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Widespread abuse alleged at two pig farms

The Humane Society says this image was taken at the Seaboard Foods' pig farm in Goodwell, Okla., in late 2011. The pigs are in stalls that measure two by seven feet, a practice that had been routine until other major pork producers announced plans to do away with them.

Aiming to pressure two of the largest U.S. producers of pork, one of them a Walmart supplier, into changing how they treat pigs, the Humane Society of the United States on Tuesday said it had staged undercover operations that revealed atrocious conditions.

Alleged abuses against the animals include the use of extremely confined crates as well as the cutting off of tails and testicles with no painkillers.

"Lame pigs, pigs with gross abscesses, torn ears and noses, and ripped genitals and piglets sickened by 'greasy pig' disease were not seen by veterinarians," the group said in a statement released along with what it said was undercover video.

The allegations focus on two pig farms in Goodwell, Okla., one owned by Seaboard Foods and the other by Prestage Farms.

The Humane Society also filed federal complaints against Seaboard alleging that it made false and misleading statements about treating its animals humanely.

Seaboard has a public "Commitment to Animal Care" that states: "We are committed to proper animal care and have a moral and ethical obligation to the humane treatment of animals. We believe food animals can and should be raised, transported and processed using procedures that are safe and free from cruelty and neglect."

On Tuesday, Seaboard posted a statement on its website saying it strongly disputed "any allegations of abuse."

Ron Prestage, who owns Prestage Farms with his parents and siblings, told Reuters the video did not appear to show any neglect or abuse at their farm. He added that the company has initiated an internal investigation to ensure company policies are followed.

"There is nothing for me to defend in the video. We have both systems (gestation crates and group pens) and have for years," Prestage said.

The video shows pigs penned in cages that the Humane Society described as "so small the animals can't even turn around, rendering them virtually immobilized for their entire lives."

The group said its undercover operatives also "found workers cutting piglets testicles and tails off with no painkiller, injured piglets with their legs duct taped to their bodies, gestation crates overflowing with feces and urine and employees hitting pigs’ genitals to force them to move from one crate to another."

Gestation crates are stalls where female pigs are placed during pregnancy.

STORY: Smithfield vows breathing room for pregnant pigs

Both companies are "lagging behind" competitors like Cargill and Smithfield Foods, the Humane Society said, noting that those had recently pledged improvements such as ending the use of gestation crates by 2017.

In its statement Tuesday, Seaboard said that its "integrated system uses both stalls and group pens to house gestating sows. Animal welfare experts and professional groups have found no one method for housing gestating sows that is clearly better than the other when managed properly."

Prestage said that "there are times when each system has its advantages. If you have an animal that's gotten injured, it's much easier to treat them if they are in an individual crate. If they happen to be on the bottom of the pecking order, the other ones are just going to beat them up.

"On the other hand, if there is no fighting, you might decide they are happier in a group pen," he added.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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