Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reconsidering Pork: Factory Farming and Swine Flu

After reading this excellent Rolling Stone article (via Mike@C&L), I'm reconsidering pork, and I think you might want to as well. Here are some choice quotes:
The floors are slatted to allow excrement to fall into a catchment pit under the pens, but many things besides excrement can wind up in the pits: afterbirths, piglets accidentally crushed by their mothers, old batteries, broken bottles of insecticide, antibiotic syringes, stillborn pigs -- anything small enough to fit through the foot-wide pipes that drain the pits.

Taken together, the immobility, poisonous air and terror of confinement badly damage the pigs' immune systems.

When a pig nearly ready to be slaughtered grows ill, workers sometimes shoot it up with as many drugs as necessary to get it to the slaughterhouse under its own power. As long as the pig remains ambulatory, it can be legally killed and sold as meat.
The cruelty towards these animals and alarming lack of health concerns are quite apparent. But how they treat the refuse from these pigs is nothing less than startling (emphasis mine):

Smithfield's holding ponds -- the company calls them lagoons -- cover as much as 120,000 square feet. The area around a single slaughterhouse can contain hundreds of lagoons, some of which run thirty feet deep. The liquid in them is not brown. The interactions between the bacteria and blood and afterbirths and stillborn piglets and urine and excrement and chemicals and drugs turn the lagoons pink.

Even light rains can cause lagoons to overflow; major floods have transformed entire counties into pig-shit bayous. To alleviate swelling lagoons, workers sometimes pump the shit out of them and spray the waste on surrounding fields, which results in what the industry daintily refers to as "overapplication." This can turn hundreds of acres -- thousands of football fields -- into shallow mud puddles of pig shit. Tree branches drip with pig shit.

Just how toxic is this stuff? Fucking scary as hell, you go in you don't come out toxic (emphasis mine):
The lagoons themselves are so viscous and venomous that if someone falls in it is foolish to try to save him. A few years ago, a truck driver in Oklahoma was transferring pig shit to a lagoon when he and his truck went over the side. It took almost three weeks to recover his body. In 1992, when a worker making repairs to a lagoon in Minnesota began to choke to death on the fumes, another worker dived in after him, and they died the same death. In another instance, a worker who was repairing a lagoon in Michigan was overcome by the fumes and fell in. His fifteen-year-old nephew dived in to save him but was overcome, the worker's cousin went in to save the teenager but was overcome, the worker's older brother dived in to save them but was overcome, and then the worker's father dived in. They all died in pig shit.
That can't be good for the people stuck living nearby, can it?
People who breathe the shit-infused air suffer from bronchitis, asthma, heart palpitations, headaches, diarrhea, nosebleeds and brain damage. In 1995, a woman downwind from a corporate hog farm in Olivia, Minnesota, called a poison-control center and described her symptoms. "Ma'am," the poison-control officer told her, "the only symptoms of hydrogen-sulfide poisoning you're not experiencing are seizures, convulsions and death. Leave the area immediately." When you fly over eastern North Carolina, you realize that virtually everyone in this part of the state lives close to a lagoon.
At least they aren't feeding pigs dead pigs:
Millions of factory-farm hogs -- one study puts it at ten percent -- die before they make it to the killing floor. Some are taken to rendering plants, where they are propelled through meat grinders and then fed cannibalistically back to other living hogs.
That's just begging for prions to spread.

The whole article, a stinging takedown of factory farming and Smithfield Foods specifically. Is worth a read. Smithfield Foods is worth a visit too, if only to see their cynical slogan "Good food. Responsibly" with a whole section devoted to their supposed responsibility.

Given the people stuck living next to these farms where the smell of concentrated chemical-infused pig shit can literally knock you unconscious, Smithfield Food's claim of a commitment to food safety is a cruel joke. It is an even harsher joke in the light of their lobbying efforts.

It looks like that joke could cost us all. Smithfield Foods might be linked to the recent outbreak of swine flu.

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