The Dark Side Of The Pork(y) Giant

Digital Journal, April 28, 2009.

As the swine flu continues to spread, threatening to reach global pandemic levels, a conversation about its origin is beginning to take shape.

Media reports indicate that the epicenter of the viral outbreak is the Mexican village of La Gloria—a community of 3,000—which is close to large-scale hog farms, half-owned by Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, Inc., the world’s largest producer and processor of pork products.

A 2006 article, published in the Rolling Stone magazine highlights the dark side of the pork giant:

So prodigious is its [Smithfield Foods, Inc.] fecal waste, however, that if the company treated its effluvia as big-city governments do—even if it came marginally close to that standard—it would lose money.

So many of its contractors allow great volumes of waste to run out of their slope-floored barns and sit blithely in the open, untreated, where the elements break it down and gravity pulls it into groundwater and river systems.

Although the company proclaims a culture of environmental responsibility, ostentatious pollution is a linchpin of Smithfield’s business model.

According to published reports, since March, this year, more than 450 area residents had been suffering from respiratory ailments caused by contamination from pig waste produced in the nearby farms.

More from the Rolling Stone:

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.

The Associated Press reports:

As far back as late March, roughly one-sixth of the residents here in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz began complaining of respiratory infections that they say can be traced to a farm that lies upwind five miles (8.5 kilometers) to the north, in the town of Xaltepec.

34-year-old-Jose Luis Martinez, a La Gloria resident was quoted as saying,” When we saw it on the television, we said to ourselves, “This is what we had. It all came from here … The symptoms they [those affected in Mexico City] are suffering are the same that we had here.”

For years, the people of La Gloria have been wrangling with the company, trying to call their attention to foul odor emanating from one of the eight facilities in the area—but to no avail. They also suspect that their air and water supplies may have been polluted, they told the Associated Press.

The Times reports:

Residents of La Gloria have long complained about the clouds of flies that are drawn the so-called “manure lagoons” created by such mega-farms, known in the agriculture business as Confined Animal Feeding Operations (C.A.F.O.s).

In a statement however, the company has said, “It has found no clinical signs or symptoms of the presence of swine influenza in the company’s swine herd or its employees at its joint ventures in Mexico.”

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