Local slow food group hosts showing of ‘Pig Business’
At a recent showing of the documentary “Pig Business,” I
learned about the factory farming practices that began in North Carolina and have now spread to
Europe via Poland.
The story highlights Smithfield Foods, the largest corporate pork processor in the Unites States. Twenty-seven-thousand independent pig farmers in North Carolina have been replaced with 2,200 factory farms, 1,600 owned by Smithfield. North Carolina is home to 10 million hogs.
Building cars in a factory is highly efficient and makes a lot of sense. But I’m not convinced that pork should be produced under the corporate factory model. Unlike cars that are being manufactured, pigs produce a huge amount of waste, 10 times as much as humans. While the amount of pig waste may be utilized as a productive fertilizer on a small family farm, an enormous amount from the average 10,000 pigs in a single building travels into huge lagoons. Lagoons are supposed to be protected with an impermeable liner, but there are many examples of liners not working properly. In 1995, one burst in our coastal area, releasing 25 million gallons of noxious sludge into the New River, killing 8 million to 10 million fish.
The leaking lagoons often contaminate neighboring water supplies, making tap water not potable. Factory farms smell terrible, and neighbors complain that breathing the air “cuts your breath off; you get a film in your throat and a headache”.
Additionally, pigs are animals, not metal or plastic. In factory farms, they are treated as a commodity, with their living conditions tortuous. They aren’t able to do anything that pigs naturally do, like rooting, because they live on hard slated floors. Sows are subjected to confinement in such a narrow cage that they can’t turn around during gestation. However, according to the Smithfield website, they are attempting to correct this issue.
The working conditions of the factory farms and the slaughter houses are also despicable and damaging to workers’ health. People come down with bronchitis, sinus infections, and asthma related to what they are breathing in.
Family farms have been unable to compete due an uneven playing field and institutional support for the corporations, such as tax breaks and loans that small farms would never be able to get. This industrial model has put all types of family farms out of business in the U.S. over the past 50 years.
Now, Smithfield foods has entered the European market via Poland. Poland has a rural economy with many small farms. Their government has fewer environmental restrictions than the United States. Wanting to stimulate their economy, government officials have allowed Smithfield to infiltrate small villages, polluting their water and air. Twenty-thousand pigs are often on the fringe of a village. In one village, Smithfield built a factory right next to a school. The children have respiratory illnesses and feel particularly ill when the pigs are being slaughtered. The family hog farmers are complaining that there is no way they can produce at the same cost.
As with other transnational corporations, they are so large that it’s impossible to see the big picture. To top it off, the film revealed that the feed for the pigs is being grown in the Amazon, and rain forest has been clear-cut to grow soy. Indigenous people are not happy with this, since their environment is being contaminated with pesticides. More than a million hectares of soy is grown there.
While this viewing was obviously depressing, afterwards, we visited a local farm to see how pigs should be raised. Ashe County grower Ann Rose lets her pigs live in a pasture and engage in pig-like behavior. There are a growing number of family farms who have diverse operations, including raising pigs, in the High Country. Happy pigs produce better tasting pork.
Consumers who purchase directly from the local farms are refusing to let the big corporate farmers take over our small family owned businesses. The money we spend in our economy stays in our economy. There is no way that a local farmer can compete with the price per pound of mass produced pork. Eating less, higher quality meat balances out the cost.
If you are a pork lover, check out the selection at farmers’ markets throughout the High County. Now is the time to stock your freezer for the winter. Several growers are offering meat through buying clubs and the community supported agriculture model during the winter months. Please contact me if you would like more information about these options.
Here is Ann Rose’s recipe for roasted pork with her home-grown veggies:
Lean Pork Roast (from a pig that lived in a pasture)
CarrotsApplesWinter squashPotatoesA few cinnamon sticksApple ciderSalt as desired
Preheat oven to 425F. Place pork roast in Dutch oven, then into preheated oven. Roast 20 minutes, then add enough apple cider to cover at least 2 inches of the pork and the cinnamon sticks. Turn oven down to 375F. Place lid on roast and cook for 25 minutes. Cover with vegetables that are cut into 1- to 2-inch cubes and cook for another 40 minutes, or until veggies are tender. Toss together and serve.
Note: I reviewed the documentary, "Pig Business," as part of my local foods column. My intended purpose in the column was to review the documentary and to support the local food producers in my area, using the documentary as a springboard to that information. My article led some to believe that I, on behalf of the N.C. Cooperative Extension, was validating the claims presented in the documentary and endorsing one production method over another. For the record, I did not personally substantiate the claims made in the movie to which I referred in my column, nor is my area of expertise related to animal production methods. Please allow this to clarify. N.C. Cooperative Extension prides itself on supplying unbiased, research-based information to communities.
Margie Mansure, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. She offers personalized classes to improve the health of citizens in Watauga County through worksites, schools and community groups. To contact Margie, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (828) 264-3061.