What is the Pigs of God pig weighing contest?
The Pigs of God pig weighing contest sees pigs reared to extraordinary weights to compete for the title of the heaviest pig. The pigs are sacrificed as part of annual temple festivities, with the owners of the heaviest pigs awarded prizes by the temple, as well as local politicians. The contest is not specific to a particular religious tradition, and is carried out by an extreme minority of Taiwan’s many thousands of temples of varying religions and folk beliefs.
The origins of the pig weighing contest trace back to Japanese rule when the colonial power established the contest to promote increased pork production, combining it with local sacrificial rituals. The practice has since evolved into a form of gambling, as those purchasing pigs from specialist farmers predict which pig is likely to be awarded the prize in two or three years’ time.
Pigs reared for the pig weighing contest are force fed for years before they reach their final debilitating weights. To restrict their movement during rearing, the pigs are confined in tiny enclosures constructed with metal or bamboo pipes. The pens are so tiny that pigs are unable to walk, or even turn over. This combination of confinement and force-feeding—which can last for more than two years—causes many pigs to suffer from paralysis, depriving them of the ability to engage in their natural behaviors. Finally, in the lead up to the contest the pigs are gruesomely bled to death without pre-stunning in front of a watching audience.
Stage 1: Confinement
When pigs reach a weight of around 300 kilograms they will be moved to a suffocatingly small enclosure; their bodies held in by bars on all sides. At this stage, pigs are only able to rotate their body from one side to the other. The confinement is so severe that pigs are unable to stand, let alone exercise. Their unwieldy body size prevents them from being able to control their own behaviour and interactions with their environment. They are prone to suffering debilitating afflictions including paralysis, haemorrhoids, and the deformation of their limbs under their rapidly increasing body weight. Some pigs even require human assistance to urinate, as their body fat interferes with the function of their bladder.
Stage 2: Force feeding
Once pigs are moved into the confines of their individual enclosures the force feeding process begins. The pigs are force-fed with a wet feed which is squirted or shovelled into the pigs’ mouths using a metal tube. When pigs refuse to eat , farmers will hit them on the nose with the metal tube to force the pigs to open their mouths and continue eating.
For the sake of winning a prize, those participating in the contest often pay specialist farmers to raise pigs on their behalf. Most pigs used for the contest are fed one meal a day until such an order is placed. Once farmers have received an order for a pig, the pig will be fed two meals per day, with the first 30-40 kilograms and the second as much as 60 kilograms. In the words of University of Cambridge academic Professor D. M. Broom, “No pig would eat so much food given the choice.”
Under natural conditions pigs on the commercial market weigh around 100-120 kilograms, however pigs used in the Pigs of God contest are force fed to reach eye-watering weights; sometimes in excess of 700 kilograms. As in humans, morbid obesity causes chronic health problems including cardiovascular disease and inability to regulate body temperature, which can cause pigs to die on hot days.
Stage 3: Rough handling
Prizes for the pig weighing contest are awarded to owners of the heaviest pigs. But by the time the pigs are ready to be weighed, they are often completely immobile. Workers will thus push the pigs onto the scales. Many pigs suffer fright as they collide with the metal cage that surrounds the scales, with the collision frequently causing the animals to bleed from the nose or mouth. Some pigs will even be strung to cranes to lift them onto the scales, putting pressure on their overburdened limbs and causing abrasions and distress.
Stage 4: Brutal slaughter
The extreme body size of pigs used in the contest exacerbates their suffering right through to slaughter. The pigs cry and struggle in close proximity to onlookers as they are tied face-up to a horizontal pole, hanging from their limbs. They are then sawed back and forth across the thorax with 45-60cm blades to cut through the thick layers of fat and breach the major blood vessels, resulting in agonizing pain. No stunning procedure is used.
Slaughter regulations in the Animal Husbandry Act specify that animals must be stunned before slaughter, and should not be hung more than 30cm from the ground. The entire procedure is conducted in direct contravention of the Animal Protection and Animal Husbandry Acts.
The Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan(EAST) strongly opposes this callous contest dressed up as religious practice or folk custom.
Take action now! Sign the petition demanding that the Council of Agriculture put an end to the Pigs of God contest once and for all.
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Photography: We Animals / EAST
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