Meet your pigs

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If you enjoy eating pork occasionally, you might not want to read any further. But you probably should -- especially as America waits to learn the fate of the almost universally hailed food-safety bill, which suddenly faces hurdles in Congress.

This week the Humane Society released the results of its undercover investigation of a Virginia pig farm that's owned by Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the world. A Humane Society investigator spent a month inside the Waverly, Va., facility, armed with a hidden camera. Among the more disturbing findings was this:

Female breeding pigs were crammed inside "gestation crates" so small the animals could barely move for virtually their entire lives. The animals engaged in stereotypic behaviors such as biting the bars of crates, indicating poor well-being in the extreme confinement conditions. Some had bitten their bars so incessantly that blood from their mouths coated the fronts of their crates. The breeding pigs also suffered injuries from sharp crate protrusions and open pressure sores that developed from their unyielding confinement.

Animal-rights advocates have long protested the use of gestation crates in farms. According to the Humane Society, Burger King, Wendy's, Carl's Jr., Hardee's, Chipotle, Quizno's, Sonic, Wolfgang Puck, Safeway and Whole Foods have all "reduced or eliminated their use of pork from pigs bred using gestation crates." In 2007, Smithfield -- after catching much heat over the practice -- announced that it was phasing out gestation crates but reversed course two years later, citing "significant operating losses."

Food-safety advocates are outraged over the investigation's findings. One of them -- New York Times food writer Mark Bittman -- appeared to call for a Smithfield boycott, in addition to taking a subtle jab at the popular TV cook who serves as the food giant's public face.

"I'm usually not one to cry 'boycott,' but if you, like Paula Deen, are a Smithfield supporter -- in fact, if you're still eating industrially raised pork (or chicken or beef or fish for that matter) -- get real," Bittman wrote. "Any industry (and Smithfield is hardly alone, though it does seem to be performing most egregiously) that operates with such infuriating disregard for the welfare of their animals deserves all the trouble we can muster."

You can watch a video summary of the Humane Society's investigation below: