By Darla Shelden
Local animal rights activists and members of Mercy For Animals (MFA), a national nonprofit, recently held a demonstration outside the Walmart at NW 23rd Street in Oklahoma City.
Holding signs with images of abused pigs, reading: “Walmart Tortures Pigs” and “Walmart Pork = Animal Abuse,” they used a giant inflatable pig to call attention to a practice used by Walmart’s pork suppliers of confining pregnant sows to small gestation crates.
MFA’s national campaign coordinator Phil Letten said. “Pork sold in Walmart stores comes from pigs who are abused, neglected, and sentenced to lives of extreme confinement and deprivation in crates”
Walmart has come under fire for cruelty to animals following a recent undercover investigation exposing abuse to pigs at one of the retailer’s main pork suppliers, Seaboard Farms, located in Guymon, Oklahoma.
“This is blatant animal abuse that no socially responsible corporation should be supporting,” added Letten. “If Walmart pork producers subjected dogs and cats to the array of standard abuses they inflict on pigs, they would be arrested and jailed on grounds of animal cruelty.”
MFA contends that use of these crates on factory farms prevents pigs from lying down comfortably or even from turning around.
“This is a complicated issue and there are different points of view,” said Danit Marquardt, Walmart spokesperson. “We currently offer gestation crate-free pork products in a number of stores across the U.S. and will continue our on-going discussions with suppliers, non-governmental organizations and food safety experts to increase that number.”
“We hold our suppliers to the highest standards and do not tolerate animal mistreatment,” said Marquardt. “We encourage customers interested in learning more about how grocers and restaurants source pork products to contact the National Pork Board at www.pork.org.”
Nine states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, and Rhode Island—have passed laws to prohibit the use of gestation crates.
“I went because I want to speak up for the innocent and be their voice,” said Oklahoma City resident, Kara McCullar. “I don’t believe that any being, no matter how small, should have to suffer at the hands of man.”
Devyn Grisbey from Oklahoma City said, “You shouldn’t treat animals like that. It’s very hurtful. They can’t turn around, scratch or play in the mud like pigs are suppose to do.”
Hearing about the big pig in a cage, Justin Tyler Moore, who teaches documentary filmmaking at the Astec Charter School in Shepherd Mall, brought his class out to see what was going on. He said, “I think it’s important for everybody to be educated, no matter what the topic is. Knowing what is going on is really what’s important.”
The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production has recommended that “all systems that restrict natural movement,” including gestation crates, be phased out.
“In Oklahoma there have been investigations done at two pig factory farms revealing egregious animal abuse,” said Letten. “One of them, Seaboard Foods, is a Walmart pork supplier. Walmart needs to take a stand against extreme animal cruelty.”
Oklahoma Rep. Scott Biggs (R-District 51) has recently introduced House Joint Resolution (HJR) 1006, called the “Right to Farm” bill.
“HJR 1006 is a request for a constitutional amendment protecting farmers,” said Biggs. “This would limit legislator’s ability to pass anything that would impair the farmer’s ability to use modern farming practices. It’s the people in Oklahoma who deal with these animals everyday that should make these decisions. Not some national group.”
Cynthia Armstrong, Oklahoma State Director at The Humane Society of the United States said, “HJR 1006 is a thinly veiled attempt to pre-empt any future reforms to protect farm animals raised in intensive confinement on factory farms in Oklahoma. It would deny Oklahoma voters the right to pass laws that safeguard their food supply from unethical practice.”
Letten said, “It’s time for Walmart to follow the lead of Costco, Kroger, Safeway and other competitors by committing to do away with tiny crates which virtually immobilize mother pigs for nearly their entire lives.”
Mercy For Animals mission is to prevent cruelty to farmed animals and to promote compassionate food choices and policies.
Letten and Nick Wallenstedt, assistant campaign coordinator, have traveled to 77 cities so far, with 41 to go. Their next stop is Tulsa.
“We have a great group of people today,” said Wallerstedt. “We’ve had a ton of honking and lots of thumbs up. The general public seems to be taking a stand against animal cruelty here.”