Founded as George A. Hormel & Co in 1891, Hormel Foods is based in Austin, Minnesota. The company has five divisions (Grocery Products, Refrigerated Foods, Jennie-O Turkey Store, Specialty Foods, International & Other), and sells under many brands, including Applegate, Chi-Chi’s, Dinty Moore, Farmer John, Herdez, Jennie-O, Justin’s, Lloyd’s, Muscle Milk, Skippy, Spam, Stagg, La Victoria and Wholly Guacamole (1). Approximately 20,000 employees work at 40 facilities (14 main locations) across the midwestern United States.
PETA has released a video, compiled over three months of undercover investigation, of a pig farm that supplied piglets to Hormel. During the course of the investigation, the farm’s ownership and management changed, but practices didn’t. The investigator documented:
- A supervisor shoving a cane into a pig’s vagina and beating the pig;
- Multiple pigs beaten with metal gate rods;
- Lacerations on more than 30 pigs;
- Two men, including a supervisor, jabbing clothespins into pigs’ eyes and faces;
- A supervisor kicking a young pig in the face, abdomen, and genitals; he told PETA’s investigator, “You gotta beat on the bitch. Make her cry.”
Sample entry from the investigator’s notes: “I witnessed a bloodbath today. … I witnessed at least 30 piglets killed today … Blood soaked the concrete floors. Generally speaking, piglets are thumped and killed in view of their peers. Many of the piglets were still moving after being thumped just once and are left there to die a slow death.”
In October of 2008, The Greene County Sheriff announced six of the farm workers would face a total of 22 criminal charges. In January 2009, Shawn Matthew Lyons pled guilty, becoming the first individual ever convicted of abusing or neglecting factory-farmed pigs in Iowa, the nation’s leading pork-producing state. In June that same year, four other workers admitted their guilt. They were all given probation, and three of the four were barred from working with animals during their probation. Pork magazine referred to the case as a “wake up call.” “Graphic Abuse of Pigs Caught on Tape,” CBS News.
Iowa Undercover Investigation, 2011-2012
A Compassion Over Killing investigator went to work for Hawkey Sow Centers (HSC), another breeding facility for Hormel. The subsequent video documented thousands of sows confined in gestation crates, so small they can’t turn around. Piglets’ had their testicles ripped out without any anesthesia, with some castrations leading to herniated intestines. Workers are shown shoving the intestines back into the piglet’s abdomen, then taping up the wound. The intestines from dead piglets are turned into “gruel” and fed back to other pigs. That same year, Iowa Governor Branstad signed an “ag-gag” bill to make investigations like this illegal.
Minnesota Undercover Slaughterhouse Investigation, 2015
A Compassion Over Killing investigator went to work at Quality Pork Processors (QPP), a USDA-inspected slaughterhouse in Minnesota that exclusively supplies to Hormel. This facility was one of five in the U.S. operating under a USDA pilot program, known as “HIMP”, a program allowing even higher-speed slaughter and reduced government oversight. At the time of the investigation, Quality Pork Processors killed approximately 1,300 pigs every hour. The video reveals:
- Pigs being beaten and shocked;
- “Downer” pigs – sick and injured individuals unable to walk – being kicked and dragged;
- Pigs covered in feces or pus-filled abscesses being slaughtered and processed for human consumption (with a USDA inspection seal of approval);
- Improper stunning, potentially leading to some animals entering the scalding tank while still alive.
In early 2016, the USDA halted operations at QPP due to violations. COK has a Change.org petition, calling on the USDA to halt the HIMP program, which may instead be expanded.
“There’s a Horrifying Pork Factory Video Going Around. The Story Behind It Is Even Worse” Mother Jones.
““That One Was Definitely Alive”” The Washington Post.
“Close to the Bone: The Fight over Transparency in the Meat Industry” The New York Times Magazine.
Oklahoma Undercover Investigation, 2016-2017
Mercy for Animals investigation of The Maschhoffs – an Oklahoma-based supplier for Hormel – reinforced the treatment of mother pigs and piglets shown by other undercover investigations. This video, which can be seen at HormelHell.com, showed baby piglets having their testicles ripped out without anesthesia. This, and having their tails sliced off, left piglets with many untreated injuries. All the mother pigs were again confined in gestations crates, so small they cannot turn around.
In January, 2017, Hormel announced it was no longer accepting pigs from this particular Maschhoffs facility. Hormel said they would have third-party auditors inspect other Maschhoffs sites to monitor animal treatment.
Sample coverage: “Hidden-camera video shows graphic animal abuse at pig farm,” New York Post.
Animal Treatment Policies
In 2012, Hormel announced it was moving to eliminate gestation crates by 2017. However, this applies only to Hormel-owned facilities, not suppliers. According to their latest policy page, company-owned farms in Colorado and Wyoming will be transitioned to group housing for mother pigs by 2018. But, as stated in the same document, “a majority of our hogs are purchased using contractual agreements.” Thus, the majority of pigs slaughtered by Hormel won’t come from facilities required not to use gestations crates.
Treatment of Workers and Environmental Degradation
Ted Genoways wrote an article on Hormel for the July/August 2011 issue of Mother Jones: “The Spam Factory’s Dirty Secret: First, Hormel gutted the union. Then it sped up the line. And when the pig-brain machine made workers sick, they got canned.” A few excerpts:
“Every hour, more than 1,300 severed pork heads go sliding along the belt. Workers slice off the ears, clip the snouts, chisel the cheek meat. They scoop out the eyes, carve out the tongue, and scrape the palate meat from the roofs of mouths. Because, famously, all parts of a pig are edible (“everything but the squeal,” wisdom goes), nothing is wasted.”
“Mathew Garcia inserted the metal nozzle of a 90-pounds-per-square-inch compressed-air hose and blasted the pigs’ brains into a pink slurry. One head every three seconds. A high-pressure burst, a fine rosy mist, and the slosh of brains slipping through a drain hole into a catch bucket. On December 11, Garcia awoke to find he couldn’t walk. His legs felt dead, paralyzed. His family rushed him to the Austin Medical Center, not far from the subdivided Victorian they rented on Third Street. Doctors there sent Garcia to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, about an hour away. By the time he arrived, he was running a high fever and complaining of piercing headaches. He underwent a battery of exams, including MRIs of his head and back. Every test revealed neurological abnormalities, most importantly a severe spinal-cord inflammation, apparently caused by an autoimmune response. It was as if his body was attacking his nerves. Six workers were referred to Richard Schindler, a doctor at the Austin Medical Center who’d first seen Matthew Garcia. Schindler found that Garcia and another brain-machine operator were the most advanced cases. Besides Garcia and the six workers referred by Bower, Schindler had seen another five men and women with similar symptoms – all workers at QPP. Schindler believed they were suffering from something like the rare disorder Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP) – death of the peripheral nerves caused by damage to the fatty neural covering known as the myelin sheath.”
“Matthew Garcia was sent back to the Mayo Clinic neurology department, Dr. P. James Dyck explained to him that there was an “epidemic of neuropathy” that was affecting QPP workers – a newly discovered form of demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy. Inhaling aerosolized brains had caused his body to produce antibodies, but because porcine and human neurological cells are so similar, the antibodies began destroying Garcia’s own nerves, as well.”
In 2014, Mr. Genoways wrote another article for OnEarth, reproduced in Mother Jones: “Hog Wild: Factory Farms Are Poisoning Iowa’s Drinking Water: Millions of pigs are crammed into overcrowded barns all across the state, being fattened for slaughter while breeding superbugs – all to feed China’s growing appetite for Spam.” Excerpts:
“Between May and July 2013, as downpours sheeted off drought-hardened fields, scientists at the Des Moines Water Works watched manure contamination spike to staggering levels at intake sites on the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers. These two major tributaries of the Mississippi are also the usual sources of drinking water for roughly one out of every six Iowans. But at one point last summer, nitrate in the Raccoon reached 240 percent of the level allowed under the Clean Water Act, and the DMWW warned parents not to let children drink from the tap, reminding them of the risk of blue baby syndrome.”
“Massive amounts of antibiotics are used in the meat industry to promote growth and speed this process. Public health advocates including NRDC have warned that the bacteria in CAFO waste pits like the one under our feet can build antibiotic resistance before being spread across surrounding fields and running off into the water. Freking told me, however, that New Fashion Pork does not use hormones or antibiotics to promote growth. But the company does finish its female hogs with a month-long course of ractopamine, a steroid-like feed additive that increases leanness. (China has banned its use, a factor in the purchase of Smithfield, which used the additive in only 40 percent of its meat and since the sale has gone ractopamine-free.)”
“But more than sight or sound or even worries about superbugs, what hits you in a pig barn is the smell….. It carried with it a hot, fleshy stink – not just a smell but an astringent, chemical burn that sears your nostrils. On the back wall, giant fans vented ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane, and other dangerous gases that rise from decomposing manure. A report published jointly by the University of Iowa and Iowa State University in 2002 concluded that air pollution from large-scale confinements “may constitute a public health hazard,” explaining that the problem did not arise primarily from the containment of manure in waste pits but from its application aboveground as fertilizer…. In response, the DNR announced new air-quality regulations. But Iowa lawmakers, most of whom count agribusiness among their biggest donors, overruled those standards within days.”
Iowa now has more than 8,500 factory farms, and is by far the country’s biggest hog producer. More than 18 million of its 20 million hogs are raised in CAFOs – most owned by or under exclusive contract to industry giants such as Smithfield, Cargill, Tyson, or Hormel.
Ted Genoways has published The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food, which grew out of his research into Hormel. He gave an interview to Tom Philpott at Mother Jones, discussing his research and the future.
For fiscal year 2016, Hormel had revenue of $9.52 billion, up from $9.26 for fiscal year 2015. Net income for 2016 was $890 million, up from $686 million in 2015 (2).