Why Did the Polish Pig Farmer Cross the Ocean?
by Jenny Coyle
Smithfield Foods, Inc., the largest producer of hogs in the United States, acquired a
major share of Poland's leading pork producer, Animex, in April.
When Smithfield officials announced their intention to "Americanize" Polish
pork production, a 10-member delegation of Polish farm leaders, ecologists, animal rights
activists and reporters high-tailed it here to find out exactly what that meant.
They were stunned by what they saw. One of them went so far as to call the
animal-factory operations "concentration camps" for hogs. They vowed to block
Smithfield from getting established in Poland.
"They came here expecting to find that we had effective laws in place to keep
everything under control. They were shocked to learn that we have very little under
control when it comes to this industry," said Chris Bedford, chair of the Maryland
Chapter, which helped the Animal Welfare Institute host the delegation. "Their visit
provided us with a mirror where we could see ourselves and how desperate our situation is.
The U.S. farmers told them to 'learn from our mistakes. We should never have let them
For 10 days in September the Polish visitors toured five states impacted by hog factory
production, including North Carolina and Virginia, where numerous Smithfield
slaughterhouses and animal factories are located.
While viewing the startling conditions firsthand, they learned that Smithfield and its
subsidiaries have a long record of environmental, health and humane-slaughter violations.
In 1997, the company was slapped with the largest fine ever imposed under the Clean Water
Act ($12.6 million) for polluting the Pagan River in Virginia. A Smithfield slaughterhouse
in North Dakota also set a dubious record, earning the highest fine for safety violations
ever levied under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. And spills from Smithfield hog
factories in North Carolina have been implicated in the outbreak of pfiesteria, a toxic
organism that has killed millions of fish in the state's rivers and bays.
"We can't believe this happened in America," the Poles told Scott Dye,
agriculture coordinator for the Club's Ozark Chapter in Missouri.
"Frankly, neither can we," Dye replied.
The visitors learned enough to be alarmed by a statement from Smithfield CEO Joe Luter,
issued in an April press release: "We believe the strategies and practices we have
followed in the United States will work equally well, or perhaps even better, in Poland
Of the nearly 40 percent of Poles who live in the countryside, 25 percent work on
farms. The average Polish farm is small -- about 15 acres. Compare that to a Premium
Standard Farms hog factory the group saw in Missouri: The facility comprises 19 pods (each
pod with its own four-acre lagoon) of eight buildings each, with 1,104 hogs in each
building for a grand total of 167,808 hogs.
During their visit, the Poles viewed hog factory operations from the air and on foot,
getting a close-up view of the animals' living quarters.
Sierra Club Trade Specialist Dan Seligman and other experts strategized with the
delegation about ways to fight the globalization of the factory-farm industry. The group
also met with union leaders, water scientists and politicians.
In Washington, D.C., they joined a family-farm demonstration at the capitol along with
500 American farmers, and with the Club's Virginia Chapter and the Southside Coalition --
a citizens' hog-watch group -- they took part in a demonstration at Smithfield's
From the East Coast, members of the delegation flew to the nation's Heartland. On one
of their last nights they gathered with about 50 farmers in a barn on Sierra Club member
Terry Spence's farm in northern Missouri. The U.S. farmers implored them to do whatever it
takes to prevent Smithfield from setting up shop in Poland.
Interestingly, said Dye, the Poles talked about how, twice this year, tens of thousands
of farmers plunged the country into political crisis when they blockaded over 600 roads,
border crossings and railroads around the country to protest depressed prices and cheap
agricultural imports from abroad.
"Exactly how does one organize a blockade?" the American farmers asked.
"It's a tactic that hasn't been tried in this country lately," said Dye.
"The Sierra Club opposes even non-violent civil disobedience, but the way this
hog-factory industry is going, the American farmers might be tempted to try it. We've been
failed by our politicians and our regulators, and now it's gone to the judicial system. If
that fails, we may see the public take it upon itself to stop the devastation any way it
The day after the meeting in Terry Spence's barn, Dye stood before the state's Clean
Water Commission and explained that the Polish delegation had flown halfway around the
world and then halfway across the country to Missouri because members wanted to see the
worst example of a corporate hog factory.
"That should be a source of shame and humiliation for everyone in this room,"
No one said a word.
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