POLES, DEFEND YOUR PIGS, DEFEND YOUR COUNTRY! (Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland
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.
Four years ago, in 1999, Smithfield began buying slaughterhouses and state
farms in Poland. On July 22nd of this year, I sat in the crowded Senate
Conference Room in the Polish Republic’s Senate Building in Warsaw listening
as Smithfield’s Vice President Gregg Schmidt promised the senate agricultural
committee that Smithfield will “modernize” Polish agriculture and bring
prosperity and jobs to rural communities.
For the past two decades, Smithfield Foods and its allies have made identical
promises to the people of North Carolina, one of America’s rural states.
After listening to these promises, the state Senate passed laws to make it
much easier for Smithfield to do business in North Carolina.
With encouragement from these politicians, Smithfield built the largest
slaughterhouse in the world in Bladen County North Carolina. The plant
butchers 30,000 pigs each day. By building this pig slaughter plant,
Smithfield set off explosive growth of a new way of producing hogs in North
Carolina -- factory-style production.
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.
Smithfield builds football field-sized warehouses in which the company crams
thousands of genetically manipulated hogs into tiny metal boxes where they
are deprived of sunlight, exercise, straw bedding, rooting, and social
opportunities. A hog is as smart and sensitive as a dog. Under these
crowded stressful conditions, they must be kept alive by constant doses of
antibiotics, and heavy metals. Antibiotic resistant bacteria and residues of
these additives naturally end up in their waste.
Industrial Style Pollution
Since a hog produces ten times the amount of waste as a human, a single hog
factory can generate more fecal waste than Warsaw. One of Smithfield’s
factories in Utah houses 850,000 hogs and produces more fecal waste than New
York City’s 8.5 million people. Hog waste falls through slatted floors into
a basement where it is periodically flushed into giant outdoor pits called
lagoons. While cities must treat sewage before discharging it, Smithfield’s
meat factories dump their liquid manure untreated onto fields which quickly
become saturated. The manure then percolates into groundwater or is carried
by rain into nearby streams or lakes. Waste from industrial pork factories
contains a witch’s brew of nearly 400 dangerous substances, including heavy
metals, antibiotics, hormones, deadly biocides, pesticides, and dozens of
disease-causing viruses and microbes. Antibiotic residues in this lethal
soup foster the growth of deadly “super bugs” -- disease organisms that are
immune to human antibiotics.
Polluted Water Supplies
Millions of tons of fecal stew produced by the meat factories has poisoned
groundwaters in 34 states with deadly nitrates that can kill infants and
cause severe mental retardation in children. Disease epidemics caused by
meat factories have sickened and killed thousands of Americans. In 1993, for
example, a meat operation's microbes were suspected to have tainted a water
supply sickened 400,000 people in Milwaukee (half the population!) and killed
Fifteen years ago, the state of North Carolina had some of the purest waters
in the United States. Today, it has some of the most polluted waters. A
spill from one hog lagoon killed one billion fish in the Neuse River in
1995. North Carolina had to use bulldozers to plow the fish onto the shores
of Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds. Today, as a result of Smithfield’s invasion
in North Carolina, hog industry pollution has poisoned the Neuse so badly
that a hundred million fish die every year die in that river.
Pfiesteria; the “Cell from Hell”
Hog factory contaminants have also fostered outbreaks of a previously unknown
microbe, Pfiesteria piscicida, in America’s coastal waters. Pfiesteria,
kills billions of fish and causes open sores that won’t heal, severe
respiratory illness and brain damage in humans who handle fish or swim in the
water. Pustulating sores cover the bodies of fishermen from the Neuse
River. Some of them have trouble recalling basic information like the route
home due to brain damage from Pfiesteria. Pfiesteria has appeared in Maryland
where my sister, until recently, was Lieutenant Governor. The state had to
close the famous rivers of the Chesapeake Bay to protect public health.
Hog factory stenches defy description. Neighboring farmers choke, vomit and
faint from the fetid gases as they ride their tractors or work their fields.
The smell cannot be removed from skin or clothing -- even with the strongest
soap. Food eaten even a mile downwind of a hog factory can take on the odor
and flavor of hog waste. Neighbors can no longer sit on their porches in the
summer, open their windows, hang their laundry or enjoy their meals. Factory
odors can be so strong that they nauseate people flying in airplanes as high
as 3,000 feet above these facilities!
The fumes inside hog buildings are so strong that when the twenty-four hour
ventilation systems fail, all pigs inside quickly die from asphyxiation.
Hydrogen sulfide, methane and ammonia gases emanating from these factories
also harm human health. Numerous studies show that factory farm workers and
downwind neighbors contract lung disease, nausea, eye infections, nosebleeds,
gastro intestinal illness, depression and even brain damage. Every year, hog
factory workers become seriously ill and die from deadly gases emanating from
liquid manure pits.
Recent scientific papers by the U.S. government indicate that toxic air
discharges from hog factories are so poisonous that they violate the federal
health and environmental laws and endanger the health of neig