A new twist on �Animal Farm�
By Jerry Mazza
Online Journal Associate Editor

Mar 26, 2009, 00:20

Death on a Factory Farm
An HBO Documentary produced
By Tom Simon and Sarah Teale

Wiki tells us George Orwell�s short novel Animal Farm is a dystopian (opposite of utopian) �allegory in which animals (mostly pigs) play the roles of the Bolshevik revolutionaries and overthrow and oust the human owner of a farm (Manor Farm), renaming it Animal Farm and setting it up as a commune in which, at first, all animals are equal.

�However, class and status disparities soon emerge between the different animal species (the pigs being the �greater species�). The novel describes how a society�s ideologies can be manipulated and twisted by those in positions of social and political power, including how Utopian society is made impossible by the corrupting nature of the very power necessary to create it.�

Well, we�ve come a long way from pigs playing �the greater species,� actually fourth in consciousness on a list preceded by man, primates, and dogs. In Death on a Factory Farm, which took three years to make, we have an undercover investigation of Wiles Hog Farm by the animal rights group, The Humane Farming Association (HFA), and the resulting court case against it in Creston, Ohio. It really makes you wonder if we should trade fourth place with the pigs on that list of conscious beings or be somewhere below it.

�Each year,� the documentary�s synopsis tells us, �10 billion animals are raised for consumption in the US, mostly on sprawling, industrialized farms where virtually no federal laws mandate how the animals are treated -- though guidelines exist -- and state laws are ineffective. As a result animals are frequently subjected to what many consider cruel treatment and inhumane conditions in the interest of economic efficiency. Death on a Factory Farm chronicles an investigation into alleged abuses that took place at a hog farm in Creston, Ohio.�

Actually, the documentary follows a young undercover investigator named �Pete� after he gets himself hired by a hog farm at the behest of the animals� rights group. We follow his courageous journey over the course of six weeks and on to the resulting court case that results from his work. Pete is armed with a small hidden camera, and a huge amount of commitment to expose the events he finds going on at the farm.

He secretly films many disturbing scenes, which include baby pigs (piglets) being tossed into crates from across a room as if they were rubber balls, not living beings, often hitting walls or the floor. We hear their whimpers of pain, see their cuts and blood. An unhealthy piglet is repeatedly slammed against a wall to �euthanize� (kill) it. Pete films impregnated sows held in pens so small they can�t move, except to fall on the floor in exhaustion. A worse fate awaits a sick sow. The sow and others like her are hung individually by a chain from a raised forklift until each is choked to death, which can take up to 45 minutes, with the animal squealing and kicking all fours.

There are other scenes as well of half-dead animals thrown in filthy pails until they die of sheer hunger and exposure. The dead animals are occasionally cannibalized by the living. Finally, a huge number of dead animals, young and older, in various states of composition are thrown in a huge mass grave and covered over with dirt. Watching it, there were several times when I flashed to like scenes from the Holocaust, in which humans were reduced to this bestial level. One wonders how it can be so facilely repeated with animals in the heartland of our Homeland. In fact, what security at all is provided for these animals? And where, if any, are their civil, excuse me, animal rights?

Nevertheless, the hanging-evidence that Pete caught on tape, this inhuman euthanizing, becomes the key evidence for a court case. Having obtained it, Pete delivers the footage to the HFA, which brings it to the Wayne County Sheriff�s Department, which subsequently raids the farm and finds all that film revealed was true. Pete concludes this part of the investigation and quits the job, though he remains to bear witness in court. Albeit disguised with a false beard, mustache and eye glasses, he faces the culprits eye to eye: Farmer Ken Wiles, his son Joe, and the fork lift operator, Dusty Stroud, who seem strangely divorced from the reality of their �jobs.�

On cross-examination of Pete, it is revealed that this is his seventh similar undercover job. After each, he had to change his name, residence and phone number to protect himself and his family. He is a young man in his 20s. When asked what he was paid for this job, he answers $4,000. All told, he has earned $24,000 from all seven jobs. So Pete is not exactly getting rich from this. The real payment for this young man is exposing the brutality to the animals, which is a dark commentary on humanity. Even nature�s predators kill with a merciful swiftness.

Also, it is curious that in the hearings, the animals, the pigs are rarely referred to as such but rather as �livestock for euthanizing.� The euphemism is reminiscent of the slave society of early America referring to slaves as chattel, property, not men; and this true even in the US Constitution. It took another hundred years and a Civil War that killed 600,000 Americans, Northerners and Southerners, for the black slave to be considered and called a human being, one of whom now sits in the White House. It�s funny the impact mere terminology can have on lives and the course of history.

In the trial that follows the raid, the prosecution and defense wage a fierce battle over the legality and morality of these practices so seldom seen by the public. They are described by the presiding judge as �distasteful and offensive,� yet in the end he defends farmer Ken Wiles and others in the close Ohio farming town as merely participating in an everyday process of producing �livestock for consumption.� More is the pity. Also, it was more than ironic that several residents speaking on camera agreed with Farmer Wiles, that this kind of investigation could lead to the end of their businesses and �lifestyle.� They said in essence they could just as well do without the fuss and get on home to have �a good pork sandwich.�

So much for values! Yet, let�s not single out this community or these people for this whole process, which is a part of our history. Back in the 1880s, Chicago�s most noted hog butcher, 250-pound Phillip Danforth Armour, had invented an immense revolving �hog wheel.� It had chains dangling from its rim. A chain would be tied to the leg of a hog about to be slaughtered. When the wheel turned up, the hog was jerked upside down into the air, squealing for life, as another hog was tethered.

The movement of the wheel delivered the first hog to an overhead railway where a butcher cut its throat and the blood spurted out. The hog then passed down the �railway of death.� Here he faced a �disassembly line,� another Armour first in the annals of American entrepreneurship. The hog carcasses moved onto teams of men, each with specific parts to cut off.

This increased productivity, not to mention animal brutality. It�s said that Henry Ford got his idea for �the assembly line,� reversing this ballet of disassembling labor. The line also eliminated waste, using all parts of the animals: hooves, tails, snouts, bristles, etc, yielding another fortune on what others threw away. Armour thought of everything, except the conscious look in a pig�s eye.

Returning to the Wayne Country trial, prosecutors filed 10 criminal charges of animal cruelty against the farm owner, his son, and farm employee, who participated in hanging the sow. Unfortunately the trio was declared guilty of only one charge, not the hanging of the sows and other brutal charges. There was not much happiness on the face of the farm owner (only his lawyers) over his victory. The faces of many members of the community were not happy in spite of this victory to sustain their �way of life.� Perhaps the footage had gotten to them on a deeper human level. There seemed to be more a look of shame, which could be a glimmer of conscience, a realization perhaps of the dissociation from their fellow creatures.

In any case, Pete�s job was over, though he was disappointed that the consequences were not greater. Yet he gathered his things from his motel room and hopped with mixed emotions into his pickup truck, ready to set out for the next job in the dystopian Animal Farm of America itself, whose armies post WW II have slaughtered millions, including civilians and soldiers, ours and our purported enemies, supposedly to sustain �our way of life.� Nevertheless, despite Pete�s frustration with penalties falling short he said, �If you want to walk in the rain, expect to get wet.�

For him this meant that despite his own hardships doing this work, including the repeated changes of identity, he was prepared to continue doing it, out of his love for the animals and his anger for an industry that wasn�t policing itself or bothering to clean up its act. It was a dirty job, as they say, but somebody had to do it. And obviously Pete, or Tom, Hank or Mel (whichever might be his next name) was back on the road again, a new kind of American mythic figure, the outrider protector for the miracle of living things. Bless him and all like him, wherever they are.

PS: Here is a short Interview with Sarah Tease and Tom Simon, the producers, which I think will be of interest to you.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York City. Reach him at His new book, State Of Shock: Poems from 9/11 on� is available at, Amazon or

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