Where does your food come from?

Smithfield Foods (Like the ham)

I'm sure you've heard of Smithfield Ham.  Everybody gets them for the holidays which are fast approaching already.  The Smithfield Foods headquarters is located in Smithfield, VA and their meat packing facility is located in Tar Heel, NC.  Every year, Smithfield raises 14 million hogs and processes 27 million, which adds up to 5.9 billion pounds of pork, making them the largest producer and processor of pork in the world.

Recently while driving towards Myrtle Beach for a vacation, we had the "privilege" of driving past the meat packing plant in NC. It was absolutely enormous! It went on for miles in every direction.  It was amazing, in a sad way.  I have to say that I was fighting back a few tears as I thought about what took place on that property.

When you go to the Smithfield websites, they spout all kinds of nice friendly rhetoric about being an "ethical food industry leader" that "pushes the envelope in the research and development of innovative environmental technologies" to "guarantee the highest environmental standards".

Their company motto is that they are "a global food company that goes above and beyond to provide good food in a responsible manner..."  Among their core values they have listed that they are committed to producing "safe, high-quality, nutritious food", "to [advancing] animal welfare", "to [protecting] the environment, and "to have a positive impact on our communities."

It all sounds real nice and honorable doesn't it?

What they don't tell you on their websites is that the Smithfield packing facility also produces and stores millions of gallons of fecal matter in holding ponds that are untreated, due to an extremely high concentration of pigs with inadequate waste facilities.  Over a period of four years, 4.7 million gallons of this fecal matter was released into nearby NC rivers. In 1997, Smithfield was fined $12.6 million for a violation of the Clean Water Act.  Even though this was the third largest civil penalty for this act, it only amounted to about .035% of Smithfield's annual sales. Slap on the wrist, maybe?

The breeding sows they keep at the facility are confined to "gestation stalls" for most of their lives. These stalls are 7ftx2ft areas surrounded by metal bars.  The pregnant sows, as their bellies grow, are unable to move or even turn around.  These type of gestation crates are illegal in several U.S. states, as well as the UK and Sweden.  After some complaints Smithfield announced that in ten years they would no longer use these stalls.  However, in June 2009, they restracted that announcement, stating that they would not be able to phase them out "due to recent significant operating losses incurred by our hog production segment." Translation=money. Thats what its all about.

Once the sows give birth, they are placed in "farrowing" crates, which are not much bigger than the gestation stalls.  Once again, as she nurses her piglets, she is unable to move, restricted by metal bars all around her, keeping her laying on her side to continue nursing.  The piglets are then taken away from her at only three weeks old, only to be moved from one cramped cell to another, never seeing the light of day, until after reaching the age of 25 weeks, they are led down a hallway and onto a truck that transports them to the slaughterhouse.  The mother sows are then given one week to rest before she is inseminated and the process begins all over. She will continue this cycle throughout her entire life until her litter size begins to decrease, at which point she will be "replaced".

I am saddened and sickened by this information that I have learned and am sharing with you now.  Yet I believe it is important, even vital, for us to know where our food comes from.  Not only is this kind of treatment of these highly social and intelligent animals inhumane and even wrong (in my opinion), it is not necessary.  The mistreatment of these beautiful creatures also translates to the lack of quality and the safety of the food we eat.  Is it worth it to you, to eat a Smithfield ham of mediocre quality because its cheaper and more convenient so that some large global company without a face can make a few extra bucks while destroying the environment and the welfare of an entire species? I think not.