This Little Piggy

Blue Gill by Dave Huish //

This Little Piggy by Daniel Grondahl //

The majority of Americans identify as meat consumers (approximately 87% in 2013 according to a public policy polling), but it would be fair to suppose that most of these individuals have no idea as to how this food is grown, processed, or farmed. The disturbing, yet impactful 2009 HBO documentary titled “Death on a Factor Farm,” produced by Tom Simon and Sarah Teale, attempts to enlighten human carnivores by providing the world a candid camera perspective of the harsh lives and cruel deaths of hogs on America’s industrialized farms. 
In this 87 minute film, a private investigator, referred to as “Pete,” is hired by the Humane Farming Association (HFA) to secretly document farming practices on Wiles Hog Farm after the organization received reports of animal cruelty from one of the farm’s employees (Ingrid). While posing as a new farm hand, Pete bravely utilizes a hidden camera, microphone and small handheld camera to obtain evidence of animal cruelty on the farm, which includes a coveted, ominous clip of hogs being euthanized through being hung from a forklift. All confirmation is then summarized by the HFA and presented to the local Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, which spawns a court hearing after 10 charges of animal cruelty are disseminated to the owner and two employees of Wiles’ farm. At the sentencing, the viewers of this documentary discover just how little America’s law system protects hogs from torture on such factory farms. 
On its surface, this documentary is run of the mill, with standard filming and editing techniques. Unflashy captions narrate its entirety, providing additional information regarding each scene. Even the soundtrack is of nondescript solemn scores. It is all pretty standard stuff for the genre. But what makes this film somewhat unique is that the producers aren’t really true advocates for animal rights. Even though neither of the producers of this film are either vegetarians or animal activists, they have filmed and produced several other works regarding the maltreatment of animals, including a documentary about dogs that are sold to research facilities titled Dealing Dogs.  Both Simon and Teale have publicly stated that they are fascinated by Pete’s work (who also appears in Dealing Dogs) and how he takes great risks to expose animal cruelty. Pete, and his work, is why this film was made. Despite being far from the forefront of activism, it is apparent that this duo's desire is to raise the awareness around such issues through provocative exposés, and Death on a Factor Farm does not disappoint. 
Shaky footage, at the onset of the film, gives the viewer the impression that they have just entered a Blair Witch styled horror flick, complete with decomposing, frozen bodies; however, these corpses aren’t those of unwary teenage campers, but of hogs, which lie still while February chill winds blow and farm dogs scavenge them for scraps. It is a glum scene that is continued through much of the first half of the film. The unstable, hidden camera captures footage of piglets being euthanized through “thumping” (when an animal’s head is struck hard against a wall), hogs housed for 113 to 116 days in tiny gestation crates in which they cannot turn around or lay down properly, sows suckling to the point of having open, bleeding wounds, piglets being callously tossed from up to seven feet away into weighing carts and buses and downed sows (after being deprived of food and water and laying in their own filth) being hung to death from a front loader. All of this occurred during a six week period of time on Wiles Hog Farm.
The latter half of the documentary covers the trial and sentencing of the Wiles Farm owner and employees. During its conclusion, it becomes apparent that, in the eyes of the law, the acts captured by Pete aren’t of great consequence and do not warrant severe penalties for their perpetrators. Out of all of the charges filed, only Joe Wiles was found guilty for “Improperly carrying or transporting an animal.” He received a $250.00 fine, probation for a year, and had to attend an animal handling course. Also, five of the charges were dismissed before the trial even ensued. Later, we learn that because of the trial’s publicity, the private investigator’s identity was exposed by the media and he had to, once again, move and change his legal name to protect himself and his family. A distraught Pete, upon reviewing the conviction, said, “All of this so some fucker could get a $250.00 fine. That’s disappointing, because that’s not why I am doing this.” The audience is left asking was the effort worth the outcome? Who is concerned about these cruelties? Certainly, the uncaring nature of the defense attorneys, the Wiles, and the farmers observing the trial is palpable. Earl Miller, a dairy farmer, that was interviewed before the sentencing said, “These are normal things that happen - I think there’s gonna come a day, if these people, uh, come in doin’ what they’re doin’, uhm, we’re gonna be hungry - we can’t all eat lettuce.” It is hard to imagine that Earl doesn’t speak for the majority of the 87%. 
The film, in one of its many captions, says, “There’s a struggle being waged in the U.S. today over how we treat the animals that end up on our dinner plates.” Is this really much of a struggle? The film fails to clarify which and how many individuals are involved in this “struggle” on either side. Is the majority of America really that upset by the way factory farms are run, or do they just desire to have their meat products, no matter the method? The fact is that the aforementioned actions against livestock occur every day around the nation and very little is being done to prevent it. A caption clarifies that “In November 2008, California voters approved a referendum banning the practice of housing pigs, poultry and veal calves in confining crates and cages.” And, “Similar measures have been passed in Florida and Arizona.” However, the lack of a nationwide, sweeping public outcry demonstrates just how little most Americans care about the ethical treatment of farm animals. Why aren’t more individuals in the U.S. speaking out on behalf of these creatures? We see, from watching this film, that there is a double standard in this country regarding living creatures; the ones that are pets receive protections and those that we eat do not. For example, the local sheriff’s office stalled for about a month and a half before executing the search warrant against the Wiles. One of the detectives was very reluctant to do the investigation until an analogy was made, “What if you were driving by in your patrol car, by the park here, and the kids were stringing up dogs in the park? Would you drive by and say this is okay?” The detective said that he didn’t think about it that way and he should do something. It is hard to say if the same analogy would move others throughout the U.S.
This film raises the question, what sets dogs and other animals apart from livestock in the minds of Americans? Several times in the film it is mentioned that hogs far exceed canines in intelligence. Then why do they not receive the same protections as dogs? Simon and Teale appear to want us to ask this question of ourselves. So, while viewing the film it is intriguing to ask oneself, what if the same footage had been shot of dogs or even humans being treated in a similar way? What would be your level of disgust or personal outrage? Would you feel more compassion under those circumstances? Americans have become far removed from killing their own food for survival; perhaps too far removed. The footage in this film may be hard to watch, but it is presented this way for a reason. It attempts to bring the audience back in touch with what price is paid for us to enjoy a pork chop. It begs for us to understand that not only are we killing highly intelligent animals with distinct personalities, but also while doing so, we, as a society, are treating them as an unfeeling commodity and not as our fellow inhabitants of this planet. 
Although this particular documentary, and those like it, hasn’t made a huge impact regarding the legal rights of livestock, it raises the important questions. It makes us think and provides much needed exposure regarding this important issue. Other social issues, such as gay rights, have made tremendous headway partially due to media exposure and the public enlightenment which then ensues. Hopefully, documentaries like this one will have a perhaps small but similar affect. A defense attorney in this film implies that the animals in these shots are not lovable cartoon characters, but perhaps we should think of them as such. These creatures are alive, they do have feelings and individualities, and it would be much harder to watch these acts of violence if we pictured them perpetrated against a familiar face such as the adorable porky pig. 

Works Cited
Jensen, Tom (26 February 2013). "Food issues polarizing America". Public Policy Polling. Retrieved 28 February 2013.