I love the taste of pork, but I wish I didn’t

December 30, 2006 | By | 4 Replies More

Not after reading this article about pig-farming in Rolling Stone. This is the teaser at the top of the article:

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.

The pollution is only half of the problem.  The other half is the treatment of the pigs.  Here’s the bottom line:  pigs are at least as smart as dogs.  Would you eat dogs?  Would you treat dogs like this?

Smithfield’s [a large pig-farming enterprise] pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in warehouse-like 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 fully 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, 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. The pipes remain closed until enough sewage accumulates in the pits to create good expulsion pressure; then the pipes are opened and everything bursts out into a large holding pond.

But I can’t ignore the pollution either.  It’s a huge problem:

The drugs Smithfield administers to its pigs, of course, exit its hog houses in pig shit. Industrial pig waste also contains a host of other toxic substances: ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, phosphorous, nitrates and heavy metals. In addition, the waste nurses more than 100 microbial pathogens that can cause illness in humans, including salmonella, cryptosporidium, streptocolli and girardia. Each gram of hog shit can contain as much as 100 million fecal coliform bacteria.

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. . . . 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.

Like I said.  I love eating pork, but I wish I didn’t.  Not that I eat it very often–I eat pork about once per month.  But I think it’s time for me to stop.


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Category: Environment, Food, Health, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    A hydroponic tomato grower would love to use that waste flow. It's nearly perfect fertilizer. I know someone who tried to set up such a co-generation/waste-treatment cooperative. Local regulations would not accommodate such a set up!

    There are old-fashioned pig farms that don't use these cruel, wasteful, industrial techniques. You just have to pay twice as much for your bacon.

  2. Scholar says:

    Ever see the movie "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome"? It is based in a futuristic yet backward city which is powered primarily by swine waste and prison labor. (The movie also contains scenes of religion in it's purest form, a tribe which became stranded in the desert and has created it's own folklore. It is one of Mel Gibson's best.)

    It seems like the pork "factories" of today are far worse than anything the movie creators could imagine. I have seen similar descriptions of the BEEF industry. In fact, the CHICKEN industry is right up there too. I hate seeing the dogs mistreated in Asia. I think I am going to stop eating meat too(except hamburgers).

  3. rosemoon says:

    Not sure where you are, but around here (NC mountains) it's not very difficult to find a farmer from whom you can buy humanely raised pork. We've opted to grow our own pork and lamb, and hope to start trading for beef from a friend at some point. When we've bought our pork from a neighbor it was actually slightly less expensive than storebought.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    No more factory pork for me. I'm not buying it or ordering it in a restaurant unless I know it was raised humanely. David Kirby explains, at Democracy Now:

    DAVID KIRBY: Pig factories, for me, were the hardest to witness and take in and see and hear and smell. Pigs are incredibly intelligent animals, about the same IQ as a three-year-old child, smarter than dogs. The breeding facilities, in particular, are just horrendous, where these pigs, these female sows, are kept in crates, gestation crates. They’re kept pregnant virtually their whole lives. And then, when they give birth, they’re moved into another crate where the piglets go under the bars so that the sow won’t crush the piglets. Their life is horrendous. And quite honestly, the piglets have it good, because they’re only going to live about four or five months before they go to slaughter. When you go into these facilities, they put the piglets in when they’re young, and by the time they’re done, they’re 250 pounds each, but they’re in the same space. So they’re now so big they can’t turn around. And I spent the night right across the street from a hog farm in Illinois kept up all night long—

    AMY GOODMAN: Where in Illinois?

    DAVID KIRBY: A little town outside of—I don’t remember, but not far from St. Louis in southwestern Illinois. Mendon. Mendon, Illinois. And at night, of course, people switch off the lights and leave. Nobody lives, typically, on a factory farm. It’s not a farm; it’s a factory. And the racket, the screaming and squealing and crying of these pigs that were obviously attacking each other and fighting and biting each other and just miserable, crammed together—they went on all night long. It sounded like a thousand children being tortured at once. It’s a sound I will never forget. And I saw and heard and smelled a lot in doing my research on this book.

    AMY GOODMAN: And what happens to their manure?

    DAVID KIRBY: Well, their manure is typically kept liquefied. In the Midwest, it’s kept in pits underneath where the pigs live. So they’re—when they defecate or urinate, it just goes right down into these pits, which of course creates huge amounts of ammonia and methane and hydrogen sulfide. If those fans were ever to break down, those pigs would die within minutes. That’s how bad it is.


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