, Wilson said. The video, posted at FactoryFarm360.org, shows sows bleeding from open sores and other injuries, including protruding organs, or lame from swollen legs. The video also shows one farm worker repeatedly jabbing one lame sow with a pen to try to get it to move, leaving wounds on its back.
Wilson says the group turned over its findings last week to the Rock County sheriff’s office, which he said is now investigating.
“Animal cruelty, both active and passive as in the case of neglect, is a crime of violence that requires law enforcement’s full attention,” he said.
The video shows “pretty clear instances of neglect,” particularly the failure of employees to promptly assess and if necessary euthanize sows with large open wounds, lameness and vaginal and rectal prolapses, said Dr. Tom Burkgren, executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians.
“Certainly it looked to me like the animals were in pain and needed to be relieved of that pain,” Burkgren said.
The video contains “disturbing images,” acknowledged Dallas Hockman, vice president of industry relations at the National Pork Producers Council. But he cautioned against drawing quick conclusions. He said he knows the leaders at Christensen Farms and that the video doesn’t reflect the company’s culture, which he said is committed to animal welfare and proper training.
Christensen Farms has been targeted by animal rights groups before. Mercy for Animals released an undercover video in 2012 that was shot at a different Minnesota facility. In that case, however, Christensen Farms and industry groups alike said the video showed no cruelty.
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