Press Release

Lawsuit Filed Against Pig Breeder Holden Farms Related to Feeding Dead Piglets’ Intestines and Feces to Mother Pigs and Other Offenses

Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a false claims lawsuit against Holden Farms. Allegations include violating federal and state laws banning “garbage feeding” and state animal cruelty law.


ST. PAUL, Minn. — An undercover investigation conducted by Animal Outlook of a Holden Farms pig breeding facility in Utica, Minnesota exposed alleged illicit conduct. The video shows employees feeding dead piglet intestines and bodily fluids blended into a ‘slurry’ with pig feces to mother pigs — a practice the animal agriculture industry calls “feedback.” The investigation led to the Animal Legal Defense Fund filing in September 2021 a False Claims Act lawsuit against Holden Farms. The lawsuit alleges that Holden Farms falsely certified to the federal government that it was not violating federal, state or local laws when it applied for issuance, and later forgiveness, of a $2.57 million pandemic loan. Until this week, the case was under seal while the U.S. Department of Justice reviewed the case.

The undercover investigation took place from November 2019 — March 2020. Additional footage obtained by Animal Outlook during the investigation exposed:

  • Multiple instances of piglets falling through slats in the floor into an underground pit of feces, urine, and decaying piglet corpses and being left in the pit to die.
  • Numerous pigs are documented with severe prolapses, where intestines are spilling out of their body. In one documented incident, a pig’s extremely distended prolapsed tissue swings side to side as she struggles to walk down a hallway.
  • Piglets trying to nurse from their dead mother, who suffered a prolapse that spilled out of her crate.
  • A significant number of pig and piglet corpses in multiple stages of decomposition — some appearing to have mummified — in the hallways of the facility.
  • Workers tormenting piglets, including two workers playing ‘catch’ with a piglet — throwing the piglet with such force when the animal hits a PVC ceiling pipe it bursts. Water sprays from the pipe and the piglet falls to the floor unable to move.
  • Workers ripping male piglets’ testicles off with their hands and bragging about biting off piglets’ tails with their teeth, instead of the minimum industry standard of using a scalpel.
  • Routine kicking and beatings of mother pigs — some too sick or injured to walk.
  • Facility management acknowledging they were not ordering enough food, resulting in the pigs not being fed on most weekends, to avoid company-imposed penalties for overordering.

The False Claims Act lawsuit is predicated on Holden Farms’ receipt, and ultimate forgiveness, of $2.57 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan funding under the CARES Act. To secure the funding, Holden Farms certified it is not engaging in any illegal activity under federal, state, or local laws. The lawsuit claims the four-month undercover investigation at the Utica facility establishes Holden Farms “engages in systematic and ongoing violations of the Federal Swine Health Protection Act, the Minnesota anti-cruelty law, and the Minnesota anti-garbage feeding law.”

“Holden Farms feeding dead piglets to their mothers is disgusting, unethical and unlawful, and we believe this practice continues at its facilities today,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Managing Attorney Daniel Waltz. “Factory farms are already an immense risk for spreading zoonotic disease based on the large number of animals kept in confined, concentrated spaces — but compounding that risk with this ‘feedback’ practice during a global pandemic is unconscionable.”

“Pigs trapped in this cruel industry are born into a world of suffering,” said Cheryl Leahy, Executive Director of Animal Outlook. “The cruelties we documented at Holden Farms are so frequent and so extreme, yet this is how this facility does business. Holden should be held accountable for these rampant abuses under the law, which needs to be made to work against this large-scale corporate cruelty. The public stands with us in demanding an end to this cruelty and the industry that profits from it, and each of us has the power to refuse to support it.”

In one of several videos capturing the “feedback” process, an employee removes dead piglets from a plastic storage container — coughing and dry heaving, the employee complains of the smell “like sour placenta.” Using a scalpel, the employee cuts a piglet’s stomach lengthwise and squeezes the piglet’s internal liquid contents into a blender. While squeezing the piglet’s stomach the employee inflates the intestine like a balloon and turns to show her co-workers, before proceeding to pull the intestines out of his body (measuring dozens of feet in length), like a sinewy thread. When the blender is full, the “slurry” is poured into a large orange plastic cart labeled “FEED” that also contains pig feces, then wheeled out to the pens and fed to the mother pigs.

Holden Farms is the 16th largest pork producer in the U.S., reporting to have 72,000 mother pigs in 2022.

“Based on the size of Holden Farms and the sheer volume of animals they produce, it’s not a concern that animals born in this facility could be anywhere… they are everywhere,” says Waltz.

Learn more at aldf.org/holdenfarms.

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