A small cadre of silent protestors stood holding signs next to a giant inflatable model of a bloody, caged pig outside a Walmart store in Hartford.
The group was there to raise awareness of what it said were animal cruelty practices by Walmart's pork suppliers.
A steady stream of traffic passed by the protestors who held signs reading "Walmart Tortures Pigs" and "Walmart Pork=Animal Abuse." They stood on the more visible sidewalk rather than in the parking lot of the store near a busy westbound I-84 exit. Many drivers honked or gave the protestors a thumbs-up.
The organization, Mercy For Animals, said in a news release that its organizations undercover investigations have revealed "pregnant pigs confined for nearly their entire lives in fly-infested crates barely larger than their own bodies, pigs suffering from bloody open wounds and infections, and piglets being slammed headfirst into the ground and having their testicles ripped out and tails cut off without painkillers," according to a news release issued by the organization.
"We feel like consumers have a right to know where their food comes from, and make their own decisions," said Phil Letten, national campaign coordinator for the group. "It's time for Walmart to take a stand and phase out cruel gestation crates which prevent pregnant pigs from turning around."
Letten believes Walmart is dragging its feet an continuing to deal with suppliers such as Christensen Farms. Footage from Mercy For Animals' undercover investigation of that supplier is included in the attached YouTube video.
According to Mercy for Animals, other large companies such as Kroger, Safeway, Costco and McDonald’s, have already required their suppliers to phase out the cruel practice. The organization also said the practice has been outright banned in nine states as well as the entire European Union.
"Most people are opposed to animal cruelty, and when they learn of the conditions pigs endure before they end up on Walmart's shelves, they are horrified, Letten said. "They don't want to support it."
Mercy For Animals is in the eighth week of a cross-country protesting tour.
Response from Walmart
Editor's note: The article above originally was published by West Hartford Patch. The original article did not include comment from Walmart. A spokeswoman from Walmart was quoted in a July 17 Huffington Post article about the same protest campaign. Here is what Huffington Post reported:
A spokeswoman for Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart, Deisha Galberth Barnett, said the chain offers gestation crate-free Harvestland brand pork products in a number of its stores across the U.S. She said the company will continue to have discussions with its suppliers, groups and food safety experts to find ways to increase that number.
"We believe in offering our customers a choice," she said.
Editor's note: North Fork Patch on Long Island reported on a similar protest Friday, with the following reaction from Walmart and others:
Walmart spokeswoman Deisha Galberth Barnett responded on Friday: “This is a complicated issue and there are different points of view. We currently offer gestation crate-free pork products in a number of stores across the United States and will continue our ongoing discussions with suppliers, non-governmental organizations and food safety experts to increase that number," she said. “We hold our suppliers to the highest standards and do not tolerate animal mistreatment."
Galberth Barnett encouraged customers interested in learning more about how grocers and restaurants source pork products to contact the National Pork Board.
Eric Wells, owner of Wells Farm on Sound Avenue in Riverhead, NY, also raises pigs. Regarding the debate of Walmart suppliers, Wells said, "Without seeing exactly what they’re doing, I can't say what they're doing is right or wrong."
Wells added that in order to make a "better judgment call," he'd have to see the suppliers' facility and, in order to make a fair assessment, he'd have to see the pens used for pigs and how many pigs were put in each pen. "If the pigs are overcroweed, yes, that's wrong," Wells said.
What's most important, Wells said, is raising healthy animals; he said using hormones, as some do, is not an approach he supports. "As long as they're healthy, that's what counts."
On the Wells Farm, pigs were originally fed corn -- owners raise 150 acres of corn on the property. But, Wells said, the pigs weren't getting enough nutrition, so now, the corn is mixed with all-natural duck grower pellets. "It gives them a more nutrition-based diet," he said.
In addition, Wells Farm pigs are kept in a barn on cement floors. "Every single day, we go in there and completely clean out the pens," Wells said. The pigs, he said, receive new feed every day. "In my opinion, that is one of the better ways of raising pigs."
Also on the Wells Farm, pigs are able to graze in a two-acre fenced-in swamp. "We let the pigs loose in there," Wells said. "There's fresh water to drink and they just go around grazing, eating natural shrubs."
The pens in the barn, Wells said, are "empty" compared to other facilities. Smaller bigs are kept in 10 x 20 pens, with 15 pigs at the most kept inside. Larger pigs are kept in 20 x 20 pens, with 15 to 20 pigs inside. Although technically, up to 50 pigs could fit, Wells said that would be "overcrowding."