BERKELEY—On August 26, UC Berkeley students chained themselves to the Sather Gate on campus for nearly 3 hours. In their laps were bodies of dead piglets found by students in the barn of a meat supplier. The supplier, Seaboard Foods, is a major source of meat at UC Berkeley. The protest was organized by 18-year-old freshman Zoe Rosenberg, and was live streamed to almost 500,000 viewers.

Rosenberg led an investigation that uncovered inhumane practices at Seaboard Foods facilities and released secretly-taken footage of the facility the day before the protest. The investigation uncovered inhumane living conditions, where pigs are sick or infected and the piglets live short lives due to diseases in mothers causing premature labor. Rosenberg cited this as a danger to animals and to anyone eating them, as well as a threat to human beings as the diseases found in the barn have the potential to spread to humans.  

Rosenberg said that Cal Dining messaged her after the protest communicating their decision to drop Seaboard Foods as a pork provider. Rosenberg commented, “While this is a huge victory for the animals, it is not enough.” 

Cal Berkeley Dining released a statement via Twitter on August 27 announcing screening for their current remaining food suppliers “to ensure they have an animal welfare certification and follow our sustainable supplier practices.” Addressing the footage released the day before, they stated, “While we are examining these allegations, we have advised our meat supplier not to send any Seaboard Foods products. We are actively looking for a different pork provider.”

The Berkeley Cal Dining website states:

“We strive to increase the ratio of plant-based foods on every plate, and source animal products from farms and ranches that practice good animal husbandry and environmental stewardship.” The program cites “plant-forward cooking” and “locally grown, humanely-treated, and environmentally and socially responsible” ingredients. 

“UC Berkeley is promising to look more in depth at the humane certifications of the meat they serve. We have investigated certified humane factory farms from across the country and have found horrible conditions at every single one. We are requesting that UC Berkeley stop serving pork altogether instead of simply choosing a new supplier.” She said many of the students that demonstrators talked to at the protest were in support of phasing meat out of meal plans. She said, “With growing support from the student body, we will continue our campaign to ban meat on campus,” said Rosenberg.

The  footage captured of Seaboard facilities shows pigs in various inhumane living conditions and states of sickness: many are coughing and sneezing, some have abscesses, sores, and infections, mothers have prolapses causing their reproductive organs to protrude outside their bodies resulting in premature births, and dead piglets are crushed by their mother’s weight in cages small enough to prevent them from turning around. Rosenberg and her colleagues pulled some piglets out from under their mothers in attempts to save their lives. They also took the bodies of already dead piglets for the demonstration, found in piles behind their mothers. 

A dumpster found outside the barn contained dead piglets “who had been slammed against concrete by workers or gassed to death with CO2 tanks,” says Rosenberg. “Premature babies aren’t valuable to the industry, they are merely a liability. So, instead of giving them the special care that they need and deserve, they are killed.” 

Rosenberg additionally recounted a specific event she witnessed on the farm:

“One night while we were inside of the farm, there was a mother pig actively in labor. Due to the Streptococcus Porcinus, one of the diseases we found present at the facility, many of the mothers were giving birth prematurely. She was one of them. 

She couldn’t even see her babies as they were born, couldn’t clean them, couldn’t help them, couldn’t do anything. They would fall to the poop and urine covered floor, writhing and crying as they struggled to navigate the sudden change all alone. 

The babies, still covered in amniotic fluid, would slip into the cracks of the floorboards. Her piglets were so premature that their feet weren’t fully developed. Where their toes should have been, there were simply small balls. They could barely stand up.” 

B-roll footage Rosenberg sent depicts such events.

Mice and cockroaches were also found in the facility. 

The group found packaging and documentation revealing the use of over six different types of antibiotics as well as other drugs on the animals. According to Rosenberg, “This creates ideal circumstances for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to grow. If infections with pandemic potential make it out of the farm and have become resistant to treatment, there could be no way to prevent millions of people from dying.” Some protesters carried signs reading “Stop Pandemics” among others reading “Ban Meat.” 

During the investigation, Rosenberg worked alongside Berkeley Organization for Animal Advocacy and members of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), self-described on their website as “a global network of activists working to achieve animal liberation in one generation.” 

DxE recently released footage of an hour-long extermination procedure used by Iowa Select Farms called ventilation shutdown. Along with information provided by a whistle-blower, it is now known that the process involves the suffocation of large groups of animals that no longer provide commercial value by filling closed barns with steam. Audio tapes from hidden recorders reveal the animals are conscious for multiple hours, the duration that their screams are heard. The process was first used in April as the coronavirus led to the shutdown of many slaughterhouses due to insufficient protection for employees, and the animals could no longer be sold or cared for financially.

Pete Thomas, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa Select Farms, told the Farm Journal’s:

“We’ve not been able to market the number of pigs we wanted to for a while now. We knew it was coming and we had to make the tough decisions. It’s been hard on us to come to those decisions.” He noted that the situation was taking a toll on his mental health, “As producers, we really want to do what is best for the pigs. We take pride in what we do – providing for these animals and feeding the nation.”

Thomas stated that the organization exhausted all possible alternatives to euthanasia, including utilizing space, slowing growth through diet, and working with local meat processors. Iowa Select Farms stated its decision to euthanize on May 19. 

A research paper “Farming and Mental Health Problems and Mental Illness” notes that, while there is no conclusive data to indicate that farmers or their families experience higher rates of mental health issues compared to the non-farming community, “farming is associated with a unique set of characteristics that is potentially hazardous to mental health and requires further research.”