Despite society's love for all things bacon, most meat eaters shy away from actually seeing how pigs become pork. As the saying goes: "There's a reason you take your children to pick apples but don't take them to a slaughterhouse."
After a recent transport truck accident outside a pork-processing plant in Ontario, Canada, witnesses watched injured pigs suffer for hours without medical care or water before they were killed with bolt guns and their bodies thrown away as garbage — all despite offers from nearby sanctuaries to care for the pigs.
The incident has forced many people to confront the brutal realities of meat production, usually well hidden from the public.
Around 7 a.m. Wednesday, October 5, a truck carrying nearly 200 pigs overturned on its way into Fearmans, a facility that kills approximately 10,000 pigs per day. Animal advocates heard about the incident, and many rushed to the scene.
What they witnessed was horrific, says photographer and animal activist Julie O'Neill. "The screaming of the pigs was incredible," she recalls. "When I first got there at 9 a.m., it was pretty relentless — they were constantly screaming." About 40 pigs died in the accident, and several others were injured.
A truck driver gives water to an injured pig, posthumously named Bonnie. She was later shot with a bolt gun, and her body was picked up with a tractor and thrown into a bin.
Photo by Zach Ruiter
Fearmans employees, many dressed in office attire, came out and created a makeshift cardboard barricade so the public couldn't view the carnage, though advocates continued to take photos and videos.
Several pigs were able to walk from the crash onto a nearby grassy area — their first and only taste of freedom — where they then collapsed. O'Neill witnessed one of the injured pigs rooting — a natural behavior where pigs use their snouts to dig in the grass or dirt. "She was digging for the first time in her life. She was on grass, and her natural instincts kicked in."
Pigs — though generally viewed as a source of pork belly and bacon — are also cognitively sophisticated animals. They learn their names by 2 to 3 weeks old, communicate using more than 20 vocalizations, and are considered as intelligent as 3-year-old children. On a scale of animal cognition, they're ranked smarter than dogs and cats. But unlike dogs and cats, they're raised and slaughtered at the rate of 115 million per year.
It's difficult to comprehend the killing of 115 million pigs without witnessing the animals for yourself, says Anita Kranjc, founder of Toronto Pig Save, a Canadian animal advocacy organization dedicated to bearing witness to farm animals in the last moments of their lives. Kranjc and her followers are known for offering water and comfort to afraid, dehydrated pigs on transport trucks. "By doing vigils, by being present, you make these abstract numbers real," Kranjc says.
Looking into the eyes of animals about to die isn't for the faint of heart. Vigils frequently leave participants in hysterics.
Bonnie lies in the grass before being killed.
Photo by Julie O'Neill
When Kranjc arrived on the scene of the Fearmans accident, she was dismayed to see that the company was attempting to hide the pigs' plight. "I believe in the power of truth. We should have been able to see the victims. But they [Fearmans] know that people love animals, and if people see suffering and injured animals, they're going to sympathize and want to help them."
She recites Paul McCartney's famous quote: "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian."
Clearly, empathy doesn't bode well for bacon sales.
Giving water to doomed, dehydrated pigs (outside the very same slaughterhouse) has previously landed Krajnc in jail, and the October 5 incident led to another arrest for obstructing a law enforcement officer. Determined to be with the injured pigs, she crossed the police line twice.
There were three injured pigs, in particular, that witnesses were able to see despite employees' attempts to block them. One pig, posthumously named Bonnie, was immortalized in several photographs that have since gone viral. Another pig — posthumously named Clyde — walked up to her as she lay, and the two were caught on camera, nose-to-nose.
Advocates begged for Bonnie to be released to a sanctuary, but employees ignored them. "Every single slaughterhouse employee would not acknowledge our existence. They were obviously told: 'Don't look at them; don't talk to them,'" O'Neill says.
In the end, Bonnie and the other injured pigs were shot with a bolt gun where they lay. These pigs were no longer viable for human consumption, so their bodies were picked up with forklifts and dumped into bins.
"This was a very unfortunate accident," Mary Jane Quinn, communications and marketing manager for Ontario Pork, said in a statement sent to Miami New Times. "There were approximately 180 hogs on the truck. Of those, 138 were unharmed and were sent to the Fearmans plant for processing. The remainder either died in the accident or were seriously compromised. The hogs that were unharmed in the accident were examined by veterinarians from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and approved for processing at the plant. The hogs that died or were seriously compromised in the accident could not be processed as per CFIA guidelines — food animals that die en route to the processing plant that are condemned or ordered destroyed are disposed of in accordance with the Canadian Health of Animals."
The surviving pigs that could walk were marched to the gas chambers. There, they were stunned with C02 before being killed. Though C02 is generally considered a more "humane" method of slaughter, video footage of the process has shown pigs thrashing and panicking before collapsing into convulsions. Investigations have revealed that many pigs are still conscious while being slaughtered.
As with American farms, there are few regulations governing how animals in Canada are raised and killed. According to the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, however, it's typical for pigs to be raised on concrete floors and in extremely small pens. Females are often kept in gestation stalls — metal contraptions that prevent them from moving more than a few steps in either direction.
The journey to slaughter can be even more traumatic. National regulations allow animals to be transported for up to 52 hours without food, water, or rest, and Toronto Pig Save has filmed pigs hyperventilating while stuffed together in a sea of their own excrement. Trucks are often so packed that the animals can barely move.
One former truck driver told PETA that pigs are sometimes “packed in so tight their guts actually pop out their butts — a little softball of guts actually comes out.”
Pigs are marched to the slaughterhouse following the accident.
Photo by Julie O'Neill
Steve Jenkins — "dad" to Esther the Wonder Pig and founder of nearby Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary — was onsite and begged Fearmans managers to allow him to take the hurt pigs. He had a trailer with him and had already lined up veterinary care. They refused to acknowledge his request.
"To think that the individuals who are responsible for the welfare of 'food animals' in Canada would prefer to see an injured animal denied medical care for hours and ultimately disposed of, as opposed to rehabilitated at a qualified sanctuary, is incomprehensible," he posted to social media.
"[The injured pigs] were waste; they were garbage to [Fearmans]," O'Neill adds. "They were downed animals, so they cannot be used for human consumption; they would go to rendering plants."
In other words, Fearmans chose to kill the injured pigs and throw away their remains rather than allow them to live out their lives in a sanctuary.
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Vegan or not, when faced with the realities of what happens to animals raised for food, most humans find it disturbing. And though Ontario is a long way from Miami, meat production is no different in South Florida. There's even a Miami chapter of Kranjc's group, called Miami Animal Save. Activists stand outside area abattoirs, including Mary's Ranch in Hialeah (where people can choose the animal they want slaughtered). Protesters hold signs calling for compassion, bear witness to animals about to be killed, and are always looking for more people to join them.
For those who can't bear the idea of seeing these animals firsthand, Googling "factory farming" or "slaughterhouse footage" will reveal what goes on behind the closed doors of animal-processing plants. The images are worse than anything seen in horror movies The Purge and Hostel.
In the words of former cow farmer turned vegan activist Howard Lyman: "If you visit the killing floor of a slaughterhouse, it will brand your soul for life." Just imagine how the pigs feel.