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Another Byproduct of Factory Farming: Livestock Incinerating Fires

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One of the worst parts of incarceration, many say, is knowing if a fire breaks out the guards aren't going to save you. They're not going to rush back into the prison building and risk their lives. Why would they? If your life had any value, you wouldn't be locked up in the first place.

That's exactly what happened to 10,000 pigs who perished in factory farm fires in Canada and Indiana in the past month.

8,700 pigs burned alive at Netley Hutterite Colony in Manitoba, Canada about 30 miles north of Winnipeg on April 2.

The pigs were housed together in a 900 foot by 80 foot barn with only six full-time and two or three part-time employees caring for them.

Efforts to stop the fire by cutting a path through the barn with a bulldozer failed when it "got hung up" on the factory farming style manure pits beneath the stalls.

"At one point we heard a big squeal and it was ear-shattering," said Tom Hofer, a retired hog worker, with tears in his eyes

"You could hear them scream," agreed Markus Hofer, a teacher who also witnessed the blaze.

On March 11, firefighters were called to Cardinal Farms Sow Farm, 55 miles northwest of Indianapolis, IN where 2,500 pigs were burned alive as fire engulfed a hog farrowing and nursery barn.

The facility, owned by Agrivest Inc., the largest farrow to finish hog producer in Montgomery County which produces more than 100,000 hogs annually, is still in operation.

Fritz Holzgrefe, owner/operator of Agrivest Inc., thanked firefighters and the Red Cross and promised to do "what we have to do to get the mess cleaned up."

No cruelty to animal charges were filed against the farm owners or operators.

The Netley fire is not the first factory farm fire at a Hutterite Colony whose members follow the teachings of Jakob Hutter in sharing communal goods and observing pacifism at least toward humans. In the past two years, fires at Vermillion Farms Colony and Rainbow Colony, both also near Winnipeg, have incinerated 3,000 and 5,500 pigs, respectively.

Nor is it the first big Indiana fire.

Less than a year ago, firefighters from eight departments in three counties responded to a fire that killed all the hogs, thought to be in the hundreds, on a farm in White County, IN near Otterbein.

Some owners of burned hog farms are even repeat offenders.

Last June, 50 firefighters battled a lethal hog farm fire near Flora, IN, in the same building where 3,300 hogs perished in a fire seven years earlier--a fact Flora Volunteer Fire Department Chief Scott Sisson called "ironic."

"The Lord's in control," said Lynn Peters, owner of the fire prone farm, who vowed to get more hogs. "We'll get through this," he promised.

And a fire that killed hundreds of pigs in Chilliwack, BC, Canada, last summer was the third for hog farmers Jan and Nancy Pannekoek who were just planning to leave the business. Their second fire, in August of 2004, killed 250 pregnant sows and 20 boars.

No cruelty to animal charges have been filed against Peters or the Pannekoeks.

Of course factory farms, with their uninterrupted rows of confined animals and manure pits, are known to be harmful to the environment, animals and people who live or work near them.

For the Netley Hutterite Colony and similar communities often targeted by corporate farming interests, they are not even profitable.

Nor are barn fires new.

But only a factory farm can incinerate 10,000 pigs in a few hours in a fire--as they wait, in vain, for their guards to rescue them.


Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative pubic health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)
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