By Dan Imhoff

A few months ago, while reading an article about an independent pig farmer, I stumbled upon a curious case of “social engineering.” The farmer was lamenting how hard it was to place a story about his responsibly raised pork. He cited the National Pork Board—with its $60 million annual budget and arsenal of media resources to promote “the Other White Meat”—as a chief obstacle for small farmers.

A website link in the the article led me to a coloring book called “Producers, Pigs & Pork.” Innocuous at first glance, it is a book (or downloadable PDF) of simple drawings inviting kids to color in between the lines and “learn more about pigs.” Published as part of the “Pork4Kids” program, the storytelling takes place on a fourth grade level. And given the realities of contemporary livestock production, it’s quite a tale.

We travel with narrator Billy to a 100 year-old farm where we meet smiley farmer Jones and fresh faced veterinarian Dr. Sarah. Huge feeding silos and windowless barns are outlined for kids to color in. “This is fun!” Billy exclaims. “I’ve never been to a pig farm before.”

Young minds are told that fast growing pigs need lots of corn and soybeans (not table scraps) to grow to a market weight of 270 pounds, that veterinarians are there to look after them if they fall ill, and that pigs no longer grow up in the mud so they can stay healthy and happy.

The veterinarian’s prominence in the story is especially curious. Maps and surveys done by the American Veterinary Medicine Association paint a completely different picture of veterinarians on large livestock operations. In fact they detail a lack of veterinarians in many states where livestock production has consolidated: Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and North Carolina. What’s more a battle is raging right now over the abuse of antibiotics, fed routinely in feed and water rations to animals, without veterinary consult.

Of course, in the real world of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, the stench from 2,500 pigs jammed into a single hog barn would send Billy running for the exit clutching his barf bag. Billy might have nightmares after witnessing the crazed repetitive behaviors like bar chewing and pacing that intensive confinement induces in animals who naturally want to spend the day wallowing in mud, searching for food, and socializing in appropriate numbers.

According to the National Pork Board, “pigs can’t use all the feed they eat, so they produce manure. … this makes our crops grow better.” There is no mention that the immense output of untreated animal waste contained in a holding pond on the Jones’ modern factory farm could be equivalent to a small city. Or that the manure contain hundreds of compounds including antibiotics, hormones, heavy metals, and toxic gases.

As the story line of “Producer, Pigs & Pork” unfolds, so does its inherent magical realism. All is well down on the “farm”, even though the animals’ lives are any where close to natural. Visitors wear boots and coveralls to avoid passing germs to animals. In one final move of creative story telling, pigs turn into roast, pork chops, ribs and other cuts without transport to or slaughter at a processing facility.

This and a number of other coloring books are funded by the Pork Checkoff Program, a product of the 1985 Farm Bill and administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. U.S. pork producers and importers pay $0.40 per $100 of value when pigs are sold and when pigs or pork products are brought into the United States. The $70 million dollar annual budget for communications, research, and marketing is significant.