Christensen Farms, one of the nation's largest pork producers, has suspended seven employees over hidden camera footage that appears to show sick sows and piglets being abused and neglected at a company farm in Luverne.

The Los Angeles-based watchdog group Last Chance for Animals released grisly video footage Tuesday of sick and wounded pigs languishing for weeks in the company's "sick pens"; being dragged by the ears and snouts; and being slapped and stabbed by pens to force them to walk. The group is calling on the Rock County Sheriff's office to bring charges of animal abuse against the facility.

No commercial animal operation has ever been charged with animal abuse in Minnesota, never mind prosecuted, said Adam Wilson, director of investigations for Last Chance for Animals. But Wilson said leaving a sick pig to waste away for weeks without veterinary care, as one portion of the video appears to show, is no different than abusing a pet dog.

The group detailed what it said were 18 incidents of animal cruelty and 17 cases of neglect -- all misdemeanors under Minnesota law. The Rock County Sheriff's Office has not yet responded to calls for comment.

Christensen Farms & Feedlots, Inc., responded Friday by suspending seven employees and launching an internal investigation into the hog facility. The company, which is based in Sleepy Eye, is the nation's fourth-largest pork producer, supplying large national chains like Walmart

“We were disappointed to learn of alleged violations of our animal welfare policies at one of our facilities,” Christensen Farms CEO Glenn Stolt said in a statement. “At Christensen Farms, we take the health and welfare of our animals very seriously. It is our responsibility and we owe it to our packer customers and consumers to provide uncompromising care to our animals. There is no place in this industry for individuals who mistreat animals.”

Wilson said an investigator for the animal rights group took a job at the Luverne facility in the spring and spent four months shooting footage, some of it in secret, some of it openly.

In his statement, Stolt said the allegations were "disappointing," and the company would reevaluate its animal welfare and husbandry policies.

Last Chance for Animals' footage is available here. Warning: The content is graphic.

Photo: This still from a video posted by Last Chance for Animals shows a worker handling a small pig.

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