I know that in writing about feeding dead baby pigs to mother pigs I risk accusations of gratuitous woe – I've been called the "mistress of doom" for my reporting before (and proud of it!) – but I can’t let this news pass without mention. It is a story that is decidedly grim, yet fascinating.
It should be a surprise to exactly no one that what goes on in factory farms can be cruel and disturbing. The point here isn’t an attempt to disgust pork lovers into giving up their bacon. (Although I won't resist a little shaming … how can anyone eat this?!) But knowing what goes on during the lifecycle of what we eat is important if we want to be accountable for how we contribute as consumers to the food production system.
So here goes.
Two years ago a deadly diarrheal disease killed 8 million baby pigs in the United States – about 10 percent of the nation’s herd. Swine farmers, desperate to hold Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) at bay, are doing whatever they can to protect their pigs this year. One tactic that is proving successful is boosting the defenses of their herds. Farmers are accomplishing this by way of natural vaccination; they are adding the remains of infected baby pigs to the feed as well as mixing manure from infected swine into it. In some places, farmers are spraying a mixture of hog manure containing the virus and water on the noses of pigs to create a "natural vaccine,” reports Scientific American.
Along with implementing new protocols for hampering the spread of the virus, veterinarians say that deliberately exposing hogs to the virus can also help reduce the risk of an outbreak like the one in 2013. Intentionally giving hogs the virus is "really important because that's one way we can have local establishment and local building of immunity," said Lisa Becton, director of swine health information and research for the National Pork Board.
Chief veterinarian officer for the Humane Society of the United States, Michael Blackwell, says that feeding baby pigs to other hogs "seems to be pretty barbaric," but notes that, "It is not as inhumane as having millions of piglets killed in an outbreak.”
Frankly, I find industrial meat production barbaric in general – but what’s interesting here is that farmers are realizing that a natural approach is proving more effective than commercial vaccines, of which there are several. While the road to producing all meat all-naturally (and humanely) is clearly a long one, it's refreshing to see a livestock medical problem not being deluged with pharmaceuticals ... even if it does mean feeding piglet remains to momma hogs.