SOCIETAL ISSUES FOR PORK PRODUCTION
A century ago, many people were familiar with agriculture production practices
and most had hands-on experiences producing food and fiber. Today, fewer than
2% of the U.S. population is directly involved in agriculture production. Not only
are people unfamiliar with agricultural production practices, they often do not like
some production practices when they become aware of production techniques. The
U.S. population has a heightened concern for pollution, food safety, and care of
pigs on commercial farms. This chapter addresses these concerns and issues. In
dealing with societal issues, unlike traditional hard-science disciplines (e.g., nutri-
tion, genetics, etc.), the pig industry must address issues of ethical values and con-
sumer perception. Although animal scientists work in the world of science, they
cannot ignore consumer thinking and behavior.
CHALLENGES AND ISSUES
Modern-day pork production faces a major challenge in dealing with animal activists.
Most activists who oppose pig production practices have good intentions, but others
exaggerate the issue to cause change. Propaganda is produced on several important
issues—some truthful and some not. Distinguishing myth from fact is the first step
26 SECTION I ORIGINS OF THE MODERN PIG AND EVOLUTION OF PRODUCTION SYSTEMS
toward developing a logical position on any issue. How many myths can be listed for
domestic pigs? A few that come to mind are “facts” like:
• Sweating like a pig [pigs do not sweat].
• Your room is like a pig sty [pigs are, in fact, clean animals when given a chance].
• Pigs stink [when cared for properly, pigs do not smell any worse than other
Commercial pork producers find it very difficult to deal with societal concerns
when the public holds so many myths. Informed decision making begins by under-
standing the facts.
Pigs and pig production units are subjects of societal concern. Some of the concerns
are warranted and some are clearly not. Unfortunately, in today’s society, if someone or
some group has a concern about a particular farm, the farm has a problem with which it
must deal. Entire industries have been wrecked from scares that lack validity—a prime ex-
ample is the Alar scare that unjustly caused a brief decimation of the apple industry. Ap-
ples were said to be “contaminated” with Alar, which, in fact, was a harmless chemical.
If the public even perceives a problem with the industry, then the industry has a problem
with which it must deal.
If the concern is real and based on facts and reason, the pig industry must act to
improve the situation. If the concern is only perceived by society, the pig industry
must still act to educate the public about the situation.
This chapter raises a number of issues in case studies designed to spark discus-
sion. Each issue is first presented from the point of view of concerned citizens. Then,
facts and descriptions are given to support the pig industry. Each issue is presented
as a polarized, societal concern. More than two views may be held on each issue.
Readers should be able to relate to each side of each issue (pro and con) because
sooner or later, most people are likely to confront individuals or groups who hold these
views. The advantage held by students of pig biology—and other informed citizens—is
that they can gather and interpret pig-specific information from a variety of diverse
sources and synthesize the information into a rational, informed argument that supports
their point of view.
Many of these issues cause heated debate in some circles. Discussion and debate
are healthy ways of learning and moving opinion in a logical direction. For the most
part, people who hold extreme views are not “bad people.” Those who hold opposing
views should find ways to agree to disagree at the end of a heated debate and should
also try to look at the issue from the other person’s point of view.
In addressing societal issues, individuals or groups should adopt the following se-
quence of learning:
• Read about the issue from at least two sides.
• Listen carefully to the opposing view.
• Study the opposing side’s arguments.
CHAPTER 3 SOCIETAL ISSUES FOR PORK PRODUCTION 27
• Organize the arguments on paper.
• Speak on the topic from a given position.
The sequence that leads to action saves speaking on each issue for the last step.
When individuals do finally speak, they should remember the following words, para-
phrased from President Abraham Lincoln:
It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth
and remove all doubt.
Case Study #1—Pig farms smell!
In one Nebraska county, National Farmsa had a cluster of farms that had about
17,000 sows. Neighbors claimed that on a normal day, buildings emitted an offen-
sive odor. When the lagoons were emptied and the old manure was stirred, the
farms emitted a highly offensive odor. Neighbors sued National Farms because
they claimed their quality of life was reduced by being exposed to the offensive
odor of the pig farm.
The community benefited greatly from many high-paying jobs and from com-
munity service by their corporate neighbor. The farms were in place for more than
10 yr by the time the neighbors complained. Still, certain neighbors brought a law-
suit against National Farms because of the offensive odor and the court ruled against
National Farms. National Farms has since sold that farm, in no small part due to
• What would you have done as a member of the jury in the case?
• What should the community do, if anything?
• What should National Farms do?
In the minds of some homeowners, nothing lowers their property values like
having a pig farm built next door! Most people would not like to live next to a hog
farm because everyone knows pig farms smell bad. Try answering these questions:
• Would you like to have your home next to a pig farm?
• Why are pig farms not inside the city limits of most towns?
• How is it that some pig farms, for example those in the Orient, are actually
inside the city limits?
• If a pig farm did not smell, would you then like to live near one?
Older agriculture instructors (and even some younger ones) may say to their stu-
dents, when the smell of the pigs reaches their noses on the first day of swine class at
the farm, “Take a deep breath everyone; that is the smell of money!” The saying is still
true, but rather than manure odor being the sign of a profitable agribusiness, it is more
often associated in the popular press with lawsuits and money paid to neighbors.
National Farms exited the pig industry in the late 1990s.
28 SECTION I ORIGINS OF THE MODERN PIG AND EVOLUTION OF PRODUCTION SYSTEMS
Most pig farms do emit an odor that many people find offensive. Pork producers
do not mind the odor too much or they would be in another business. Farms do not
have to emit offensive odors. Today’s modern technologies provide for several solu-
tions to the problem of off odors. However, most solutions to air pollution problems
do have an added cost.
Case Study #2—Pig farms were here first!
In some parts of the United States, farms were built 1 or 2 miles from town. As the
town grew, the population moved closer and closer to the farms. The urban sprawl
eventually reached the pig farms. What should happen? Should the people not
move closer to the farms? Or should the pig farms move or close down?
Two conflicting principles apply here:
• The pig farms were there first.
• The pig farms allow odor pollution to leave their borders and pollute the
air of their neighbors.
The community is most often the winner in this situation. Being first at a loca-
tion does not give the original farms the right to pollute the air or water.
Case Study #3—Pigs suffer on farms!
Several news magazines ran full-page ads depicting the apparent suffering of sows
on commercial farms. They are housed alone, pumped full of drugs, and lead a life
that is so stressful it drives them mad. They show neurotic behaviors such as biting
the bars. They are trapped.
Many sows, in fact, are housed alone. Female pigs are social animals, but as a con-
sequence of being a social animal, they have strong dominant-submissive relation-
ships. In such relationships, the submissive animals may suffer health and reproductive
problems. The submissive sow is probably better off alone, and the dominant sow
does as well alone as she does in a social group. Boars are usually solitary animals as
adults and are often individually penned on well-managed commercial farms.
• How much space do you think sows need? Enough space to turn around?
Enough space for social interactions? Enough space to stand up and lie down
comfortably without touching the sides of the pen?
• Should sows be given the freedom to interact socially?
• Should sows be prevented from full social interaction to protect the submissive
Case Study #4—You can get worms from eating pork!
A man was at the barber one day, shortly after he moved to town. The woman cut-
ting his hair asked him what he did. He told her that he was a pork producer. The
CHAPTER 3 SOCIETAL ISSUES FOR PORK PRODUCTION 29
woman then said—quite firmly—that she did not eat pork because it has those lit-
tle worms and she doesn’t like to eat worms. She was talking about the Trichinae
parasite that causes the disease trichinosis in people.
The incidence of Trichinae infection of pork is very low in the United States.
Recent estimates of the incidence of infected carcasses are less than 0.6%.
If the incidence is so low, why doesn’t the pork industry try to eradicate the
parasite? Attempts have been undertaken, but eradication is incomplete. Why is
pork not tested and labeled as “Trichinae free”? The main reason is an age-old mar-
keting problem. To be labeled “free” of something, each carcass must be tested—
this adds considerable expense, although at least one pork producer certifies its
product as “Trichinae free.” If two packages of pork are in the retail case—one la-
beled “Trichinae free” and the other bearing no label—what conclusion will con-
sumers draw? They conclude the package without the label has the Trichinae, even
though its odds of being infected are very low.
• Should pork be required to be labeled as “free” or “not free” from Trichi-
• Should the industry eradicate trichinosis from the U.S. pig herd?
Case Study #5—Pork is full of cancer-causing chemicals!
We not only place carcinogens in our processed pork products, we create new ones
when we cook pork. Most food products contain additives, and anything added to
meat must have disadvantages. Food additives are either clearly unnatural or un-
healthy, or both.
Preservatives are one class of food additive. Adding a preservative reduces the
chance of microbial growth and potential food-borne illness. The effects of acute
food poisoning can be anything from uncomfortable to deadly.
A balance must be struck, on the side of reason and public safety, to prevent
food-borne acute illness while not adding chemicals that increase the risk of long-
• Should additives be used in meat products?
• Would reducing acute deaths from food-borne bacteria by 90% be worth
adding 10% to the long-term rate of cancer during a 20-yr exposure? What
percentages would be acceptable?
• What advanced technologies could be used or developed to solve the
double-sided problem of acute microbial and chronic carcinogenicity?
Case Study #6—Pig farms pollute the water!
Modern-day pig farms are fewer in number but much larger in animal inventory.
With thousands of pigs on a single site, the potential for pollution is enormous. If
100 pigs are on 100 farms (total of 10,000-pig inventory), a spill of waste on any one
30 SECTION I ORIGINS OF THE MODERN PIG AND EVOLUTION OF PRODUCTION SYSTEMS
farm with 100 pigs would not have very serious consequences. But if a single farm
has 10,000 pigs and this farm releases waste, the consequences could be very serious.
Pig farms are considered nonpoint sources of pollution by the U.S. Environ-
mental Protection Agency (EPA). This designation means that pig farms do not
have permission to discharge waste into waterways (rivers, streams, lakes, or
groundwater sources). The only reason a pig farm may discharge into a waterway
is by accident, not by design.
A large farm, like the 10,000 pig farm example, would pollute in a significant
manner as a result of a natural disaster, such as very heavy rainfall leading to flood-
ing. A larger farm would be able to afford greater and safer containment facilities.
• Should farms of all sizes be required to spend whatever is necessary to pre-
vent water pollution?
• Should farms be located in geographic regions that are far enough away
from waterways so as to minimize natural disasters from causing pig farm
• Should pig farms be located adjacent to large rivers (like the Mississippi)
that sometimes overflow their banks?
• In what regions in the United States could large, environmentally friendly
pig industries be located? What added costs would be associated with these
Case Study #7—Pigs eat grain that people could eat!
Both breeding animals and growing pigs eat and metabolize 3 to 4 lb of grain-
protein mixtures to put on 1 lb of live weight gain. The actual edible meat might
be only 0.5 lb of meat; thus on the order of 8 lb of feed are required to produce
1 lb of edible pork. Apart from some fish and poultry, the pig is the most effi-
cient of nonaquatic meat animals.
The diets fed to pigs are usually nutritionally complete and could just as well
sustain normal growth and development of humans. So why not feed these diets
to hungry people? In theory, the feed used for 100 million pigs could feed over
50 million people. The logic goes like this:
1. Nearly 100 million pigs/yr are marketed in the United States alone.
2. Pigs require about 6 mo to reach 250 lb.
3. During the growth period, the average pig might eat 3 lb of complete
feed/lb of live weight gain.
4. Each year, 100 million pigs eat 1,000 lb of feed each (100 billion lb of feed/yr).
5. If an average person eats 5 lb of compete pig feed/d, or 1,825 lb/yr (365 5),
the 100 billion lb of pig feed would feed just over 54 million people (100 bil-
lion lb/1,825 lb per person).
CHAPTER 3 SOCIETAL ISSUES FOR PORK PRODUCTION 31
If people have a choice, would they eat only corn-soybean diets formulated
with vitamins and minerals? This question was once posed to a group of philos-
ophy students. They said they would not like to eat such a bland diet themselves,
but perhaps starving people would like such food. In fact, vegetarians who eat a
diverse vegetable diet do not choose their diet based on consumption of the most
efficient plants. They eat lettuce, tomatoes, pinto beans, wheat, oats, etc., but not
the bland diets fed to farm animals—grain plus protein sources and micronutri-
People in developing countries that gain affluence show a common change in
behavior. One of the first uses of added family income is to buy animal products to
provide a higher plane of nutrition for the family. Meat consumption goes up in
proportion to income in developing countries.
Meat consumption does not follow the ideas of activists in developed countries.
Rather, meat consumption follows the agricultural resources of the country and cul-
tural preferences of the people. Pigs are a significant part of the culture of the peo-
ple of the Orient, and even when feed resources are at a premium, pork consumption
continues. Why does pork consumption remain high in the Orient?
1. Forages are at a premium.
2. If grains (such as rice products) are to be fed, they would be less efficiently
utilized by ruminants; grains are directed toward pigs and poultry.
3. Cultural developments favor pork in the diet.
What are other reasons why pork might be eaten, even in poor countries?
Case Study #8—Large corporations are taking over the industry and killing
the family farm!
Farms have increased steadily in size in recent years. The average pig
inventory/farm has increased as the number of farms has declined. Smaller, family-
style farms are being lost in rural America at an alarming rate. These farms are be-
ing replaced by large corporations that have different values than those on the
family farm. The corporate view is directed toward profits and not toward individ-
ual workers. Corporations channel resources toward areas that enhance profits,
with little concern for people. As corporate America takes over the agricultural
community, a part of America is lost.
Other industries grow in size and limit competition as the industries mature.
The number of companies that make microcomputers has dropped over 80% in the
last 10 yr. The microcomputer industry is consolidating, and as it does, there are
fewer, but larger manufacturers.
Corporations, in fact, must be concerned about their workers. If they are to suc-
ceed, agricultural corporations must be concerned about their workers and the com-
munities in which they reside. Megafarm corporations, by virtue of their large size,
32 SECTION I ORIGINS OF THE MODERN PIG AND EVOLUTION OF PRODUCTION SYSTEMS
can actually afford to apply a small amount of money/pig to protect the environment.
The old-style family farm could dump manure in the river without regulatory con-
sequence, but modern-day corporations are held accountable to environmental stan-
dards. As the industry becomes more vertically integrated, it must be more concerned
about its public image. A scandal is much more financially damaging for a vertically
integrated company than for a small family farm.
Efficiencies have increased as corporations expanded their role in pork produc-
tion. This economy of scale and heightened environmental concern means more peo-
ple can be fed in a less expensive manner while protecting the environment.
Some midwestern states have forbidden or discouraged corporate ownership
of farrow-to-finish production or have forbidden vertical integration of livestock
farms and meat processing plants. It seems as though the more restrictive the state
legislation, the greater the harm to the state’s agriculture.
One of the best examples of anti-corporate farming laws that hurt the pig busi-
ness is in the state of Kansas. Kansas outlawed corporation ownership of more than
20 acres of land for farrow-to-finish pig units in the early 1980s. The result was a
steady decline in both pig numbers and pork processing in Kansas. By 1990, pig in-
ventory was down over 40%, compared with 10 yr earlier, and all pork processing had
left the state. The lesson is clear: Restrictive legislation hurts family farms by ripping
apart the industry infrastructure as the corporate units grow in other regions, taking
the allied industries with them.
The same consolidation that has taken place in live pig production has taken
place in pork processing, feed manufacturing, equipment manufacturing, and all
other allied industries. As the pig industry evolves, further consolidation in the pri-
mary industry and allied industries is likely.
This chapter discussed societal issues—issues that society considers important, but
might not have direct and immediate economic impact (such as changing growth rates
or reproductive rates). Pork producers historically have not focused their attention on
societal issues, but today’s society demands that pork producers focus attention on and
solve these issues. Important societal issues were discussed, including animal welfare,
environmental issues, food safety, corporate versus family farming, feeding grain to pigs
rather than directly to humans, and several variations on these issues. Pig farmers and
students should be fully aware of societal concerns and be able to discuss them in a log-
ical and rational manner to work toward solutions that are compatible to the producer
and the consumer.
CHAPTER 3 SOCIETAL ISSUES FOR PORK PRODUCTION 33
QUESTIONS AND ACTIVITIES
1. Look on the Internet for information on the pig Industry. Find the home page of
the National Pork Producers Council. Look for information on societal issues being
addressed by companys and organizations.
2. Pick an issue and try to argue from the point of view that is most opposite to your
3. Write a position statement for a controversial issue to be used by:
a. a family pig farm
b. a corporate pig farm
c. a community
d. a government
Pro-Commercial Pig Production:
Anti-Commercial Pig Production: