Date: December 6th, 2006

The current, December 14, edition of Rolling Stone magazine includes a lengthy piece, by contributor Jeff Tietz, about Smithfield pork producers. It covers the conditions the animals are kept in, and the environmental impact. The article is headed, "BossHog" and sub-headed, "America's top pork producer churns out a sea of waste that has destroyed rivers, killed millions of fish and generated one of the largest fines in EPA history. Welcome to the dark side of the other white meat." (pg 89.)

The lead photo is of a huge pile of pig carcasses, with the caption, "Pork producers generate millions of tons of hog waste each year including millions of dead pigs."

The article opens:
"Smithfield Foods, the largest and most profitable pig processor in the world, killed 27 million hogs last year."

It tells us that hogs produce three times more excrement than humans do, and that "The best estimates put Smithfield total waste discharge at 26 million tons a year." We read, "So prodigious is its fecal waste, however, that if the company treated its effluvia as big-city governments do -- even if it came close to the same standard -- it would lose money."

It explains that the "pig shit" is so toxic because of the concentrated conditions the pigs are kept in:

"Smithfield's pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in warehouselike barns, in rows of wall-to-wall pens. Sows are artificially inseminated and fed and delivered of their piglets in cages so small they cannot turn around. Forty full grown 250-pound male hogs often occupy a pen the size of a tiny apartment. They trample each other to death. There is no sunlight, straw, fresh air or earth. The floors are slatted to allow excrement to fall into a catchment pit under the pens....

"The temperature inside hog houses is often hotter than ninety degrees. The air, saturated almost to the point of precipitation with gases from shit and chemicals, can be lethal to the pigs. Enormous exhaust fans run 24 hours a day... If they break down for any length of time, pigs start dying....

"Taken together, the immobility, poisonous air and terror of confinement badly damage the pigs' immune systems. They become susceptible to infection..."

So they are infused with antibiotics and doused with insecticides.

We read about the huge excrement holding pens, called lagoons, which often overflow: "Major floods have transferred entire counties into pig shit bayous."

The lagoons are so toxic, workers have been overcome by them and fallen in and drowned in pig shit.

The article tells us that according to the EPA, Smithfield dumps more toxic waste into the nation's water each year than all but three other industrial facilities in America. But, "The industry has long made generous campaign contributions to politicians responsible for regulating hog farms." We read, "In 1998 corporate hog farms in North Carolina spent $1 million to help defeat state legislators who wanted to clean up open-pit lagoons."

Tietz writes, "Studies have shown that lagoons emit hundreds of different volatile gases into the atmosphere, including ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. A single lagoon releases many millions of bacteria into the air per day, some resistant to human antibiotics."

With an environmentalist, he flies in a small plane over the Smithfield area, and watches as "several farmers spray their hog shit straight up into the air as a fine mist." He writes, "It looks like a public fountain. Lofted and atomized the shit is blown clear of the company's property. People who breathe the shit-infused air suffer from bronchitis, asthma, heart palpitations, headaches, diarrhea, nosebleeds and brain damage."

He writes that the ascending stench can nauseate pilots at 3,000 feet, and He goes into some detail about the suffering of people whose homes are down-wind of the farms. He visits a lagoon to take a good whiff, and writes that even as he thinks about the smell he fights an urge to vomit.

We read some specifics of Smithfield's environmental impact in North Carolina. In a span of four years its lagoons have spilled:
"2 million gallons of shit into Cape Fear River, 1.5 million gallons into its Persimmon branch, one million gallons into the Trent River, and 200,000 gallons into Turkey Creek."

The waste kills plants and animals outright and also consumes available oxygen and suffocates fish. We read about various disastrous spills. For example:
"The biggest spill in the history of corporate hog farming happened in 1995. The dike of a 120,000 square foot lagoon owned by a Smithfield competitor ruptured, releasing 25.8 million gallons of effluvium into the headwaters of the New River in North Carolina. It was the biggest environmental spill in United States history, more than twice as big as the Exxon Valdez oil spill six years earlier. The sludge was so toxic, it burned your skin if you touched it, and so dense it took almost two months to make its way sixteen miles downstream to the ocean. From the headwaters to the sea, every creature living in the river was killed. Fish died by the millions."

He describes dead fish covering the riverbanks, and the article includes a shocking photo of that phenomenon.

Please pick up a copy of Rolling Stone (Snoop Dogg is on the cover), and give the article to a friend who eats factory farmed bacon. And please send a huge thank you to Rolling Stone for the coverage. The article presents a great opportunity for letters singing the praises of veggie diets.

Rolling Stone takes letters at letters@rollingstone.com

Always include your full name, address, and daytime phone number when sending a letter to the editor. Remember that shorter letters are more likely to be published.

I send a huge thank you to Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and Karen O'Connell for making sure we knew about this article.

Yours and the animals',
Karen Dawn

(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at http://www.DawnWatch.com. You are encouraged to forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts but please do so unedited. Leave DawnWatch in the title and include this parenthesized tag line.)

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