Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters


Why shipping live pigs to Hawaii did not end with the ancient Polynesians & Captain Cook

November 19, 2011 Animal People (Merritt Clifton, editor)

HONOLULU–Five years of advocacy appears to have ended most of the retail end of the live pig trade to Hawaii.

Now comes the hard part:  ending the wholesale trade to hotels and restaurants that cater to tourists who visit Hawaii from all over the world,  but are usually there for just a few days out of a lifetime.  Hotel and restaurant demand accounted for more than 80% of live pig imports at the peak of the trade,  and with the retail trade shrinking,  may account for almost all of it now.

Ahead for live pig trade opponents is retooling campaign strategies to effectively address a much more diverse clientele than supermarket chains which each coordinate the purchasing for dozens of stores.

“Two supermarket chains in Hawaii –Foodland Super Market Ltd. and Times Supermarkets–have agreed to no longer purchase pork products from pigs transported live from the mainland U.S. to Hawaii for slaughter,  citing animal welfare reasons,”  World Society for the Protection of Animals U.S. programs manager Sharanya Prasad announced on September 20,  2011. Foodland operates 31 stores in Hawaii; Times Supermarkets operates 20.

WSPA issued a similar announcement on March 21, 2009,  after Hawaii Food Products agreed to stop selling pork from live-imported pigs.  All three major Hawaiian supermarket chains have now quit selling pork from live-imported pigs,  along with most national chains with stores in Hawaii.

“The majority of Hawaii’s luaus, retailers and supermarkets already import fresh chilled and frozen meat from the mainland U.S.,” said the 2011 WSPA report No Paradise for Pigs.  “These include Whole Foods Market,  Safeway,  CASH ‘n Carry,  Queens Supermarket,  Palama Supermarket,  Takamiya Market and Maui Oriental Market.”
“California-based Safeway didn’t respond to a request for information about pork sold in its Hawaii stores,”  reported Andrew Gomes of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.  “A spokesperson for Washington-based Costco said the chain’s Hawaii stores sell pork slaughtered on the mainland and shipped chilled.  Times, which acquired Honolulu-based Star Markets in 2009 and Big Save Value Centers on Kauai earlier this year, switched to chilled pork shipments last month,” Gomes added.

WSPA joined Animal Rights Hawaii and other animal advocacy groups to form the Handle With Care Coalition in 2008, after the German organization Animals’ Angels exposed the suffering of live pigs in transport from British Columbia,  Canada.  “The coalition produced a public awareness campaign that included posters displayed in more than 500 Honolulu buses in 2009,” recalled Gomes.

Triggering the campaign was the finding that 218 pigs died en route to Hawaii between September 1,  2006,  and August 31,  2007–a 1.4 percent mortality rate.  Pig industry spokespersons responded that this was 87% of total pig-shipping mortality en route to Hawaii between 2002 and 2007.

But mortality was hardly the whole issue.  Alleged Animals’ Angels in September 2009, “Each week, 400 Canadian pigs are exported from Alberta to California,  then to the Hawaii Livestock Cooperative on Oahu in conditions which violate Canadian law.  Animals’ Angels and Animal Rights Hawaii, with support from the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals, submitted extensive proof of [alleged] violations to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the USDA,”  but to little avail.

The live pig trade to Hawaii exists, Animals’ Angels and Animal Rights Hawaii suggested, because “Hawaii regulations allow pigs who arrive alive on Hawaiian soil to be considered ‘local.’ This allows the Hawaii Livestock Cooperative to market thousands of Canadian pigs as ‘island fresh.’

“The animals’ suffering begins,” Animals’ Angels said, “even before the long-distance transport to Hawaii.  Animals’ Angels documented dead pigs at collection and loading points in Lethbridge, Alberta.  No veterinarian was present to check the pigs’ condition and health and to certify their fitness to travel.”

Animals’ Angels representative Lesley Moffatt tracked pigs en route from Lethbridge to Oakland, California.  The drive would normally take at least 42 hours on the road, but by using two drivers per truck, one of whom rests in a sleeper cab while the other is behind the wheel,  the pigs reach Oakland within the 28-hour limit for livestock to be in transport without an off-vehicle break.

“Once the trucks reach California, the animals are not unloaded, as required,” Animals’ Angels reported,  “but are moved to shipping containers for 36 hours.  The containers sit in the blazing sun without adequate ventilation.  The animals have no chance to recuperate, with high outside temperatures and even higher inside temperatures.  The pigs are then reloaded to new containers and transported to the Port of Oakland,  where they wait among other containers for approximately six hours,”  until loaded.

“Rough seas cause further suffering,” Animals’ Angels continued. The pigs are fed for the first four days at sea, but are not fed on the final day, after entering coastal Hawaiian waters where fecal matter may not be discharged. “At unloading,” Animals’ Angels charged,  “Animals who cannot walk are dragged out.   To speed unloading, port operators use stressful electric prods.  The surviving pigs spend their last days or weeks, depending on demand,  on hard concrete flooring, next to a pile of the skins of already dead pigs;  food is thrown onto the floor where it is trampled and contaminated with feces.

“This occurs,” the report finished, “at a taxpayer-financed slaughterhouse at Kalaeloa that was supposed to provide more humane handling and slaughter.”

The only USDA-certified pig and cattle slaughterhouse on Oahu, the facility was built on state land in 2004 by the nonprofit Hawaii Livestock Cooperative.  It kills about 850 pigs and “fewer than a dozen cows a month,” Pacific Business News reported in April 2011.  Animal Rights Hawaii, WSPA, and the Humane Society of the U.S. later in 2011 blocked a bill that would have allocated $1.6 million to purchase and upgrade the slaughterhouse.  The Hawaii legislature then allocated $750,000 to install a photovoltaic generating system to cut the slaughterhouse’s electricity bills.

“I started the current campaign when I was program director at WSPA-USA,”  Animal Welfare Institute farm animal program manager Dena Jones told ANIMAL PEOPLE.  “Animals’ Angels campaigned on the route prior to that.  Animal Rights Hawaii has worked this issue for many years,  helping both Animals’ Angels and the WSPA coalition. The route has been in existence for at least two decades.  The number of pigs transported has dropped about 20% over the last three or four years as a result of the WSPA-led campaign,” Jones said.  “The recent decision by two more supermarkets to stop selling products from imported animals should decrease transport by another 15% or so. The problem in ending the route is the demand for fresh or ‘hot’ pork on Oahu,” Jones opined.  “Getting the mainstream stores to stop selling the meat is one thing,” Jones said,   “but getting the ethnic markets and restaurants to stop is quite another.”

Industry sources agreed with Jones that the exit of Foodland and Times Supermarkets from the live pig import business will cut the trade by 15%.  The Hawaii Livestock Cooperative suggested that it might have to lay off four of the 14-member Oahu slaughterhouse staff.

But ethnic markets and restaurants, per se,  do not appear to be the major source of demand for “hot” pork,  except to the extent that they participate in presenting tourist-oriented luaus. Despite the WSPA No Paradise for Pigs claim that “the majority of Hawaii’s luaus” now use frozen carcasses, the sum of live pig imports,  Hawaii pig farm production,  and hunted pigs has remained close to estimated use in tourist luaus for more than 40 years.

Few visiting luau attendees ever know that the word “luau” originally referred to the octopus fare served at traditional Hawaiian beach parties,  whose menus were first documented by missionaries in 1856.  The typical visitor to Hawaii imagines that luaus have always featured pit-roasted whole pigs.  But Princess Danielle Kealoha and Stephanie Ikaika performed the first known kalua-style pig roast shortly after 1900.

Perpetuating the kalua pig-roasting “tradition” that probably never existed appears to be by far the biggest reason why Hawaii now imports 10,000 to 12,000 live pigs per year, to augment the 16,500 pigs who are raised and slaughtered in Hawaii and the hunting take, now below 1,500 per year.

Of course Hawaiians eat a lot more pork than that–more, in fact,  than any other Americans.  Current U.S. per capita pork consumption is about 48 pounds per year.  Hawaiian per capita pork consumption is upward of 60 pounds, the equivalent of more than 337,000 pigs.  Included is consumption of about seven million cans of Spam per year, six per Hawaiian resident.  But almost all of the pork consumed by Hawaiian residents, like the Spam, arrives on refrigerator ships,  and has since before Hawaii won statehood. Relatively few Hawaiians eat pork of Hawaiian origin.

Hawaiian live pig imports, pig farming,  and pig hunting, other than for trophy mounts,  supply the demand for whole carcasses. Other pig meat comes to Hawaii split into sides and frozen.  That serves the supermarket demand,  but roasting a frozen side does not look “traditional”–as if the pig was just speared that day in the nearby rain forest. But, contrary to public image,  pig-spearing and hunting pigs with dogs are perhaps even less authentic to Hawaiian traditional practice than kalua-style pit roasting.

Singapore pig ecologist Cheong H. Diong produced probably the most comprehensive of all studies of Hawaiian feral pigs as his 1982 Ph.D. thesis–a 284-page tome entitled Population Biology & Management of the Feral Pig (Sus  Scrofa L.) In Kipahulu Valley, Maui.  Cheong H. Diong demonstrated that the Polynesian pigs introduced to Hawaii circa 400 A.D.,  after nearly 2000 years of being translocated from island to island across the Pacific Ocean, rarely go fully feral.  Rather, Cheong H. Diong argued, archaeological evidence suggests that because pigs were highly valued and hard to transport by outrigger sailing canoe, the Polynesians at each island initially kept translocated pigs as confined livestock.

Inevitably some pigs escaped, but tended to form pariah populations, still semi-dependent on human food waste and cultivation,  close to human settlements,  where the pigs mingled with pariah dogs as in rural villages and pre-automobile city streets all over the world.  “Native forest deterioration by pigs was probably insignificant in Polynesian times,”  wrote Cheong H. Diong. “Events in the postcontact era contributed to and accelerated the feralization process.  These included forest clearing, introduction of agriculture, ranching,  and uphill recession of the forest line.”

Sea captain James Cook introduced European pigs to Hawaii, releasing several in 1777 with intent to establish a feral population huntable by future sailors.  By 1853 colonists routinely released pigs into the wild to augment and expand the feral population. Though the European pigs hybridized to some extent with the smaller Polynesian pigs,  European traits became dominant,  including the ability and inclination to live in the forest without routinely associating with humans. “Thus, while pariah states of existence during Polynesian times may have delayed the feralization process,  it was accelerated by postcontact events,”  Cheong H. Diong continued.  “Native forest deterioration is therefore,  in my view,  a post-contact rather than a pre-contact phenomenon,”  he concluded.

And so was Hawaiian pig hunting, which caught on slowly despite the ambitions of Captain Cook.  Because feral pigs had become recognized as agricultural pests, and were not hunted enough for meat or sport to hold their numbers in check,  the Hawaii Board of Agriculture & Forestry introduced the Eradication of Destructive Wild Stock Program to kill feral pigs in 1910.  From the beginning of formal program record-keeping in 1917 through 1924,  the pig toll on all islands combined averaged fewer than 250 per year.  But Hawaii then had few tourists, and hunting pigs was difficult in the swampy and densely overgrown habitat that pigs favor.

Also,  the alleged pig proliferation may have existed more in perception than reality.  Cheong H. Diong found among Hawaiian feral pigs a pre-weaning mortality rate of 70% and a post-weaning piglet mortality rate of 40%.  This would normally be enough to hold the Hawaii pig population in check, even without the presence of pig predators other than pigs themselves,  who often practice cannibalism.

Introducing a bounty on pigs stimulated pig hunting–and apparently stimulated pig reproduction, too, as the surviving pigs compensated for losses by rapidly breeding back up to the carrying capacity of  the habitat.  The pig killing toll during the first two years of the Great Depression soared to about 5,700 per year, but declined during the next 10 years, and fell to 1,250 per year during World War II. Hawaii before World War II had barely 400,000 residents, with little tourism despite enthusiastic descriptions by Mark Twain in 1866 and Jack London in 1907.

Twain made passing reference to pigs as an offering to Hawaiian royalty.  London wrote that he and his wife Charmian attended “a real, untarnished-by-hoale [persons of European descent] luau,” which was organized by hosts of European descent.

At the luau,  London observed,   “sucking-pigs were barbecued in native fashion,  wrapped in ti-leaves among hot roasting-stones in the ground.”  This,  just a few years after the first such pig roast on record,  appears to have been approximately the beginning of the tradition of visitors participating in a quasi-traditional luau, something which had not been part of Twain’s experience.

Most U.S. troops who served in the Pacific theatre during World War II passed through Hawaii at some point–and many returned on vacation.  Hawaiian tourism boomed to 240,000 visitors per year by statehood in 1958,  received a big boost from James Michener’s 1959 best-selling historical novel Hawaii,  which featured pig roasts at luaus,  and reached one million visitors in 1967;  two million in 1972;  four million in 1979;  five million in 1986;  and currently runs close to 7.5 million per year.

Pre-statehood, rural Hawaiians often kept a pig or two, like other rural Americans.  That, plus hunting 7,500 to 11,000 pigs per year, was sufficient to serve local demand for pork and the luau demand as well.

Kemo’o Farm introduced commercial pig farming to Hawaii Island in 1909 to serve Schofield Barracks, but diversified into the dairy business by 1919.  The commercial pig farming industry revived during World War II to serve military demand, producing 90,000 pigs in 1945; but by the end of the war,  refrigerated transport from the mainland–and the introduction of canned Spam–had already put pig farming into a tailspin.

But as the postwar luau demand climbed, the pig hunting toll rose too, averaging 20,000 per year from 1960 to 1970 –about 25% of the estimated pig population.  By then, though, rapid development of coastal swamps into hotels,  housing,  and golf courses had cut deeply into the most abundant pig habitat. From 1970 to 1982, the pig hunting toll returned to the range of 7,500 to 11,000, and then dropped lower.

Today pig hunting is permitted on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Molokai,  Oahu,  and Kauai,  but not on Lanai.  Where hunting is allowed, licensed hunters may use rifles, muzzleloaders, handguns, shotguns, spears, knives, or archery.  The bag limit is one pig per day, except on Molokai and Maui, where it is two pigs per day.

Almost all of the money in pig hunting now is in the fees paid by hunters for land access and guided trophy hunts,  at prices ranging from about $550 to more than $1,500 per pig killed.  The pig hunting toll in recent years has been about 1,250 per year,   all islands combined, with not more than 570 including estimated poacher kills on Hawaii Island and no more than 300 on Oahu.  The two biggest recent year-long pig extermination projects on the smaller islands, undertaken in the name of protecting native birds and plants,  killed only 53 and 37 pigs,  respectively.

Vocal support for pig extermination in recent years has come mainly from birders,  who blame pigs and feral cats for the decline of many species whose habitat has been developed,  from macadamia nut growers concerned about pigs beating them to fallen ripe nuts,  and from marijuana growers,  who frequently stake out pit bull terriers to protect their crops from both porcine and human intruders.

Pig hunters have complained about the recent scarcity of pigs; some have even sought closed seasons and stricter bag limits. The collapse of hunting as a source of supply for luau pigs contributed to the revival of commercial pig ranching,  for a time, but the economics of importing grain worked against the ranchers. Commercial pig production in Hawaii dropped from 23,500 in 2004 to 16,500 in 2009, with declines of more than 1,000 in every year.

This leaves the luau trade more and more open to live imports, until and unless pig roasts at luaus fall out of fashion, or animal advocates succeed in stopping the live trade.

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