Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hard to Swallow

Last week, I made “Llom amb pressecs”, a Barcelonan recipe for roasted pork loin chops in a white wine and peach sauce. I proudly sautéed Fredericksburg, TX peaches on the stovetop while store-bought pork bronzed in the oven below.

Reading this New York Times article by Mark Bittman marinated the thought of my dinner in guilt. 

Bittman sang to his typical anti-Ag-industry tune, but my appetite faded while investigating his references to “Pig 'brain machine' cripples Hormel workers" and “undercover video documents unspeakable pig abuse".

However, I recognized that these sources were showing the outlying, worst faces of the pork industry. I expect that those responsible for the abuse were prosecuted. I went quickly to the National Pork Board’s website to temper the bias.

I learned from the Pork Board that:

“Pork production contributes only one-third of one percent (0.33%) of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, every pound of pork produced in the United States today has a smaller carbon footprint than it used to have 20 years ago, due to improved production methods employed by producers over the years.  Things such as:

    * Improved feeding programs that carefully match swine diets to the nutrition needs of the  pigs' based on their sex, age and stage of growth ensures the pig's health and welfare without overfeeding nutrients that end up in the manure.

These points put many questions to rest about pork’s environmental footprint, but I still wondered about the animal welfare issues, especially the gestational sow crates. Pig brains are widely used in neuroscience experiments, given that their anatomy and development are similar to human brains. Pigs are regarded as higher-functioning cognitively than other mammals. Given that, I am curious as to what they are aware of experientially more so than other livestock. This website discusses research showing that stress levels in individually-housed (in crates) sows were equal or less than group-housed sows. This makes sense because of lower competition and less potential for injury to sows and piglets if housed in crates. Both groups had the same amount of square footage per sow.

I found this to be interesting, but if I am honest with you, I am still unsure about the justification for such a restricted lifestyle for mother pigs. I am also not an expert in pork science. Again, we return to the discussion of the post “Bitten Hands That Feed…” about laying-hen cages. More space for individually-caged animals means less production, which means more costly food, which means human beings will likely make the exchange of more food expenses for more crowded/cheaper living conditions. There is always an exchange.

I am choosing to trust that the pork industry is making the best decision given their expertise in swine husbandry and safely feeding America pork. I expect their compliance with human and animal welfare. I am not giving up on pork, just as I am not giving up on the potential for Americans to do what is right.

This is a difficult issue. What do you Think?

*Addendum: This YouTube video featuring Temple Grandin made me feel A LOT better about eating pork! 

No comments:

Post a Comment