Swine Flu May Come From Corporate Pig Poop

By
Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Although the mainstream media in the United States hasn’t picked up on it, at least one Mexican newspaper and some U.S. bloggers are reporting that swine flu may have originated from mounds of porcine fecal matter at the Mexican subsidiary of U.S.-based Smithfield Foods — the world’s largest pork packer and hog producer.

As Tom Philpott at Grist writes, Smithfield operates massive hog farms Perote, Mexico, in the state of Vera Cruz, where the outbreak originated. According to the company Website, the operations are part of a Smithfield subsidiary called Granjas Carroll, which raises some 950,000 hogs per year.

Grist refers back to the Website Biosurveillance, which has this fascinating piece of information in its timeline of the swine flu outbreak:

Veratect reported local health officials declared a health alert due to a respiratory disease outbreak in La Gloria, Perote Municipality, Veracruz State, Mexico.  Sources characterized the event as a “strange” outbreak of acute respiratory infection, which led to bronchial pneumonia in some pediatric cases….officials indicated that 60% of the town’s population (approximately 1,800 cases) has been affected. [...]

Residents believed the outbreak had been caused by contamination from pig breeding farms located in the area. They believed that the farms, operated by Granjas Carroll, polluted the atmosphere and local water bodies, which in turn led to the disease outbreak. According to residents, the company denied responsibility for the outbreak and attributed the cases to “flu.” However, a municipal health official stated that preliminary investigations indicated that the disease vector was a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste and that the outbreak was linked to the pig farms. It was unclear whether health officials had identified a suspected pathogen responsible for this outbreak.

Although a connection between the swine flu outbreak and Smithfield farms has yet to be proven, and the company says it’s found no symptoms of the disease among its flock, the Mexico City Daily La Jornada is reporting on the possible link.

Blogger Charles Lemos also pointed out this eye-opening/stomach-turning 2006 article from Rolling Stone on the vast amounts of disease-spreading pig fecal matter produced by the Smithfield subsidiary:

The 500,000 pigs at a single Smithfield subsidiary in Utah generate more fecal matter each year than the 1.5 million inhabitants of Manhattan. The best estimates put Smithfield’s total waste discharge at 26 million tons a year. That would fill four Yankee Stadiums. Even when divided among the many small pig production units that surround the company’s slaughterhouses, that is not a containable amount.

Smithfield estimates that its total sales will reach $11.4 billion this year. So prodigious is its fecal waste, however, that if the company treated its effluvia as big-city governments do — even if it came marginally close to that standard — it would lose money. So many of its contractors allow great volumes of waste to run out of their slope-floored barns and sit blithely in the open, untreated, where the elements break it down and gravity pulls it into groundwater and river systems. Although the company proclaims a culture of environmental responsibility, ostentatious pollution is a linchpin of Smithfield’s business model.

A lot of pig shit is one thing; a lot of highly toxic pig shit is another. The excrement of Smithfield hogs is hardly even pig shit: On a continuum of pollutants, it is probably closer to radioactive waste than to organic manure. The reason it is so toxic is Smithfield’s efficiency. The company produces 6 billion pounds of packaged pork each year. That’s a remarkable achievement, a prolificacy unimagined only two decades ago, and the only way to do it is to raise pigs in astonishing, unprecedented concentrations.

According to La Jornada, the Mexican health agency has acknowledged that the “clouds of flies” multiplying in the Smithfield subsidiary’s manure lagoons could be responsible for spreading the disease.

Comments

20 Comments

John
Comment posted April 28, 2009 @ 10:54 am

This is an incredible piece of journalism. Why bother checking sources? That would only slow you down, and you're already about the 30 person to publish this drivel today. Just publish third-hand (at best) accounts. Bloggers and “Local Residents” are unimpeachable. Who would know better about the source of a disease than an unidentified person from rural Mexico that probably lacks any secondary science education? After all, none of your readers are going to check the facts.


jf whiteside
Comment posted April 28, 2009 @ 4:04 pm

Here's one more “fact” than you've been able to provide…

Taken from “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smithfield_Foods”:

-Smithfield has come under criticism for the millions of gallons of fecal matter that it produces and stores in holding ponds, untreated. In a four year period, in North Carolina alone, 4.7 million gallons of hog fecal matter were released into the state's rivers. Workers and residents near Smithfield plants have reported health problems, and have complained about constant, overpowering stenches of hog feces.[2] In 1997, Smithfield was fined $12.6 million for violation of the federal Clean Water Act.[3] “The fine was the third-largest civil penalty ever levied under the act by the EPA. It amounted to .035 percent of Smithfield's annual sales.”

Gimme some facts to prove that Smithfield has not only changed their ways BUT they've ALSO ELIMINATED THE PROBLEM…


jfwhiteside
Comment posted April 28, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

… oh wait, people are STILL dying from that swine flu in Mexico, with many more infected.


Valuable Internet Information » The Washington Independent » Swine Flu May Come From Corporate …
Pingback posted April 28, 2009 @ 7:30 pm

[...] See the original post here: The Washington Independent » Swine Flu May Come From Corporate … [...]


verplanck colvin
Comment posted April 28, 2009 @ 6:46 pm

bronchia pneumonia does not equal swine flu. bacteria vs. virus. while smithfield's operating practices are revolting, nothing you posted is making a link between them and this current outbreak of swine flu.


Lotsa questions, some answers, a little preaching « Grimsaburger
Pingback posted April 29, 2009 @ 11:14 am

[...] I find the speculation that the virus flew out of the pig carcass-and-shit lagoons (courtesy of a Smithfield subsidiary’s CAFO) upwind from the infection’s apparent ground zero to attack the [...]


mwl
Comment posted April 30, 2009 @ 10:52 am

The spectrum isnt broad enough. Lets see Mexico cannot stop its violence and drug trafficing, blames the US for all the GUNS going into the country, ( the guns I saw on TV depicted AK 47s the gun of choice fully automatic) Obama visits the country two days later there is an outbrake of a pandemic proportion. Then the cure is Tamiflu, the companies stock just rose by 100%. WOW. And who has stock in the company, thats right our boy Obama. So if 35,000 to 40,000 Americans die each year from the flu and auto accidents kill more then, gang violence even that much more. Whats the scope of this DIASTER, PANDEMIC, FEAR………MONEY. The true PANDEMIC in this country is DOPE, President Nixon declared war on and we havent even made a dent. I served 7 1/2 years in Iraq and the loss there wasnt even a drop compared to the dope deaths in this country. Yet nobody protests. Kids ruined for life, jails filled, dope still pouring in. Soo, a flu pandemic or another way to control people and the finances of this country. Added up the this is a scam orchastrated by money, and our represntatives. Dont believe me check it out for yourself. Call me a liar but do the research. This administration is about full governmental control. The next step is changing the money from American bucks to AmeriChina, or Euro-Ameri. The rich will have their way. We gave it to them without even a struggle. YOU are a slave to the governmental control that will be put into place.
Your flu is worth money and 250,000,000 people in this country has been scammed.
Take care, Mike


Tony
Comment posted May 1, 2009 @ 6:56 am

Hey John obviously having a college education makes a better human. Is not shame to be poor or have a limited education or perhaps you are an educated person that knows how to still and lie with a degree?
I have seen with my own ayes the pollution that international companies as well as national that just dumped their pollutants and waist on the ground because they are so corrupted as the goverment of Mexico. I guess you right poor people are so ignorante that they can not protect their own land against this type of “laws” and “politics”. Spoiled bratt little boy you are. You do not know what is porverty and to be hungry. Hopefully you will never know abut it. Have a great day and the Great Spirit bless you.


Robert
Comment posted May 1, 2009 @ 7:51 am

Robert F. Kennedy Jr: “SMITHFIELD FOODS IS CRIMINAL ORGANIZATION”:

“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.

Factory Farms

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 114 individuals.

Sick Rivers

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.

Bad Odors

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!

Dangerous Gases

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 neighbors. One study shows that millions of antibiotic resistant bacteria move by air from hog factories every day, threatening public health and neighboring herds. Another study shows that some meat factories emit seven times the particulate matter allowed under American Clear Air laws. Particulates can cause asthma attacks.

The End of the American Family Farm

Each hog factory puts ten family farmers out of business, replacing high quality agricultural jobs with three or four hourly wage workers in degrading jobs that are among the lowest paying and most dangerous in America. Because animals are given almost no husbandry, as few as two workers may tend a factory of 10,000 hogs! Conditions are so miserable that employees seldom endure these jobs more than a few months. Major slaughterhouses, including Smithfield’s, have a 100 % annual turnover rate of its employees.

The situation in North Carolina, America’s second largest hog producer, is typical. Two decades ago there were 27,000 family hog farmers in North Carolina. Today, there are almost none. 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.”

Contract Farmers; How to Become a Serf on Your Own Land

As I listened, Mr. Schmidt told the Polish Senate that Smithfield would bring employment to Polish farmers by giving them contracts to produce hogs. I can tell you that any farmer who signs a contract with Smithfield will become a serf on his own land. Here’s how Smithfield took over the family farms in America.

Smithfield signed a few contracts with large producers to produce tens of thousands of hogs for its slaughterhouse. Then it swallowed those producers who had to take Smithfield’s price for their farms because they had nowhere else to slaughter their hogs. Once Smithfield owned these large farms the company began overproducing hogs so that the price of pork dropped from 60 cents per pound to 8 cents per pound. Since it costs 36 cents per pound for a farmer to raise a pig, most pig farmers had to go out of business except the ones that Smithfield signed contracts with. The contracts are never negotiated. The desperate farmers will sign the contract the way Smithfield writes it.

Typically the contract requires the farmer to use his farm for security and borrow approximately $200,000 to build a warehouse according to Smithfield’s specifications. The company promises him approximately $20,000 per year. The farmer owns the warehouse and pays the insurance and interest to the bank. Under the contract, Smithfield owns the feed and the pigs, but the farmer owns the manure. Smithfield does not pay him enough to legally dispose of the manure. That’s his problem and soon it will be the problem of his community as he pollutes the air and water with the excess manure.

Smithfield’s contract is typically good for only one-year even though it’s going to take the farmer twenty years to pay off the mortgage. When it is in Smithfield’s interest to buy more land, the company has the power to make future contracts so burdensome that the farmer goes bankrupt. Smithfield can then buy his hog house and land from the bank for pennies on the dollar. Since the farm is valueless without a Smithfield contract, there are no other bidders. It was in this way that Smithfield came to control pork production in North Carolina. The company is already using the same practices in Poland. Any farmer who signs such a contract will be a slave on his own farm.

Now when the price of pork drops to 8 cents per pound, Smithfield continues to make money because the price the consumer pays for bacon at the grocery store stays the same. Since Smithfield owns the slaughterhouse, it can still make money while it squeezes the farmer until it has a monopoly or farm production. This is one of the reasons that the United States Senate today is considering national legislation, and many states as well, that will ban the ownership of farms by slaughterhouses. Smithfield’s “integration” system puts the farmer at a catastrophic disadvantage.

Economic Impacts
There are many studies that show that factory farms have a devastating impact on rural economies and quality of life. There is not a single empirical study showing net benefits to rural communities. Studies show that property values in counties hosting pork factories fall, on average by 30%. If you drive through America’s rural communities, you will see bankrupted hardware and feed stores (factory farms don’t buy locally) boarded up main streets and closed banks, churches and schools. America’s heartland and historic landscapes are being emptied of rural Americans and occupied by large corporations.

Political Corruption

Hog factories produce far more manure than is needed to fertilize fields around them. The costs of properly treating and disposing this waste would make meat factories uncompetitive with traditional farms unless they violate numerous environmental laws. Traditional farms are exempt from these laws since manure, for them, is not waste product but a valuable fertilizer spread on fields to grow crops. Because factory meat producers must break the law in order to survive, the industry’s business plan relies on the assumption that pork factories will be able to evade prosecution by improperly influencing government enforcement officials.

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.

Criminal Behavior

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. In 1997, a federal judge ordered Smithfield to pay $12 million dollars, one of the largest Clean Water Act penalties in history. The court determined that a single Smithfield plant had violated the Clean Water Act over 6,000 times and that company officials had intentionally lied to federal regulators to cover up its violations. In 2000, a National Labor Relations Judge found Smithfield guilty of serious labor law violations. The judge found that that Smithfield managers conspired with local police to physically intimidate and assault union supporters. He also found that Smithfield attorneys suborned perjury and that company witnesses lied under oath. Again in 2002, Smithfield was found guilty of significant labor law violations, this time by a federal court, which ordered the company to pay $755,000 in damages to workers who the company had wrongfully imprisoned.

Smithfield Invades Poland

In 1999, Smithfield announced its plans to move into Poland and began purchasing slaughterhouses that year. Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), one of our allies in the battle against Smithfield, brought a delegation of Poles over to tour the farm landscapes of America to see what they were in for. AWI took the Poles to Missouri where you can drive 50 kilometers without leaving company land and then to Duplin County North Carolina where they were enveloped in an unbearable stench. During this trip, one lady in North Carolina , Mrs. Carr, pleaded with the visiting Poles, “I’ve never been to Poland but for God’s sake don’t let them do to you what they’ve done to us.” The Polish delegation promised that this would never happen in Poland. Unfortunately it is happening now. Just as Smithfield used North Carolina to launch its takeover of American pork production in 1980, Poland is Smithfield’s platform for launching its bid for monopoly control of pork production in Europe.

In 1999, Smithfield purchased Animex, the state owned conglomerate of giant communist era farms and nine slaughterhouses that export Polish sausage and ham to the United States. The deal was a bargain, Luter paid only $55 million just after Animex, at state expense, made extensive renovations. For example, the government’s Constar plant brought ultra modern equipment from the U.S. just before the Smithfield takeover. Estimated value of the company following these improvements was $500 million. Luter boasted that he paid, “only 10 cents on the dollar.”

Gaining monopoly control of the country’s slaughterhouse capacity is more difficult in Poland because there are over 4,000 slaughterhouses in this country. Smithfield’s strategy was to get the government to do its dirty work by closing down the competition.

At Smithfield’s request, the Polish government began closing hundreds of small slaughterhouses after Joe Luter had a three-hour meeting with President Buzek. Buzek's Minister of Agriculture promulgated regulations that would put up to 50% of Poland’s slaughterhouses out of business. The government justified these new rules under the fraudulent pretense that small slaughterhouses must be shut down to comply with the EU regulations. However, EU regulations clearly state that small slaughterhouses may be kept open to serve regional markets. In fact, Germany, France and Sweden fought to keep their small slaughterhouse and milk plants open and even subsidize them knowing that those are the core of local markets and food distribution. Once the small slaughterhouses disappear, local markets quickly follow.

Furthermore, large high tech slaughterhouses do no make a safer food supply. In the U.S. and in England, the closure of small slaughterhouses actually coincided with an increase of meat borne disease by 300% and 500% respectively. This is because large centralized slaughterhouses force pork production onto factory farms where disease is rampant and because of long transport distances stress the animals and spread disease. Furthermore, technologies that increase line speed inside the slaughterhouse multiply worker errors and make proper inspections impossible. (Now the big slaughterhouses are insisting on the controversial technology of irradiation in order to solve their problems of diseases vectors.)

The Polish government took a number of other steps to facilitate Smithfield’s takeover of Polish agriculture. For example, the government legalized liquid manure and tried to dismantle the Animal Welfare Act. The government allowed Smithfield to buy and lease farms in Poland despite official policies forbidding foreigners to purchase agricultural land. In addition, the government gave large pork export subsides to Smithfield amounting to 55 cents per kilo. These subsidies are intended to benefit Polish farmers but since Smithfield imports both its pigs and the feed, there is not much benefit to Poland.

With this help, Smithfield has converted as many as thirty-five state farms to hog factories. One of these, in Nielep, West Pomerania, already houses 30,000 hogs. To circumvent Polish laws, some of these are owned by front companies wholly owned by Smithfield. Typically Smithfield has only one of several directors in each but the company charter requires unanimous votes. Prima Farms, for example, is officially owned by two Poles but every important decision must be signed by Mr. Griffith of Smithfield. In this way, Smithfield can capture subsidies from the EU intended for Polish farmers.

Polish agriculture
In mid-July, I spent a week touring the agricultural areas of northern Poland. I learned that you have in Poland something that we’ve lost in the United States and something we miss very much. Poland is an oasis of traditional farming in a world dominated by agribusiness multinationals. Poland has over two million farmers — as many as the half of Europe put together. About 18% of Poland’s population are farmers or farm families. We passed through picturesque farm villages where the farms averaged five hectares with modest homes of wood, timber and fieldstone. Each farmer has a horse, two cows, some pigs, and some chickens. Animals are raised on the free range, humanely and have lives of dignity.

In Poland, you don’t see the vast monocultures of row crops that we are now accustomed to in the United States. Polish farmers rotate a variety of crops, in the traditional way that fosters healthy soils. I was thrilled that many farmhouses had occupied stork nests on their roofs. Poland hosts 25% of Europe’s white stork population — 50,000 pairs — more than any other country in Europe. The white stork has been exterminated by modern agriculture practices elsewhere in Europe; liquid manure and pesticides effectively extinguished fish, frogs, crabs and many insects that the storks eat. In Denmark, there are only six pairs left.

Poland has large stands of timber and Europe’s last clean flowing rivers. Poland has purer soils than anywhere else in Europe. Its land is uncontaminated by pesticide and fertilizer residue and an astounding 97% of its soils according to Professor Andrzej Mocek, Dean of the faculty of agronomy, in Poznan, is uncontaminated by metals which is the artifact of industrial smokestack pollution throughout the rest of Europe.

Polish Foods
One morning, we ate breakfast with the Kornilo – Jarzyna family at their farm near the village of Nowodwory. Agro-tourism is a growing business in Poland, where farmers take in tourists who come to fish, hike, pick berries, or just eat great food. Great slabs of traditional Polish sausage and meats, open jugs of homemade honey of acacia or linden smothered our breakfast table. We slapped pork fat onto plum rolls like butter and ate pierogis filled with buckwheat, homemade cheese, mint, and sweetened with berries and spices. My favorite was bigos stew which Polish hunters invented by adding various meats to a perpetual pot of boiling cabbage — delicious! This farm family makes their own butter and cans their own jelly. The house is surrounded by hives, orchards of cherries, apples, pears, and plums with understories of black currants, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries. I was full as a tick! It’s no wonder that people from Lublin and Warsaw and all over Europe come here to indulge in chemical free foods with real farm flavor.

I thought about the poor taste of food in the United States where there has been a dramatic decline in meat quality due to factory farming of pigs and poultry. Many American chefs, food writers and home-cooks have entirely abandoned cooking pork raised by industrial meat companies like Smithfield because they find it dry and flavorless. These deficiencies are apparently due to the manner in which confinement pork is bred and raised.

Millions of years of natural selection have endowed hogs with back fat to regulate body temperature. But Smithfield gets more money from meat than from fat so the company has bred its own strain of super-lean pigs born with almost no back fat. They are high strung and unable to survive normal outside temperatures.

According to food professionals, this extreme leanness has dramatically diminished the eating quality of American pork. An article in the April / May Saveur magazine describes the pigs of modern confinement agriculture as being so skinny that they looked “like dachshunds.” And an article in the May 4, 2003 New York Times Magazine applauded the old breeds and traditional farming methods of the kind used in Poland pointing out that “the pork industry has managed to engineer a pig with almost no fat at all. And this is why most modern recipes for pork involve some kind of liquid — putting the meat in a marinade before cooking, basting it while cooking or braising it in broth. If you simply grill a mass-market pork chop, it becomes inedibly dry.” The Times then observes that free-range pork, in contrast, “is rich when sliced and sautéed, fine textured and robust in flavor. It needs nothing more than seasoning with salt.”

The dryness and poor taste of confinement pork have gotten so bad that many major pork companies are now “enhancing” their pork — adding water, flavored liquids, or even stock to their tray-pack and prepared meats and using red food coloring to improve its drab appearance.

North Carolina Comes to Poland

Smithfield is already putting its trademark on Polish farms and rural communities. On July 19th, I visited the town of Wieckowice, a beautiful village with shrines and wooden and brick homes with tile roofs and long barns of brick and stone.

We ran across several dozen local activists carrying signs outside a former state farm owned by Animex where Smithfield reportedly houses 17,000 hogs. The facility has permits for only 500 cows and 500 hogs. Governor Nowakowski of Poznan told me that all the local citizens are adamantly opposed to Smithfield Foods and that he refused to give the company permits when it bought the farm two years ago. But 6 months later the environmental ministry overrode him. The Animex farm is 40 yards from an elementary school where, according to the residents, children get sick and vomit from the hog odors. Among the protestors was a dignified woman, Irena Kowalak, who served as village mayor for 35 years. She told us she had resigned recently because of intimidation by Smithfield.

Thanks to the governor, Smithfield is not able to get permits for liquid manure, so the farm uses straw bedding and has not yet devised a plan for disposing of its waste. Fields of wheat surround the hog barns but they are never harvested since Smithfield is not interested in agriculture. To Smithfield, these fields are a place to dump the notorious wastes of industrial meat production. A convoy of indignant Wieckowice residents drove me out to see the giant pile of hog manure. On the side of a 1,000 acre wheat field, I saw a mountain of hog waste 150 meters long, 12 feet high and 50 meters wide. “Seventeen thousand hogs for 6 months,” a young man said nodding at the pile. Local authorities have been ordering Smithfield to move the illegal pile for six months, but the company has refused. The night before my visit, Smithfield covered its pile with a giant black tarp, which was already inflated and writhing with the internal pressure of methane gas.

Six hundred meters downhill from the pile, villagers had created a public beach on a 1,500 acre lake where umbrellas shaded dozens of families swimming and playing on a steamy 90? day. Manure residues fester on the shores of a nearby embayment into which Smithfield’s waste pile drains. An old man with twinkling blue eyes sticks his hand into the water, smells his fingers and offers us a whiff. “Smithfield Foods!” he says.

Governor Nowakowski told us that another Smithfield factory in Sedziny with 4,500 hogs only has a permit for 1,000 cows. The governor said his assistants were now inspecting the facility. “But,” he said, “the legislation is very difficult for the local government to enforce [without support of the state].” Unfortunately, the federal government is not supporting him. He is not the only local politician begging for federal help. Zofia Wilczynska, a member of Parliament, has complained to the government that a Smithfield operation in Polczyn Zdroj is endangering the village’s 400-year old health spa. Another health spa in Goldap is also threatened by pollution from a Smithfield facility.

The following day, I met with the deputy of the agriculture committee of Parliament who told us that the agricultural ministry has recently conducted an investigation of sixteen Smithfield farms — fourteen owned by Smithfield and two farms owned by front groups controlled by Smithfield — and found that all Poland’s veterinary and health laws and construction standards had been broken at every one. Even when Smithfield lacks proper permits or breaks the law, the company gets laughable fines of a few hundred dollars for their lawbreaking.

Not all local officials are opposed to Smithfield’s operations. One hundred sixty kilometers north of Wieckowice in western Pomerania, the mayor of another village, Wierzchowo, gave Smithfield permits for two enormous farms after Smithfield paid his wife approximately $4,000 to perform the Environmental Impact Assessment for the company.

We witnessed firsthand not only Smithfield’s lawbreaking but the economic impacts of its production methods on local communities and markets. When Smithfield took over Animex, the company's three principal farms in northeastern Poland, near Goldap, employed sixty workers. Now, following the farms' conversion to automated hog factories, only seven workers remain.

Smithfield says it wants to produce six million pigs per year in Poland. Polish peasants now produce 20 million pigs per year and a quarter of them will have to lose their jobs to make way for Smithfield. Smithfield is already squeezing the small farms. In Pomerania, we found that the small slaughterhouses had already been closed and that the remaining slaughterhouse, which was owned by Smithfield, would not slaughter hogs from the small farms. The rest of Poland will soon follow. Once Smithfield controls the slaughterhouses and has eliminated local markets from farmers, it will be able to control prices and it will soon control the farms.

The Tyranny of Monopoly Capitalism

When I told Polish audiences about Smithfield’s behavior in the Unites States, Poles were absolutely astounded that an American company could behave so badly. There is such an enduring faith in America and American capitalism and such a hunger for capital investment in a nation left behind after the second world war when the rest of Europe was feasting on the Marshall Plan, German reparations and free market capitalism. The Polish people’s love for America and faith in our system made me doubly determined not to allow Smithfield to take advantage of them.”


Maricarmen
Comment posted May 1, 2009 @ 8:49 pm

An also the people who live near those places that has been struggled for years about this situation for the oxidation lagoons in open field and the bursting of diseases many months ago. Instead the governor of the population hear the demands of the population and protect it from this big corporation, put in jail to the plaintiffs.

http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2009/04/12/index.php…


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Comment posted June 11, 2009 @ 7:26 pm

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Comment posted June 12, 2009 @ 2:26 am

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