Farmer fined $2,500 in deaths of 832 hogs

A central Pennsylvania farmer whose 832 hogs drowned in their own waste after a sewer backup, pleaded guilty to animals cruelty and was ordered to pay a $2,500 fine.

Or $3 per hog, the Public Opinion of Chambersburg noted.

Daniel Lee Clark Sr., 47, now of Clearspring, Md., pleaded guilty to 10 counts of cruelty. The other 822 counts were dropped and no other penalty was imposed. Clark could have faced nearly three years in jail on the 10 cruelty counts alone.

Clark's lawyer, Clint Barkdoll, said the accident occurred in Feb. 2009 when the farm's manure disposal system malfunctioned causing a back up that led to flooding in the barn.

He said his client did not deliberately harm the pigs, but that they were victims of a "terrible agriculture accident. 

Clark said he did not call or ask anyone for help when the pigs were in peril, the newspaper reported, and as a result, the animals died eventually of "drowning, freezing and hypothermia."

"In retrospect, he should have made a call," Barkdoll said. "His failure to do that rose to the level of culpability, to the tune of 10 counts of animal cruelty."

The case underscores the inherent cruelty in large-scale confined animal operations, or factory farming, said Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, who called factory farming, by its very nature, an "agricultural disaster."

"Whenever you cram hundreds of animals into a confined space, it is virtually impossible to provide adequate oversight. Whether it's a manure system malfunction or a fire, the owner of the property should be held accountable for creating a hazardous situation where animals' lives are put in peril in the first place," said Baur, noting that thousands of animals die from these accidents annually. "Factory farming is a system where bad has become normal and living, feeling animals are treated like unfeeling machinery... These tragedies will continue to happen as long as farms are allowed to operate in this careless manner. Farmers who dismiss these tragedies as the cost of doing business need to rethink their business model.

Baur said tougher laws are needed governing factory farms.

[On Saturday, the day Baur emailed me that response, a fire in South Carolina farm claimed the lives of 18,000 chickens]

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture says it is still investigating the incident in Fulton County.