The campaign to promote veganism by exposing the destructive reality of the animal agriculture industry.

Pigs to the Slaughter: The meat industry’s response to COVID-19 was a confluence of cruelty to animals and workers alike


The test was designed to determine whether roasting pigs alive was an acceptable way to kill them. The experimenters wanted to know how long it would take for the pigs to die. The answer, for some of them, was over an hour.

LEIGHTON WOODHOUSE: On April 15, 2020, four weeks after the first American city was locked down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a gruesome experiment was performed. The experimenters filled a trailer, specially fitted with heaters capable of bringing the temperatures inside to lethal levels, with pigs, and turned the heat on. The experimenters wanted to know how long it would take for the pigs to die. The answer, for some of them, was over an hour.

The test was designed to determine whether roasting pigs alive was an acceptable way to kill them. The result, for now, was no. The American Veterinary Medical Association’s standard for the acceptable mass extermination of livestock in an emergency situation is 95% mortality within an hour. The test had fallen slightly short of that marker, killing only 90% of the pigs in that time frame. So the experimenters decided to make the process even more “humane” by adding steam to the process.

Two days later, they conducted a second test in the same trailer, with another group of pigs. This time, the trailer was equipped with a steam generator. This did the trick: All of the pigs died inside of an hour. The pork industry now had their AVMA-approved method for mass killings of their surplus hogs.

The improvised death chamber was the pork industry’s solution to a crisis that had befallen the entire meat industry, across all its sectors. At slaughterhouses all over the country, workers were catching COVID-19 and being forced off the disassembly line… When workers developed cases of COVID that killed them or landed them in the hospital, leaving the plant short staffed, instead of slowing production, companies like Tyson just forced the remaining workers to work faster… Eventually, so many workers got sick or died that slaughterhouses had to pause their operations, creating a glut of live animals in the supply chain…

By the time President Trump used the Defense Authorization Act to order slaughterhouses to reopen at the end of April, the swine slaughter industry was operating at just a little over 50% capacity. (Even after reopening shuttered plants, short staffing left the plants operating at severely reduced capacity.) This meant that hog farms, already facing reduced consumer demand due to restaurant closures, had hundreds of thousands of slaughter-ready animals with nowhere to go.

Pigs on factory farms are already so densely concentrated that they barely have space in their pens to move around. At the same time, the entire industrial process is designed to grow them as quickly as possible, through breeding, diet, and forced inactivity. With nowhere to send the pigs for slaughter, it was only a matter of days before they would outgrow the tiny spaces they were confined in. The industry needed a way to kill them all, and quickly.

Other, less excruciating methods were off the table. Factory farms claimed that they couldn’t obtain enough guns and ammunition, captive bolt guns and charges, carbon dioxide or electrocution equipment quickly enough to pursue any of the methods those tools imply. So after the success of the second test in the converted trailer, the industry adopted “ventilation shutdown,” as the method of overheating animals to death is known. Construction crews converted barns into giant makeshift ovens, their ventilation inlets and wall seams sealed, food and water removed, and heaters and steam generators affixed to them. In at least one case, the steam generator the farm used was designed for the railroad industry, to heat railcars…

It’s unclear how many pigs were killed this way. But nationally, at the end of April, when swine processing was down by 45%, according to one peer-reviewed paper, a quarter-million pigs per day who would have been sent to slaughter in normal times remained in their pens, awaiting some other end. As of June, when the industry began to bounce back, there were still 3.2 million such pigs…

For consumers, that backup resulted in skyrocketing prices for meat. For the animals themselves, it resulted in what the industry deceptively calls “euthanasia,” but that is, in fact, in many cases an excruciatingly slow and torturous death… The giant meatpackers are doing better than ever before. Prices for meat are skyrocketing, with the lion’s share going to the packers. In fact, profits for meatpackers are so high that the Biden administration has accused the industry of “pandemic profiteering”…

The supply chain crisis that led to the implementation of ventilation shutdown was, in a sense, inevitable, given the structure of modern animal agriculture. Meatpacking is a classic economy of scale; large players are able to drive down their per-unit costs to such a degree that they can squeeze out smaller players, increasing their market share…

I’ve reported on animal exploitation extensively in the past, and specifically about Direct Action Everywhere, a Berkeley-based animal rights group. A couple of years ago, I formally joined the organization as a member. I don’t claim to be neutral when it comes to this issue, or this organization. I disclose this because DxE, as the group is abbreviated, is a big part of what happened next—and specifically, a DxE activist named Matt Johnson, whom I consider a personal friend.

Lucas Walker is a young, burly guy who voted for Trump and belongs to the NRA. Until recently, he was a truck driver for Iowa Select Farms, and looks the part. Walker grew up in the heart of pig farming country in Iowa and raises a few cows and pigs himself. But he found himself increasingly bothered by the casual abuse of pigs by overcrowding that he had seen every day on the job. Walker struggled with what to do about it. He knew there would be a backlash in his community, a town of just 6,000 people where the industry he was exposing constituted the entire local economy. “Big company, small town,” he said to me. The company’s COO lived just a mile and a half from his home.

Walker first learned about DxE when he watched a video that Matt Johnson had shot of the atrocious conditions on the hog farm of an Iowa state senator who had sponsored the state’s new “ag gag” law. In May, Walker sent an anonymous email to DxE to inform them about conditions at Iowa Select.

Walker wasn’t familiar with Matt Johnson, but his employer was. And some of the workers at Iowa Select Farms facilities soon would be, too. Later, when Johnson snuck onto an ISF farm, he found a flyer in the break room with his picture on it. The flyer said, “Si entra à la granja, nos carga la verga”: “If he gets on the farm, we’re fucked.”

Walker and Johnson struck up a dialogue. Walker told Johnson conditions at Iowa Select were far worse than on the state senator’s farm. Johnson was listening, but it was only after the pandemic began that the conversation really started to take shape. Johnson would ask Walker about the company’s ventilation shutdown plans—when and where were they happening—and Walker would go to work, strike up casual conversations with coworkers and find out. Then he’d pass it back to Johnson.

After having gathered logistical information from Walker, Johnson returned to Iowa. Along with a small team of activists, he staked out the facilities. “It was never a sure thing it was going to happen,” Johnson said. “Maybe a 50-50 chance.” But Johnson managed to sneak onto the barns that had been converted into VSD death chambers, and planted hidden cameras inside. The cameras captured hours of the agonizing extermination of hundreds of pigs, on both video and audio. Glenn Greenwald and I released the footage to the public…

the giant meatpackers are doing better than ever before. Prices for meat are skyrocketing, with the lion’s share going to the packers. In fact, profits for meatpackers are so high that the Biden administration has accused the industry of “pandemic profiteering.”

But activists like Johnson remain a threat, so the meat industry is doing everything it can to destroy DxE. In June of 2020, local police and a private investigator for Iowa Select Farms identified Lucas Walker as DxE’s source. In a meeting that Iowa Select’s COO drove him to, the FBI tried to recruit Walker as an undercover informant against the activist group. An agent who interrogated Walker asked him if he knew if DxE sold drugs or guns to finance their activism, and asked Walker if he would be willing to sell drugs, too, in his role as an FBI spy. He asked him if he’d be willing to covertly record calls with Matt Johnson to help the FBI amass evidence against him. Walker turned him down.

In January, Johnson will be tried in Iowa for felony burglary, electronic eavesdropping, and “agricultural trespass.” (The last of those is part of the new ag gag law that was championed by the state senator whose hog farm Johnson infiltrated and filmed.) He says he looks forward to the trial, which he sees as an opportunity to further expose VSD to the light of day.

Walker’s only regret is that the company was able to spin the story as some shady act of sabotage carried out by some anonymous troublemaker, when in fact it was a respected senior employee of the company who had blown the whistle, as a matter of principle. “When all is said and done,” Walker told me, “I wish I had been even more public about it”. SOURCE…