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Mercy for Animals A still from the undercover footage.
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Costco is claiming it's a coincidence. But on the same day animal-rights watchdog Mercy for Animals released footage of alleged pig abuse at one of Costco's suppliers--Christensen Farms, in Hanska--the bulk goods chain announced a change in its animal welfare standards.
The footage, which an undercover investigator captured between December 2011 and March 2012, reveals mother pigs confined to gestation crates, workers slamming pigs into the ground as a method of euthanasia, castration and tail docking of young pigs without painkillers, and similar glimpses from behind-the-scenes at a factory farm.
A spokesman for Costco says that while the video may be unappetizing, the practices it depicts are industry standard. "Every farm I've been in, it's the same," says Craig Wilson, Costco's vice president of food safety and quality assurance. "Euthanasia of young pigs by blunt force, that's just not pleasant to watch, but swine vets say that's an acceptable method to dispatch pigs."
Industry standard or not, is it abuse?
Mercy for Animals
"I'm a food safety guy," Wilson says. "I have to leave it to the experts, the swine veterinarians to tell us, is that abuse or not."
While he maintains that the practices in the video look normal, he does concede, "When you see legs, udders hanging out you think, 'That's tight.' There will be vets looking at this stuff and making valued decisions."
Christensen Farms did not return calls seeking comment.
According to Wilson, Costco was planning on transitioning its practices regardless of the Mercy for Animals video. He says the company has been working with the Humane Society and with veterinarians since June to draft a letter to suppliers announcing the changed policies. MFA's campaign "just helped me push [the announcement] up a day or two."
Mercy for Animals
That letter opens, "All of us at Costco take animal welfare seriously and consider humane animal handling a business imperative." After discussing advantages, disadvantages, and alternatives to gestation crates, it concludes, "we want all of the hogs throughout our pork supply chain to be housed in groups with access to safety zones and expect that this transition should be accomplished no later than 2022."
Now that Costco's dropping gestation crates, Mercy for Animals is turning the video around and putting pressure on Walmart. Matt Rice, the organization's director of investigations, says this same farm also supplies the big-box retailer, which he calls "one of the last holdouts employing these egregious practices."
Rice says the video targeted Costco first because, while MFA has only been communicating with Walmart about changing its practices "in recent months," they've been in talks with Costco for "more than a year," and the chain was "dragging its feet." He says he's confident Costco's announcement is in response to the hidden camera campaign.
Mercy for Animals has set up two websites, CostcoCruelty.com and WalmartCruelty.com, to make its case. Watch the video and draw your own conclusions: