Sunday, May 10, 2009

Smithfield: Destroying the environment and livelihoods in Eastern Europe and around the world

So it turns out Smithfield pig meat costs $1.40/kg vs $2.50/kg from traditional pig cultivation. This is the cost after subsidies, environmental destruction, and the ruination of thousands of livelihoods. Is it worth it?

Here are some comments posted by readers of the Smithfield article in the NY Times:

"I am President of Waterkeeper Alliance an environmental group and a leader of a national coalition of family farmers, fishermen, environmental and animal welfare organizations, religious and civic associations, and food safety advocates who are fighting Smithfield Foods in the United States. During the past eighteen months, I have come to Poland twice to alert the Polish people about the dangers of allowing Smithfield a foothold in this country, most recently at the request of the Animal Welfare Institute.

Smithfield is one of a handful of large multinationals who are transforming global meat production from a traditional farm enterprise to factory style industrial production. Smithfield is the largest hog producer in the world and controls almost 30% of the U.S. pork market. Smithfield’s style of industrial pork production is now a major source of air pollution and probably the largest source of water pollution in America. Smithfield and its cronies have driven tens of thousands of family farmers off the land, shattered rural communities, poisoned thousands of miles of American waterways, killed billions of fish, put thousands of fishermen out of work, sickened rural residents and treated hundreds of millions of farm animals with unspeakable and unnecessary cruelty.

Although Smithfield, a Virginia-based meat packer, never before owned a farm, its CEO, Joe Luter, began buying up farms so that the company could control, as he likes to boast, all aspects of pork production “from piglets to pork chops.” Luter who describes himself as “a tough man in a tough business” lives in a $17 million Park Avenue mansion in New York. He is known for a ruthless style that maximizes profits by industrializing agriculture and eliminating both animal husbandry and the family farm.

North Carolina’s hog farmers have been replaced by 2,200 hog factories; 1,600 owned or indentured to a single multinational -- Smithfield Foods. Smithfield now controls 75% of hog production in the state. From North Carolina, Smithfield moved to Iowa, the number one hog producing state. As a result of factory farms, Iowa lost 45,000 independent hog farmers in recent years with half of the remaining 10,000 already controlled by Smithfield and a few other large corporations. Joe Luter told the Washington Post that Smithfield will turn “Poland into the Iowa of Europe.”

Smithfield uses its wealth to buy politicians, paralyze regulatory agencies and break health and environmental laws with impunity. In North Carolina, Smithfield made business partnerships with a powerful state senator Wendell Murphy and a powerful United States Senator Launch Faircloth who protected the company’s interests in local and federal legislatures. Using adept campaign contributions and such cunning alliances, the hog industry has been able to corrupt and control the North Carolina state senate. The state’s largest newspaper, Raleigh News and Observer, won the Pulitzer Prize for its five-part investigative report disclosing how the factory hog industry had captured and corrupted the state senate.

Politicians who oppose the hog barons are punished. When North Carolina’s Duplin County State Assemblywoman Cynthia Watson began speaking out against Smithfield’s impact on her farm community, the hog industry launched a savage multimillion dollar attack, spending as much as $10,000 a week for two years to destroy her reputation. As a result, she lost her election and the hog barons sent a message to all the senators in North Carolina that if you speak out against this industry or this company, we will punish you!

Citizens who protest get the same treatment. Typically, the industry launches its occupation by removing the democratic rights of local communities who refuse to site these facilities in their communities. In Iowa, North Carolina, Michigan and many other states and Canadian provinces, public officials have stripped local governments of their decision making powers over these facilities. Similarly, we have seen that in Poland, local officials who opposed Smithfield’s facilities have been overruled by national authorities. The industry routinely uses bullying lawyers and illegal intimidation, threats, harassment, and violence to terrorize and silence its critics including its own workers. A group of Nebraska citizens who made comments during a public hearing on a hog factory permit were sued by Nebraska’s largest livestock producer. Neighboring farmers are routinely sued for participating in public hearings or speaking out against the hog industry. Contempt for our laws and bullying are part of industry culture. Smithfield’s own records show that it has committed tens of thousands of violations of state and federal environmental laws. Indeed, recent court decisions indicate that hundreds of Smithfield’s facilities around the country are in almost daily violation of federal environmental laws.
— Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Warsaw"


The current pandemic of Swine Origin Influenza Virus (SOIV- H1N1) should serve as a warning that unsafe agricultural and industry practices can be important factors in the origins of new zoonotic diseases which then spread from animal to human populations. (remember that the use of "downers" in cattle feed was a critical factor in the spread of Mad Cow Disease (BSE) in England?)

The family of influenza viruses depends upon dense host populations, whether they are avian, swine, or human. These density dependent diseases easily spread from one animal species to the next. This current SOIV H1N1 pandemic likely started in a densely overpopulated pig farm and then quickly spread into the densely overpopulated Mexico City.

Sometimes, just sometimes, people's health should take precedence over business profit.

As a footnote, it was most interesting to see the power of "Big Pork" in eradicating the word "swine" from this pandemic.

Changing the name will not stop a pandemic.
— Daniel, Lafayette Louisiana


An excellent article which tells it like it is. And it is disgusting and embarrassing. This is what America has become. Shame. i consider such companies, and especially their greedy CEO's to be the new barbarians ruining now our whole world. THIS IS NOT PROGRESS. THIS IS A VIOLATION OF ALL THAT IS TRULY HUMAN AND HUMANE. What to do? Start locally. Avoid as much as possible anything produced by the Food and Agri Industrial Complex. Remember, what they produce will kill you.


How do companies like Smithfield hurt? Let me count the ways (and I'm bound to leave a few out):

1. Creates dense farm animal populations that cause:
a. injury to the animals,
b. the efficient spread of disease (to the animals and to humans), and
c. serious detriment to the environment, including but not limited to methane to be released into the atmosphere and waterway pollution.

2. Causes small sustainable family farms to either:
a. go totally out of business through harassment or price freeze-out, or
b. acquiesce to the agribusiness model, becoming either breeders or feeders and getting hooked into the subsidy game out of sheer desperation.

3. Warps the fabric of public debate by:
a. influencing politicians with campaign contributions to keep subsidies flowing, to write laws that permit cruel and inhumane treatment to fall within the ambit of "customary farm practices" and thus escape prosecution, and to turn a blind eye to everything damaging they do.
b. distorting media reportage on what is really going on by changing the subject. For example, telling people they won't get swine flu from eating pork (true) turns the public eye away from HOW swine flu spreads: through raising a million pigs in disgusting conditions.

Oh, yeah, they also produce cheap meat. And then people can afford to eat a lot of it. What does eating a lot of meat do?

4. Eating a lot of red meat and pork can kill you.
— michaelajb, New York City


Six years ago (pre-Smithfield) I worked in Romania on behalf of an agribusiness firm that was entering the country. The level of interest and cooperation we received, as Americans, from Romanian locals was amazing. Predecessor American firms like Cargill, John Deere, and Pioneer had created enormous goodwill for the US through good business practices and quality products. Fast-forward to post-Smithfield. On a return trip in 2008 to Romania's ag regions, all had changed. Growers and co-ops were skeptical, gov't officials were not accessible. We were told to use an intermediary - which is code for a lobbying organization - which itself is code for ca$h. I call this the Smithfield-effect.
— GCE, New York, NY


"In the United States, Smithfield says it has been a boon to consumers. Pork prices dropped by about one-fifth between 1970 and 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, suggesting annual savings of about $29 per consumer."

It is infuriating to me that such a trivial benefit as an "annual savings of $29 per consumer" is used to justify the horrors of factory farming. We need to return to the thinking that meat is a luxury, and we have no right to demand that it be cheap and plentiful. Prices should reflect the REAL COST of raising an animal humanely, treating workers with respect, and minimizing environmental damage. A healthy attitude is to think of meat as a side - it does not have to be the principal dish at breakfast, lunch and dinner!
— Amara, New York


The lack of genetic diversity in these herds will likely bring increased susceptibility to infectious agents. Once an infectious agent establishes itself in a single host, the entire population will have the same degree of susceptibility. This phenomenon is seen time and time again whenever monoculture agriculture is used. The current H1N1 outbreak is likely to be the tip of the iceberg.
— dek, Boston, Ma

[Article] Smithfield destroys Eastern Europe and everywhere else it exists
[Comments] Smithfield article

No comments:

Post a Comment