116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
On Sept. 16, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a proclamation declaring Oct. 2 “World Day for Farmed Animals.” The proclamation brings awareness to issues related to animal agriculture, such as animal cruelty and mistreatment, environmental destruction, and the health impacts of consuming animal products. Since 1983, World Day for Farmed Animals has served as a day of mourning and memorialization for the approximately 70 billion farmed land animals killed every year. And animal rights advocates like myself who have butted heads with Reynolds were flabbergasted. I couldn’t help but wonder if she realized what she was signing.
There is, of course, an elephant in the room: Iowa’s lucrative and controversial pork industry. The Iowa Pork Producers Association boasts that Iowa is the number one pork-producing state in the U.S., with nearly a third of the country’s pigs originating from the Hawkeye state. The exact number of pig farms in Iowa is hard to determine — in 2020, National Hog Farmer reported 5,418 pig farms in the state, but a 2017 investigation by the Department of Natural Resources revealed 4,200 unreported, unregulated farming operations across Iowa. 69% of Iowa’s pigs are housed in commercial farms housing over 5,000 pigs. Unfortunately for the pigs, humane treatment is low on the list of priorities.
In 2011, animal rights organization Mercy for Animals conducted an undercover investigation of Iowa Select Farms, documenting extreme acts of cruelty at the facility. Footage shows rows upon rows of mother sows crammed in gestation crates, so small that they cannot even turn around, covered in infected pressure sores. Piglets are castrated and have their tails docked with no painkillers, and are thrown and kicked by workers. Upon viewing the footage they obtained, animal behaviorist Dr. Jonathan Balcome commented:
“This video depicts scenes of unbearable suffering and inexcusable neglect … This farm should be closed down at once.”
In 2020, animal rights organization Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) obtained footage from Iowa Select Farms depicting the mass killing of commercially worthless pigs using a controversial method of euthanasia known as ventilation shutdown plus (VSD+). According to a whistleblower, it took several attempts to kill the pigs — for four to five hours, the pigs languished in 120 degree heat as farmworkers tried to suffocate the pigs, but to no avail. They then pumped hot steam into the facility, roasting the pigs to death. In the morning, farmworkers killed off any survivors with bolt guns. Numerous animal welfare organizations, such as the Humane Society of the United States and the World Organization for Animal Health, disapprove of the use of VSD+. In direct response to DxE’s investigations, several ag gag laws were signed, harshly penalizing whistleblowers and undercover investigators. A total of four ag gag laws were passed, with all but one being ruled unconstitutional in some capacity.
Deb and Jeff Hansen, owners of Iowa Select Farms, have donated nearly $300,000 to support Gov. Reynolds’ campaign, and their mutually-beneficial relationship is no secret; in 2021, Reynolds signed a proclamation declaring April “Meat on the Table Month” to “call upon the people of Iowa to purchase and eat pork, beef, lamb, poultry, eggs, fish, or another kind of meat from one of Iowa’s many meat and poultry processors or retailers.” This was largely in response to a declaration signed by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis proclaiming March 20 as “MeatOut Day” to promote a plant-based diet.
As it stands, Iowa’s values are incongruent with the message of World Day for Farmed Animals, and as long as we continue to prioritize production over the well-being of animals, they will remain incongruent. If we truly want to honor World Day for Farmed Animals, we cannot let the proclamation be an empty promise. We must understand the suffering we force upon farmed animals, and accept that we can — and should — do better.
Emerson Slomka is a public health student at the University of Northern Iowa.