Animal-rights activists, toting a 10-foot inflatable pig, arrived in Northern Virginia this week to protest Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and its pork suppliers, charging in a national protest tour that the retail giant is mistreating hogs.
With the bloodied blow-up pig standing in a too-small cage, Mercy For Animals led a protest outside the Walmart on Richmond Highway in Alexandria Monday, waving signs that read "Walmart Tortures Pigs" and "Walmart Supports Animal Abuse."
Phil Letten, the group's national campaign coordinator, charged that the pigs are being "abused, neglected and sentenced to lives of extreme confinement and deprivation" in crates in which they can't turn around, walk or lie down comfortably.
(View a photo gallery from the protest)
"Most people oppose animal cruelty, so when they learn of the egregious abuse that the pigs endure before winding up on Walmart shelves, they're horrified," Letten said.
The nationwide protest comes just weeks after activists released what they said was a hidden-camera film of mistreated pigs at one Walmart pork supplier. The supplier denied charges of animal cruelty, however, saying images from the video "are dated and are intentionally taken out of context."
Christensen Farms CEO Robert Christensen said properly caring for the pigs was "essential to the success" of their business and that they have "continually challenged" themselves to improve pig-caring practices.
Still, activists such as Louise Filkins, a District resident who joined the Mercy For Animals protest, said people need to speak out against Walmart because "all animals deserve to be treated humanely."
Letten said the group has been in touch with Walmart's top officials, but said they're "dragging their feet" about the matter.
He plans to continue talks with them, however, and said he would cut Mercy For Animals' nationwide protest tour short if Walmart decided to join Safeway, Kroger, Costco and McDonald's in changing the way they handle animals.
Walmart did not immediately reply to questions.
The protesters are leaving Northern Virginia for Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York.