Pig Shit

Environmental Economics points us to Boss Hog by Jeff Tietz in Rolling Stone. It is an article about Smithfield foods, the biggest pork processor in the world, and — well, let’s just say it makes me glad I’m a vegetarian. Here are the first few paragraphs, but really you should print off the whole article (8 pages). Just don’t read it close to dinner.

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.

A lot of pig shit is one thing; a lot of highly toxic pig shit
is another. The excrement of Smithfield hogs is hardly even pig
shit: On a continuum of pollutants, it is probably closer to
radioactive waste than to organic manure. The reason it is so toxic
is Smithfield’s efficiency. The company produces 6 billion pounds
of packaged pork each year. That’s a remarkable achievement, a
prolificacy unimagined only two decades ago, and the only way to do
it is to raise pigs in astonishing, unprecedented
concentrations.

Smithfield’s pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in
warehouse-like barns, in rows of wall-to-wall pens. Sows are
artificially inseminated and fed and delivered of their piglets in
cages so small they cannot turn around. Forty fully grown 250-pound
male hogs often occupy a pen the size of a tiny apartment. They
trample each other to death. There is no sunlight, straw, fresh air
or earth. The floors are slatted to allow excrement to fall into a
catchment pit under the pens, but many things besides excrement can
wind up in the pits: afterbirths, piglets accidentally crushed by
their mothers, old batteries, broken bottles of insecticide,
antibiotic syringes, stillborn pigs — anything small enough to fit
through the foot-wide pipes that drain the pits. The pipes remain
closed until enough sewage accumulates in the pits to create good
expulsion pressure; then the pipes are opened and everything bursts
out into a large holding pond.

Continued here.

Oh yes. Happy New Year.

 

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