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Whipped, Kicked, Beaten: Illinois Workers Describe Abuse of Hogs

Weeks after taking a job as a breeding technician at Eagle Point Farms, an anguished Sharee Santorineos sat down and wrote a three-page whistleblower complaint.

"I seen pigs that are pregnant beat with steel bars," said her letter to the Illinois Bureau of Animal Health and Welfare. "I seen them kicked all over their body."

Santorineos knows about raising animals. At a friend's rural Illinois farmhouse, she grows pigs and poultry that they eventually will have slaughtered. 

Still, what she saw at the western Illinois confinement appalled her, and she hoped her December 2015 letter would prompt a thorough state investigation.

Instead, like other worker allegations about animal abuse in Illinois' 900-plus hog confinement facilities, Santorineos' account went nowhere.

After Eagle Point executives gave a state bureau inspector a guided tour of the 6,000-pig operation, he wrote a single-page report.

"I did not observe anyone mistreating the animals," it said. "No violations found. Docket is closed."

The state has regularly discounted or dismissed such worker complaints, a Tribune investigation has found. In the Illinois hog confinements that send 12 million pigs to market annually, the bureau did not find a single animal welfare infraction or violation during the past five years, the Tribune found in reviewing thousands of pages of bureau records.

A lack of inspectors — the bureau has just six — contributes to the scant enforcement, while weak Illinois and federal livestock protection laws do little to safeguard animals.

Questions about how the pigs, cows and poultry we eat are treated — what the animals are fed, how they are medicated and how they live and die — are putting new pressures on a U.S. livestock industry that until recently has focused almost exclusively on productivity and profit.

Animal rights activists have lifted the welfare of livestock into the public consciousness by taking jobs in hog confinements and secretly recording pigs being pummeled, dragged with hooks and pinned for life in crates. But Illinois law makes it a potential felony to record a conversation without the consent of all parties, and no undercover stings have emerged from the state. 

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