Reynolds’ conflicting statements show that Iowa can do better for animals

On September 16, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a proclamation declaring October 2 as “World Farm Animal Day.” The proclamation draws attention to issues related to animal husbandry, such as animal cruelty and abuse, environmental degradation and the health effects of consuming animal products. Since 1983, World Livestock Day has served as a day of mourning and commemoration for the approximately 70 billion farm animals killed each year. And animal rights activists like me, who clashed with Reynolds, were taken aback. I couldn’t help but wonder if she realized what she was signing.

Of course, there’s an elephant in the room: Iowa’s lucrative and controversial pork industry. The Iowa Pork Producers Association boasts that Iowa is the number one state in the US that produces pork, with nearly a third of the country’s hogs hailing from Hawkeye State. The exact number of hog farms in Iowa is difficult to pinpoint — in 2020, National Hog Farmer reported 5,418 hog farms in the state, but a 2017 Department of Natural Resources investigation found 4,200 unreported, unregulated farms across Iowa. 69% of Iowa’s hogs are raised on commercial farms with over 5,000 hogs. Unfortunately for the pigs, humane treatment is low on the priority list.

In 2011, animal rights organization Mercy for Animals conducted an undercover investigation into Iowa Select Farms and documented extreme cruelty at the facility. The footage shows row upon row of sows crammed into gestation crates so small they can’t even turn around, covered in infected pressure sores. Piglets are castrated and tail docked without painkillers and thrown and kicked by workers. Viewing the surviving footage, animal behaviorist Dr. Jonathan Balcome:

“This video depicts scenes of unbearable suffering and inexcusable neglect… This farm should be closed immediately.”

In 2020, animal rights organization Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) obtained footage from Iowa Select Farms showing the mass culling of commercially worthless pigs using a controversial euthanasia method known as Ventilation Shutdown Plus (VSD+). According to a whistleblower, it took several attempts to kill the pigs — for four to five hours, the pigs languished in 120-degree heat as farm workers tried to suffocate the pigs, but to no avail. Then they pumped hot steam into the plant and fried the pigs to death. In the morning, farm workers killed all survivors with bolt shots. Numerous animal welfare organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States and the World Organization for Animal Health oppose the use of VSD+. In direct response to DxE’s investigations, several ag gag laws were signed, severely punishing whistleblowers and undercover cops. A total of four ag gag laws were passed, all but one of which were declared unconstitutional in some way.

Deb and Jeff Hansen, owners of Iowa Select Farms, have donated nearly $300,000 to support Gov. Reynolds’ campaign, and their mutually beneficial relationship is no secret; In 2021, Reynolds signed a proclamation declaring April “Meat on the Table Month” to “urge the people of Iowa to eat pork, beef, lamb, poultry, egg, fish or other meats from any of the many in Iowa to buy and eat meat and poultry processors or retailers.” This was largely in response to a statement signed by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis declaring March 20th to be “MeatOut Day” to encourage plant-based eating.

By the looks of it, Iowa’s values ​​don’t align with the World Animal Day message, and as long as we continue to prioritize production over animal welfare, they won’t align either. If we truly want to honor World Farm Animal Day, we must not take the proclamation as an empty promise. We need to understand the suffering we inflict on farm animals and accept that we can – and should – do better.

Emerson Slomka is a public health major at the University of Northern Iowa.