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Stealing Lauri: A pig rescue highlights the concerns over antibiotics in (a)livestock

'Americans have a fundamental right to know how their food is being produced,' DxE's Wayne Hsiung said, 'but right now, the only way to gather this information is to break the law.'

ANDREW JACOBS: ‘Although scientists agree that the heavy use of antibiotics in livestock contributes significantly to the problem of drug resistance, getting details about farmers’ practices is nearly impossible. That’s because farms are not required to disclose to the government how much of the drugs they use, and federal inspectors are barred from making spot checks on farms to determine the prevalence of infections resistant to antibiotics. On this April night, Mr. Hsiung, a founder of the group Direct Action Everywhere, was planning to break into a farm, document the conditions there and, finally, to steal a pig.

His hope was to document that crowded, filthy conditions create sick pigs, requiring farms to use antibiotics and perpetuating a cycle with profound implications for public health… In a half-dozen states, so-called ag-gag laws punish those who expose conditions on factory farms… “Americans have a fundamental right to know how their food is being produced,” Mr. Hsiung said, “but right now, the only way to gather this information is to break the law”… With that, everyone stood around his laptop to review Google maps of the targeted farm and discuss the evening’s operation…

The farm is one of thousands across the country under contract to Smithfield Foods, the nation’s largest pork producer… Three hours later… one of them cradled a piglet. “It was hell in there,” said Jake, one of two videographers with the group who documented the night’s incursion, his voice jangled with adrenaline. The images they captured included scores of piglets that appeared to be sick, and shelves and refrigerators full of antibiotics, many of them human-grade… The female pig, roughly 6 weeks old, was frozen with fear. Her snout was flecked with crusty lesions, a sign of a skin infection common among pigs kept in tight conditions. They eased her into a plastic bin and someone gave her a name: Lauri, after the town where she had been raised.

A half-hour later, after packing up and checking out of the Holiday Inn, the crew hit the road again and headed to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, which has a veterinary hospital specializing in farm animals… A battery of tests would later confirm that the piglet had pneumonia, anemia and a multidrug-resistant staph infection that is increasingly common on American pig farms… Lauri now lives on an animal sanctuary in the South with other rescued pigs, grazing in the pasture and eating pumpkins and squash from the farm’s garden. Mr. Hsiung declined to be more specific about the location. Two years ago, F.B.I. agents out West descended on two animal sanctuaries in search of two piglets that DxE had removed from a Smithfield farm in Utah’. SOURCE…

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