Not the Hawaiian Getaway You Had in Mind

Posted by Lisa Franzetta, ALDF's Director of Communications on February 15, 2008

There has been a lot of coverage in the international press this week about a series of in-depth, undercover investigations into the practice of transporting farmed animals great distances (generally under hideous conditions) from the farms where they were raised to the blades that will ultimately slit their throats. On February 13, the UK’s Indpendent ran a very in-depth feature, including, on their website, investigative video footage provided by "Handle with Care," a coalition of international animal protection organizations, exposing the fact that "Millions of animals are suffering unnecessarily at the hands of meat traders by enduring cruel, drawn-out journeys across the world to be slaughtered on arrival."

It seems nonsensical. After a lifetime on a factory farm, why this final indignity–during which "thousands of animals die en route from disease, heat exhaustion, hunger and stress," only to be butchered in a foreign land? The Independent explains:

Many live exports are undertaken to make the fraudulent claim that the animals are home-reared. In Spain, thousands of horses are illegally crammed into lorries for a sweltering 46-hour journey to Italy. Canadian pigs, in conditions just as obscene, are condemned to a 4,500-mile journey by land and sea to Hawaii, so that, when slaughtered, their carcasses can be sold as "Island Produced Pork". For nine days, hundreds of pigs are crammed together in the dark, standing in their own excrement. Exhausted and hungry, they become ill, vomiting from motion sickness and waiting for long periods without food.

An article in Canada’s Globe and Mail went into further detail about the Canadian pigs’ ill-fated journey. I learned that each year, about 15,000 pigs are crammed into containers and are trucked and shipped from Alberta to the Aloha State via Oakland, California.

Oakland?? On my commute to the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s headquarters office here in the Bay Area, I drive past the Port of Oakland every day, watching the massive cranes that loom along the skyline like enormous giraffes lifting giant containers that I have always assumed contained things like Hyundais and plasma screen televisions. They look almost peaceful. Never once has it occurred to me (and as a longtime animal activist, these things do tend to occur to me) that there were living animals, hidden from sight, on the massive ships that I see each day on their way out to sea.

Folks, I have been lucky enough to make the trip from Oakland to Hawaii of my own volition, and despite the small fortune it cost for the privilege of a creaky, half-reclining seat on a sub-par airline, I endured leg cramping, inadequate food provision, and the wails of despair of a number of my economy-class travel companions, many of whom (primarily babies, but still) were in fact traveling in their own excrement. It was bad enough, is what I’m saying, and at least there was a mai tai waiting for me at the end of it. What these pigs must endure is to me, quite simply, unimaginable.

"Buying local" has become a hot-button term recently in the discourse around food politics. All of these new entries into the cultural (and, you’d better believe, marketing) lexicon–"sustainably grown," "locally produced," "ecologically friendly"–does anyone know what all of this is supposed to mean, exactly?

To me, this week’s exposé on the horrors of long-distance transport also offers a warning to be wary when considering vague food labels like "Island Produced Pork." It sounds so very idyllic, and it’s intended to. Consumers are becoming more and more aware of and concerned about the lives of animals raised for food, and that’s a good thing. Meanwhile, marketers are becoming more and more savvy about selling an image of local and, implicitly, "humane" meat production that may bear no resemblance to reality.

*Thanks to DawnWatch.com for keeping a keen eye out for animal-related news coverage like this from around the globe.