Sunday, January 21, 2007

I think we can label this "bad press"...

A searing indictment of Smithfield Farms ran in the Rolling Stone magazine. Not pretty.
We climb to 2,000 feet and head toward the densest concentration of hogs in the world. The landscape at first is unsuspiciously pastoral -- fields planted in corn or soybeans or cotton, tree lines staking creeks, a few unincorporated villages of prefab houses. But then we arrive at the global locus of hog farming, and the countryside turns into an immense subdivision for pigs. Hog farms that contract with Smithfield differ slightly in dimension but otherwise look identical: parallel rows of six, eight or twelve one-story hog houses, some nearly the size of a football field, containing as many as 10,000 hogs, and backing onto a single large lagoon. From the air I see that the lagoons come in two shades of pink: dark or Pepto Bismol -- vile, freaky colors in the middle of green farmland.

From the plane, Smithfield's farms replicate one another as far as I can see in every direction. Visibility is about four miles. I count the lagoons. There are 103. That works out to at least 50,000 hogs per square mile. You could fly for an hour, Dove says, and all you would see is corporate hog operations, with little towns of modular homes and a few family farms pinioned amid them.

The viewpoint is far from even-handed, and the language is masterfully accusatory. However, discounting these fully still yields a pile of bad news and worse projections. Most troubling to me is the concluding paragraph about plans for Eastern Europe.
When Joseph Luter entered Poland, he announced that he planned to turn the country into the "Iowa of Europe." Iowa has always been America's biggest hog producer and remains the nation's chief icon of hog farming. Having subdued Poland, Luter announced this summer that all of Eastern Europe -- "particularly Romania" -- should become the "Iowa of Europe." Seventy-five percent of Romania's hogs currently come from household farms. Over the next five years, Smithfield plans to spend $800 million in Romania to change that.

Even though I consider myself an industrial farmer, I support strong efforts to control environmental externalities caused by CAFO's (or any agricultural activity). We can find other methods of husbandry and we can endure higher meat costs to fund them.

States like North Carolina have the right to manage such economic activity as they choose, but they may be surprised what the increasing population density on the East Coast can do even against powerful business interests.

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