Overview: Each year, ten billion animals are raised for consumption in the U.S., mostly on sprawling, industrialized farms, where virtually no federal laws mandate how the animals are treated – though guidelines exist – and state laws are ineffective. As a result, animals are frequently subjected to what many consider cruel treatment and inhumane conditions in the interest of economic efficiency. DEATH ON A FACTORY FARM chronicles an investigation into alleged abuses that took place at a hog farm in Creston, Ohio. This shocking documentary is produced by Tom Simon (a seven-time Emmy winner) and Sarah Teale, producer of the 2006 HBO special DEALING DOGS which received two Emmy nominations, including Best Documentary.
The piece follows the undercover investigation of Wiles Hog Farm by the animal rights group The Humane Farming Association (HFA), and the resulting court case against it. The organization received a tip from an employee at the farm that animals were being abused, including a claim that hogs were being hung by chains and strangled to death as a form of euthanasia. HFA then turned to an undercover investigator (also featured in DEALING DOGS) going by the name “Pete,” who wore a hidden camera while he worked as a farmhand at Wiles.
Expectations: This is an encore airing of this 2009 investigative piece. When I saw the title surface again in the schedule some immediate memories came back to mind. What I recall from this documentary is nothing short of upsetting. It will be unsettling for anyone who is sensitive to animal cruelty because that is the crux of the piece. So, since I know exactly what to expect the question arises of whether I really want or need to see this report again in order to write this review. I procrastinated for a day before I decided to watch it again. The old trailer I dug up only alludes to the horrific scenes that play out. Be forewarned if you to decide to watch.
Gut Reactions: Damn, it is tough to watch a program like this; at least for a person of my ilk. What also makes it hard is that I’m a meat eater. I enjoy beef, chicken and especially pork. Watching this scenario play out definitely puts me off of my feed for a while. I think that is what made me watch this documentary again. We needed reminded that this sort of thing goes on and that some kind of regulation needs to happen. Luckily, since then legislation in a number of states have improved laws in this regard.
Undercover camera work is always dangerous and exciting. Luckily, for the comfort level of the viewer and for the pacing of DEATH ON A FACTORY FARM that footage is mostly in the first half hour of the piece. It then moves into talking about “Pete” (pictured), our undercover reporter and what led him into animal advocacy and what life on the job is like. The rest of the film focuses on what happens to the Wiles Hog Farm as they go to trial. The three days of the trial are covered right down to the verdict and thoughts afterwards are expressed. Now, what is left is for viewers to formulate their own opinion. Was what happened on the Wiles Hog Farm cruelty or just part of the unfortunate business of preparing livestock for the slaughterhouse? If you are brave enough to watch you can form your own opinion and express it below.
In Conclusion: For what it is worth, in my opinion, what was shown here is a case of animal cruelty. I realize that animals for consumption need to die at a farmer’s hand at some point, but cramped quarters, leaving them just to die if ill or injured, throwing them around as if they were already little ham hocks just isn’t right. We are not going to stop eating meat, but we can strive to make the conditions better. DEATH ON A FACTORY FARM proves its point and makes its case. This is a well done documentary, but since it is a repeat HBO is not carrying it across the channels and can only be found on HBO On Demand or HBOGo.
Bonus: HBO had a brief interview with the producers of the documentary, Sarah Teale and Tom Simon of Teale-Edwards Productions.
HBO: You’ve both previously made films, including ‘Dealing Dogs’, which examine animal abuse. How did you come to this subject, and why does it continue to interest you.
Sarah Teale: (pictured) Neither Tom nor I are vegetarian, and we aren’t particularly animal rights people. But we have a fascination with Pete,the undercover agent, who Pete is, what Pete does, and the risks he takes, and the kind of life he leads to do it. And also the fact that, in a way, this is the civil rights movement of our time. A lot of people are dedicated to getting information out about animals and factory farming, and Pete is on the forefront of that.
Tom Simon: That’s why we find what he does so compelling, because we know that it makes for incredibly engaging television and filmmaking. This film ended up being about his investigation of a factory farm, but over the course of three years, we followed him and shot a number of different investigations from puppy mills to issues of horse slaughter. But when it came down to it, we felt this investigation was the most compelling story
HBO: When you first viewed Pete’s undercover footage, what were your feelings?
TS: In terms of first impressions, seeing the piglets for the first time slammed against the post and tossed into that bucket still in their death throes, with Pete going right up so you can hear that piglet twitching and his little feet scraping against the side of the bucket, is an image that will last with me the rest of my life. But when you’re working with the footage, you somehow get inured to it a bit because you have to be able to work with it.
HBO: Most people go to the supermarket and buy their food, but don’t really think about the production process that went into putting that meat on the table. Why is that do you think?
ST: With so much else to be worrying about right now it’s easy not to think about it. But I think factory farming has gotten to such a level that it’s not only about animal cruelty, it’s also unhealthy for us. What we’re eating is impacting our children, it’s impacting the environment because of the waste, and it’s reached such a level that I think there’s a growing number of people who are concerned about it.
HBO: What can people do if they find themselves outraged by the images in the film?
TS: Take action. There are a number of groups, among them The Humane Society of the United States that has major anti-factory farming campaigns.
ST: Support legislation. Talk to your local grocer and say, why can’t you carry humanely raised products, or more of them? Eat local.
TS: Go vegetarian a couple days a week for starters, which is something I’ve started to do.
ST: In addition to the animal cruelty side of this, there are all kinds of related health issues, because the animals get so sick, and they can’t afford veterinary care, so they just pump them full of antibiotics. That’s not good for us. So it’s a health issue as well as a humane issue
HBO: Another issue you raise in the film is the lack of federal laws governing factory farming and the treatment of animals. Has there been any legislative movement to change and mandate how animals are treated, as a result of your coming out with this film.
ST: We hope so because there aren’t any laws to convict people on for this. And animals raised for food are exempt from many of the cruelty laws.
TS: That’s probably the most important point that people should understand, is that almost all animal cruelty laws do not apply to agricultural animals. But I do think the more enlightened people in the industry are realizing that if the industry doesn’t police itself, if it doesn’t clean up its act, somebody’s going to do it for them.
Next Week: Debuting 09.29 is the Martin Scorsese directed THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT.