VERNON (CNS) - The Farmer John slaughterhouse in Vernon is slated to close for good in a matter of days, leaving about 2,000 workers with uncertain futures -- but animal rights activists are saying good riddance to a facility they say tortures and kills thousands of animals every day.
Smithfield, in June 2022, announced plans to close the slaughterhouse, citing the rising costs of doing business in California. Company officials said they were providing transition assistance to employees at the plant -- which until 2019 made the iconic Dodger Dogs sold at Dodger Stadium -- including "relocation options" to other Smithfield facilities and farms.
"We are grateful to our team members in the Western region for their dedication and invaluable contributions to our mission. We are committed to providing financial and other transition assistance to employees impacted by this difficult decision," Smithfield Chief Operating Officer Brady Stewart said in June.
A Smithfield representative told City News Service on Wednesday that while the plant's final day has not yet been determined, "we anticipate wrapping up operations before the middle of February."
"We have offered transition assistance to all Vernon team members and are meeting individually with those who have expressed interest in employment at other Smithfield locations," the company's statement added.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn has also pledged to assist workers who will be displaced after the plant closes. The Board of Supervisors approved a motion in June aimed at ensuring workers are provided with placement and other assistance.
John Grant, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, which represents union meat-packers at the plant, said at the time he hoped another operator takes over the operation. A union spokeswoman told CNS there are roughly 1,500 UFCW workers at the plant, with other workers represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the International Union of Operating Engineers.
Future plans for the site are currently unclear.
Meanwhile, animal rights activists are holding the last in a series of regular vigils outside the plant to call attention to the plight of the thousands of pigs trucked there every day. There have been vigils each day this week at 3049 E. Vernon Ave., with the final one planned as an all-night event from 7 p.m. Thursday until 7 a.m. Friday, "or until the last pig arrives," according to organizers.
The vigils have taken place for years, organized by L.A. Animal Save and the Animal Alliance Network, with a small number of activists holding candles and providing water to animals crammed tightly into the back of trucks on their way into the plant.
Actor Joaquin Phoenix, a vegan and animal rights activist, has been a frequent participant, and even attended a vigil the night he won a Screen Actors Guild award for best actor in 2020 for 2019's "Joker."
"The closure of the Farmer John slaughterhouse is only the end of a chapter in a book that is still being written, a book in which we continue to advocate for the liberation of all animals who suffer in these oppressive systems," Phoenix said in a statement this week from the set of that film's sequel, "Joker: Folie Á Deux," according to PlantBasedNews.org.
"I am thankful to L.A. Animal Save and everyone in this community who has shown these animals the only kindness and respect they have ever known," he continued. "You have taken the pain of bearing witness, and turned it into effective, peaceful, diplomatic advocacy for animals. Although it saddens me that I can't be there at this time, it's been my privilege to stand alongside these activists, and it's our duty to continue this fight."
Animal rights groups say baby pigs are raised in cramped conditions until they are loaded onto trucks bound for the slaughterhouse.
"They are packed into trucks with over a hundred of them piled together, often without room to move freely," according to the Animal Alliance Network's website. "These pigs are usually raised in warehouses without windows and the first time they see the light is when they are loaded onto these trucks."
More extreme activists with the group Direct Action Everywhere have occasionally entered the plant or attempted to shut down its operations in recent years. Dozens of DXE activists were arrested in 2020, with some chaining themselves to slaughter machinery.
More recently, DXE posted video last month shot by activist Raven Deerbrook, who claims she sneaked into the slaughterhouse with a fake uniform and badge to capture the plant's "stunning" procedures, in which pigs are lowered into a chamber filled with carbon dioxide before they're placed onto a conveyor belt to be hung up and butchered.
Deerbrook says she witnessed pigs suffering extreme pain and terror and screaming in anguish for nearly a minute before appearing to lose consciousness.
Smithfield spokesperson Ray Atkinson told CNS that "the American Veterinary Medical Association, the World Organisation for Animal Health, and many other authorities on animal health recognize carbon dioxide stunning as a humane method for food animals. Carbon dioxide stunning quickly renders hogs into a state of analgesia.
"We asked a third-party animal welfare expert to review and provide observations on the video footage. Their observation: While there is a period of time during initial carbon dioxide exposure when pigs may feel discomfort and demonstrate aversive behaviors, this time is brief. The majority of the footage shows the pigs in an unconscious state and insensible to pain and movements are involuntary, not a response to the animals' perception of the CO2. These types of involuntary movements occur with most other stunning/euthanasia methods as well," Atkinson said.
The activists behind this week's vigils were hoping to rescue at least one pig from the plant, and started a "Save The Last Pig" campaign on social media.
"We have made arrangements for a local sanctuary that is happy and able to provide a forever home to a pig (or two!). Immediate transportation from the Farmer John slaughterhouse to the sanctuary is also in place," they wrote. "All we need is for Smithfield to say YES!"
However, company officials told CNS on Wednesday that they would not be accommodating that request.
"Smithfield and the contract hog farmers we partner with raise livestock so we can provide affordable, safe and nutritious protein," they said. "It would be a disservice to these farmers and the time and resources they have invested to raise these food animals to consider such a request."