I received an email from a concerned citizen of Poland the other day inquiring if there were hog farms in his country like the ones he had seen on TV in Mexico. I guaranteed him that there were indeed such factory farms in Eastern Europe, and that they were doing terrible damage to the environment, animals, and the people.
I first read about the problem of factory hog farming in Eastern Europe in Jeff Teitz’s article for Rolling Stone, entitled "Boss Hog". The majority of the article addressed U.S. hog farming, but the very end of the article went into Smithfield’s worldwide proliferation. As the EPA has slowly become stricter about waste management, the company has looked to less regulated countries, where they can pollute more freely with fewer fines. In 1999 Smithfield began by buying a slaughtering plant called Animex, Poland’s largest. By 2003 it controlled the vast share of the Polish pork market and was bringing in $338 million dollars annually from the country.
The issue was brought to light again this week in a tremendous New York Times article, "A U.S. Hog Giant Transforms Eastern Europe." By lobbying Polish politicians and going ahead with plants that were not certified by the state or local governments, Smithfield has managed to take over the industry. In Poland, the number of small independent hog farms has fallen 56 percent since 1999 ; in Romania they have decreased by 90 percent since 2003. Small family farmers cannot compete with the low cost of pork that the Smithfield subsidiaries offer, so they are forced out of business and, in many cases, into poverty.
When Smithfield originally went to Eastern Europe, the populace had no idea of what was in store. In 2003, Robert Kennedy Jr. of the Waterkeeper Alliance travelled to investigate the situation in Poland. Kennedy held meetings where Tom Garret of the Institute for Animal Welfare informed local residents of Smithfield’s track record in the United States.
People were shocked by what they heard. And who wouldn’t be? A stench so vile you can’t go outside, a smell that stays on you for months, asthma, ulcers, diarrhea, vomiting...the list goes on and on. Yet, these communities had no warning and no say in whether they would have a factory farm as a neighbor. Smithfield came seemingly out of nowhere, literally overnight in some cases, and took over before local citizens had a chance to protest, as attested to by both Kennedy and The New York Times.
Factory hog farming is a dangerous business. As we have seen recently in Mexico, in the United States in 1998, and in Romania in 2007, they provide the perfect environment for disease to flourish. Companies like Smithfield have taken their disease breeding grounds and transported them all over the world, while also destroying the livelihoods of small independent farmers from Tunisia to Mexico, and poisoned the environment everywhere they set up shop. Swine flu has caused many unfortunate illnesses and deaths, but on a positive note, it has brought new attention to the atrocities being committed by companies like Smithfield. Hopefully, it will promote their reform.