Visit to an Indian Piggery in the Time of Swine Flu

Visit to an Indian Piggery in the Time of Swine Flu

All in a day's work

In the town of Ganaur in the state of Haryana, a number of egg laying facilities have been abandoned. Bird flu scares that have popped up over the past few years have caused chicken and egg prices and demand to fluctuate. For some farmers in this town, the losses have been unbearable, and several have left the poultry industry completely. One owner, however, converted his egg-laying facility of 25,000 hens into a pig producing operation or piggery in 2005. Initially, he housed 300 pigs and now has over 900, who will be sold for slaughter to be consumed in the nation’s capital, New Delhi. Coincidentally, I visited this facility on the same day swine flu claimed its first fatality in India, though I didn’t know that at the time.

Access to this piggery was generously facilitated by Nitin Goel of the Humane Society International (HSI), who is working on factory farming issues in India. (Inside the pig facility, my partner, Wan Park, took photos, including the one included here.) To learn more about HSI’s work in India, click here. I was curious about the switch from chickens to pigs. The owner said he felt the poultry industry was very volatile, while his pig business has grown to be stable in the past few years. I also recently heard from Compassion Unlimited Plus Action about the increase in piggeries popping up in the southern city of Bangalore. I was surprised because there are religious taboos that limit pork consumption in India. While the Muslim community abstains from pork, this piggery owner said that Christians and some Hindus eat pig meat. There are also a growing number of foreign nationals and students in Delhi who consume pork. I was told that pork is often mixed with mutton and sold in the market to unknowing customers. (I’ve heard similar rumors about beef from illegal cow slaughter).

I was also curious about what happens to the pig waste. The owner said that farmers pick up the waste for use as manure. There was no sewer system or waste containment at this piggery, so pig waste also likely ends up with rainwater run-off in open drainage channels and into nearby fields.

The pigs in this facility were mostly nursing mothers and their offspring. There were a few “service males” used for mating. The breeder sow will go through four to five pregnancies over the course of 30 months, after which she will be sold for meat. The babies are weaned after two months and then put on dry feed, which consists of rice, corn and sometimes soy. After about nine months, when they reach 90 to 100 kilograms (198 to 220 pounds), they are sold for slaughter.

All pigs will be transported and manually killed, as there are no pork processing plants in this region. One person described to me what this entails: It will take several people to hold the pig down and tie her legs with rope. Her head will be cut off, which is a slow and painful process. Then, her stomach is opened, her intestines are removed, and her body is cleaned, chopped and sold by the kilogram. The owners of the pig farms and the consumers of the pork (or “mutton”) usually don’t bear witness to this process.

Since the visit to the piggery, I have also been curious about the panic that has set in with the recent swine flu cases in India. Hospitals are swarming with patients, stores have run out of masks, schools are having precautionary closings and Bollywood is even impacted. Despite World Health Organization’s assurances that pork is safe to eat, this article suggests that swine flu is impacting pork sales in India.

Will the threat of disease and high cost of feed that has been impacting the chicken industry also come to disturb the pig businesses? Will the Indian government and policy makers be thinking about the links between factory farming and the potential for future health pandemics? From bird flu to swine flu; chickens to pigs, what will be next for this piggery, in particular, and more generally, for the piggeries setting up operations in other parts of India?