Even more appalling, investigators found that after 900 piglets were left to die -- as they succumbed to a highly contagious diarrheal disease without any veterinary intervention -- farm operators ground up the deceased piglets' remains and fed them to their mothers.
The practice of feeding dead pigs to pigs is against the law in Kentucky, but the USDA has yet to ban the practice.
"The entire atmosphere at this facility is awful for animals, many of whom are perpetually immobilized and suffering from body sores, diarrhea attacks and prolapsed uteruses," said Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection at Humane Society, in a statement released by his organization.
Shapiro says the revelations uncovered by the investigation into the Owensboro, Ky., farm -- the name of which recalls the 19th century torture device -- are unfortunately not all that surprising. The use of gestation crates, confining animals to a space not big enough to turn around, is an industry-wide practice, he says.
“Routine practices at many hog factories -- immobilizing sows for their entire lives, feeding dead pigs to live pigs, denying medical treatment to injured or ailing animals -- just don’t sit well with American consumers," the head of the Humane Society, Wayne Pacelle, said. "We hope this investigation triggers an examination at what’s happening behind closed doors on factory farms."
Millions of pigs have died in the last year from this diarrheal disease at factory farms around the country. Pigs at smaller family farms, where swine are allowed to roam outside, show much lower rates of infection, the Humane Society pointed out.
As more evidence of abuse at factory farms has been publicized, consumers have demanded changes. Major suppliers have heard the calls for improved conditions, and last year several large retailers and food chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Chipotle, Safeway, Kroger, Costco and Kmart, promised to stop doing business with farms that used gestation crates.
[Humane Society of the United States]
2014: The Year in Music [PHOTOS]