They’re crammed by the hundreds into huge transport trucks. Every day, between 5,000 and 7,000 pigs roll into Toronto’s Quality Meat Packers slaughterhouse, never to leave alive. The long, hard trip is bad enough for the pigs on a regular day. When it’s as bitterly cold as it has been recently, however, it’s outrageously cruel.
Pigs raised for meat live short, miserable lives. It’s no secret. Their tails are snipped off, their teeth are clipped, and piglet males are castrated — all without anesthesia. Despite their keen intelligence and gentle good nature, pigs are treated as nothing more than commodities.
Their sad situation gets even worse when the weather turns brutal. The hours-long ride to the abattoir becomes its own version of hell on earth. The huge transport trucks have breathing holes that are open to the air. Those air holes are desperately needed in the summer. In the winter, however, the frigid wind whips through the trucks as they barrel down the highway. Hundreds of poor pigs, with exposed skin nearly as bare as our own, freeze like this for hours with no food, water or source of warmth.
An activist group known as Toronto Pig Save wants this cruelty to stop. While they’d prefer to see the slaughter of pigs ended completely, what they want right now is for animal transport during weather extremes to be better regulated. They want this unnecessary torment to end.
Bearing Witness to Frostbitten Pigs with Purple Ears
Toronto Pig Save stands vigil outside the slaughterhouse each week, on a spot that’s come to be known as Pig Island. They watch the trucks with the pigs arrive. Holding signs, they urge drivers in passing cars to wake up and really notice the horror going on in front of them.
Most importantly, the volunteers do what they can to help the pigs during their final hours in line, waiting to be offloaded. They offer them sips of water and pat their snouts and bodies through the open, drafty air holes. They offer a few minutes of affection.
The volunteers who show up for the weekly vigils come from all walks of life. Canadian actress and model Kate Steen participated on January 20, 2014, during a period when the City of Toronto issued an Extreme Cold Weather Alert. The temperature that day, factoring in wind chill, was a harrowing -20F.
“Many animals end up freezing to the sides of these metal trucks during transport,” Steen noted on her Facebook page. “They are alive when their bodies are either ripped or cut off the sides of the inside of the trucks.” This is a standard industry practice in the wintertime. Yes, you read that correctly. The pigs freeze to the sides of the truck all the time.
No wonder the pigs were screaming.
It has been so bone-chillingly cold in recent days that many pigs have been photographed with purple ears and skin, a sign of frostbite and hypothermia.
Noted animal photographer Jo-Anne McArthur recently participated in one of Toronto Pig Save’s vigils. She reported on her Facebook page:
In this freezing weather (in which we stood with our layers and thick boots, and we could barely stand it), the pigs are transported along highways with intense wind in semi-covered trucks. When we see them, they are despondent and covered in scratches with red extremities. What’s more is that many trucks came in at once around 10am and were lined up to be unloaded at the slaughterhouse, so some of those pigs will endure another hour or two in the absolute freezing cold. Some of the activists gave them the water they had because we could see the pigs trying to lick at the frozen water around the openings. They were so thirsty!
It’s nearly impossible to think of how the pigs could be treated any worse.
“I have known pigs mostly in transport trucks – thousands by now since we started doing weekly vigils in July 2011 — and to me they are very similar to my dog Mr. Bean, who is my best friend,” Toronto Pig Save founder Anita Krajnc told the blog My Nonleather Life. “They are even more expressive in their faces and their eyes, look pleading, sad, scared and confused.”
Enforcement of Canada‘s Animal Transport Laws Leaves Much to be Desired
According to a 2010 report by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) called Curb the Cruelty: Canada‘s Farm Animal Transport System in Need of Repair:
Regulations under the Health of Animals Act allow horses, pigs and poultry to be transported for up to 36 hours without food, water and being unloaded to the ground for a rest. For cattle, sheep and goats, the limit is 52 hours. For the millions of animals that are exported annually, the clock is reset to zero when they cross our national border and a new journey begins under the importing country’s legislation.
WSPA’s report found that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the agency charged with oversight of animal transport, was in many cases failing to do a proper job. WSPA found:
- CFIA’s reporting and enforcement are often weak and inconsistent.
- Unacceptable numbers of animals — two to three million a year — die during transport.
- Animals are transported in overcrowded conditions.
- Many animals are so crowded that they cannot lie down or turn around.
- Severely injured, crippled and sick animals are transported in contravention of the Health of Animals regulations.
- Severely compromised animals are transported and left to suffer for prolonged periods in contravention of the Health of Animals regulations.
- A shortage of trained animal welfare inspectors, particularly veterinarians, puts animal health and welfare at risk.
- Animals suffer as a result of poor driver training.
Bacon lovers, you can’t defend this. How have we humans become willing to allow these poor creatures to suffer so much and for so long? Pigs are the fourth most intelligent nonhuman animal, but we refuse to acknowledge this fact or give them their due. Instead, we just torment them and then eat them.
It’s time for a change in Canada. We can’t all join the activists in Toronto on Pig Island, but we can help them draw attention to the desperate plight of the pigs.
Care2 readers, if you’d like to urge Canadian officials to enact more protective animal transport laws and to more conscientiously enforce the provisions of existing laws, please sign and share this petition. We will send it to Gerry Ritz, Canada’s Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, and Rona Ambrose, Canada’s Minister responsible for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur, courtesy of Toronto Pig Save