inside the belly of the beast that tears out beast bellies

The new issue of “Rolling Stone” has a great piece on factory farming. (Thanks to Jim for the link.) Here’s how the story begins:

Smithfield Foods, the largest and most profitable pork processor in the world, killed 27 million hogs last year. That’s a number worth considering. A slaughter-weight hog is fifty percent heavier than a person. The logistical challenge of processing that many pigs each year is roughly equivalent to butchering and boxing the entire human populations of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Detroit, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Columbus, Austin, Memphis, Baltimore, Fort Worth, Charlotte, El Paso, Milwaukee, Seattle, Boston, Denver, Louisville, Washington, D.C., Nashville, Las Vegas, Portland, Oklahoma City and Tucson.

Smithfield Foods actually faces a more difficult task than transmogrifying the populations of America’s thirty-two largest cities into edible packages of meat. Hogs produce three times more excrement than human beings do. The 500,000 pigs at a single Smithfield subsidiary in Utah generate more fecal matter each year than the 1.5 million inhabitants of Manhattan. The best estimates put Smithfield’s total waste discharge at 26 million tons a year. That would fill four Yankee Stadiums. Even when divided among the many small pig production units that surround the company’s slaughterhouses, that is not a containable amount.

Smithfield estimates that its total sales will reach $11.4 billion this year. So prodigious is its 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…

I think the universe is conspiring to make me vegan again.

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14 Comments

  1. ol' e cross
    Posted December 18, 2006 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    Whenever the Universe calls me into a triple-dog-dare, I eat Smithfield Ham until my kidneys make my intestines pop. You gotta show the Universe who’s boss or else you’ll be her bitch forever.

  2. Ted Glass
    Posted December 19, 2006 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    It would be a great prank to airlift a few metric tons of hog feces to this guy’s vacation home.

  3. mark
    Posted December 19, 2006 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    As long as we’re on this subject, I need to find someone raising organic-fed, no-hormone, no-probiotic hogs for country ham (the really salty stuff that I was raised on). Any leads?

  4. murph
    Posted December 19, 2006 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Hogs are the animal I’ve never gotten a local lead on, sorry.

    I would advise that you read Pollan’s book, mentioned previously, before you let yourself be grossed back into veganism. The “clean food” farmer he talks to in the middle third, I think, provides a good model for conscientious meat consumption.

  5. Mike
    Posted December 19, 2006 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    Definitely read the book. While there is a good moral reason to not eat from the major meat producers, America is still going to eat meat. I think that more of a difference could be made by supporting good farmers, rather than just not supporting the bad.

  6. Hillary
    Posted December 19, 2006 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    You could start hunting feral pigs in the UP…
    http://www.michiganfarmbureau.com/farmnews/transform.php?xml=20061130/cover.xml

    and revive the Ypsilanti tradition of harpsichord making in the process.
    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,803099,00.html

  7. It's Skinner Again
    Posted December 20, 2006 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    Mark — A study this week in the “British Medical Journal” finds a correlation between vegetarianism and higher intelligence. If you become vegan again, people may suspect you of being smart, and you don’t want, do you?

    The giant pits of shit — some of them 10 acres big — produced by hog farms are called “slurry lagoons,” by the way. The pretty name doesn’t seem to help the smell.

  8. danandkitty
    Posted December 22, 2006 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    I agree that being a “Conscientious Omnivore” (as Peter simger suggests) is better than eating the factory farmed animals and would like meat eaters to make better choices about who they buy their animal products from, how the animals are treated and how far the product travels. However, there is no way that we can eat as much meat and other animal products as we do now and raise them humanely and sustainably. Meat (and other animal product) consumption MUST be greatly reduced if we are to stop the shittifying of the world by animal factory farming. (Feel free to use this new and exciting term, “Shittifying.”)

    This is my main beef (hah!) with “people” like Sally Fallon who rail against vegegtarianism and promote a pastoral appraoch to eating animals that is virtually impossible on the scale in which we eat animals today. I’m going to include a long-ish reprint of an article by vegan author Erik Marcus responding to the “Omnivore’s Dilemma”

    The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a celebration of alternative agriculture that every vegetarian should read. Michael Pollan’s account of modern-day food production is beautifully written, and demands the attention of everyone who cares about what, or who, they eat. This is easily among the most important books on food written this decade. Happily, Pollan’s disgust with factory farming is clear, and The Omnivore’s Dilemma is largely a quest to bring ethics into animal agriculture.

    Unfortunately, the superior quality of Pollan’s writing only makes the book’s flaws all the more glaring. The Omnivore’s Dilemma contains numerous minor and forgivable lapses:

    Pollan spends three pages writing about Omega 3s, and the potential for grass-fed beef and free-range eggs to provide this elusive nutrient. Yet he never so much as mentions flax seeds, which are by far the cheapest and cleanest source of Omega 3s.

    He writes that, “…eggs and milk can be coaxed from animals without hurting or killing them-or so I at least thought.” Whatever he may have once thought, he never gets around to informing readers that every commercially produced layer hen and dairy cow-even if free-range or organically fed-is sent to slaughter.

    He even suggests that if all Americans went vegetarian, “it isn’t at all clear that the total number of animals killed each year would necessarily decline.” This argument was first made by Oregon University agriculture professor Steven Davis, and has since been thoroughly debunked by Gaverick Matheny.

    These lapses can easily be remedied with short rebuttals. Not so with one of the book’s main and most problematic themes: the idea that one small farm in Virginia might serve as a template for enlightened agriculture. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is largely a hagiography of Joel Salatin, the owner of Polyface farm. Salatin’s lifework is admittedly remarkable. He’s taken virtually all the overt cruelty-but alas, none of the slaughter-out of his egg, chicken, and beef operations. What’s more, Salatin has found a way to raise these animals without drugs or pesticides. Through farming practices that radically depart from convention, it appears that Salatin’s brand of animal agriculture enriches rather than depletes his soil with each passing year.

    Most vegetarians take for granted that eating animals is akin to buying a Hummer, removing its catalytic converter, and using the vehicle to cart around nuclear waste. Pollan’s book convincingly shows that animal agriculture can, in fact, operate in a way that respects the environment. For a reader who’s acquainted with the staggering wastefulness of animal agriculture, it’s hard not to get caught up in Pollan’s account of the Polyface alternative.

    What Polyface has accomplished is a genuine achievement. However, Pollan never points out that there’s a reason why Polyface is plunked down in rural Virginia-hardly the heart of cattle country. This model of farming could simply never be transplanted to the arid, near-dessert landscape of America’s western states-the region that produces nearly all American beef. It’s one thing to practice boutique farming and to raise 50 grass-fed cattle a year on lush, rain-soaked land in rural Virginia. It’s quite another to imply that Polyface could be anything like a model for transforming America’s beef industry. You simply can’t scale up what’s happening on a 50-steer farm in Virginia to positively transform the way that more than 20 million cattle are raised in the American West.

    Michael Pollan is a talented writer, and had he only put this manuscript out for proper review this book could have been a masterpiece. Despite its flaws, The Omnivore’s Dilemma deserves the attention of everyone who cares about animal cruelty. Nowhere is the case for eating animal products made so persuasively and thoughtfully. Yet the book’s shortcomings demand some prerequisite reading-otherwise the reader may succumb to the same lapses in thinking that overcame Pollan.

    Reprinted with permission. First published by VegNews magazine, May/June 2006

    I hope that this isn’t too long of a post…
    Dan

  9. paulg
    Posted December 22, 2006 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    Could SPAM be what you’re looking for? I know it’s salty, and I think Hormel is a fairly reputable company.

    I suggest you read “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair. That was the original muckraking novel. It may shock you off meat for at least a few weeks…

  10. paulg
    Posted December 23, 2006 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    Above post was addressed to Mark. Mark, is there a way to edit posts?

    -Paul

  11. Posted January 2, 2007 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    For an indepth look at the damage the hog industry has done and is doing in NC visit http://www.neuseriver.com. The dirty mess is there for all to see and read.

    Rick Dove
    New Bern, NC

  12. paul maynard
    Posted February 20, 2007 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    We COULD take all that fecal matter and transform it into bio-gas. This would help reduce our dependence on arab oil. It would also reduce the pollution getting to our watershed. Also, PLEASE, I have heard several mentions about previous vegan lifestyles. If any could please tell me what they have found to be bad about the vegan lifestyle please let me know. I have always thought that if God did not want us to eat animals He wouldn’t have made them from meat, but alot of people recently are trying to convince me to go vegan.

  13. t.d. glass
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    If I’m not mistaken, people are made from meat too.

  14. It's Skinner Again
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    But people have always eaten people,
    What else is there to eat?
    If the Juju had meant us not to eat people,
    He wouldn’t have made us from meat!
    (from “The Reluctant Cannibal,” Flanders & Swann)

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