Thursday, December 16, 2010

Shame on Smithfield Foods (and Paula Deen)

Smithfield Foods is the world's largest factory-farm producer of pork products with massive facilities in my home state of North Carolina, the nation's leading pork-producing state. And Paula Deen is Smithfield's leading celebrity chef, promoting all their products. I say shame on them both. I confess to being embarrassed for the South, and humanity in general, whenever I see or hear of Paula Deen being interviewed on TV. Her saccharine Southern/Savannah schtick is more than I can abide. And her unwillingness to disassociate herself from a company like Smithfield makes her all the more in-credible. Smithfield (as do all factory meat farms) has an incredibly poor record of worker care at their food plants, and I heard a caller on an NPR show once ask Paula Deen why she didn't stand up for the abused workers at the company she was representing -- and the NPR host quickly interrupted the call and saved Paula from having to answer.

But this post is more about Smithfield than Paula Deen. HSUS (the Humane Society of the United States) just posted an undercover video shot at a North Carolina Smithfield pork plant. I'm posting the shorter version (3.5 minutes) of the video (below) which has some commentary from the HSUS representative Paul Shapiro. The longer version (8 minutes) shows more footage but without any editing or commentary. I hope you'll watch both.

These videos are not blood-'n-guts videos that show stomach-turning brutality. The purpose for HSUS shooting this undercover video and publishing it is specific: to draw attention to Smithfield Foods' failure to comply with its own stated intentions of doing away with hog gestation crates (see below) and join other major meat producers in the U.S. and Europe in banning (at least partially if not totally) these horrific factory means of raising pigs. The video shows what the life of sows is like who spend their entire life (except for when they deliver piglets) in one of these crates.

I'm posting this information because I don't think the average American has any idea that the ham or pork that Paula Deen promotes with her down-home style is the product of pigs raised in gestation crates. They don't know how pigs are raised -- no clue -- and if they did know I don't think most consumers would like it.

There are two issues going on in this whole discussion: (1) Eating animals at all and (2) Animal welfare -- how the animals that people eat are treated. In other words, it's bad enough that sentient beings are raised for the sole purpose of satisfying the taste buds of the very people commissioned to care for them, but it adds insult to injury when their brief existence is treated as disrespectfully as Smithfield (and some others) treat it.

There are a lot of people who (today) are not going to stop eating animals. But I believe many of those same people are not brutal, uncaring persons; that they would prefer that the animals they eat are at least treated with a measure of respect while they're alive. And all it would take for that to happen is for people to stop buying Smithfield food products and tell Paula Deen to stop making herself rich on the never-ending waves of suffering animals.

Here's what people need to know about how pigs are raised in factory farms -- and some of the terms used in the video that will help you understand the process:

1. General: a female sow lives a pregnant life until slaughtered, interrupted by brief sessions in which she delivers the current litter of piglets. She lives her entire life in a 2' x 7' gestation crate, except for when she is moved to a farrowing crate where she gives birth. She is then artificially re-inseminated and moved back to the gestation crate to await the delivery of the next litter in four months. This is the life of the average sow in a factory farm for 3-4 years, after which she will be slaughtered. A sow is basically a piglet factory. Female piglets go into the same work as their mothers, while males are raised for semen harvesting and for slaughter.

2. Gestation crate: Sows are isolated in these crates to prevent them from fighting with one another which they would do if they were kept in an open area. They fight because of being crammed into artificial indoor environments where they can't exercise normal nesting and hierarchical behaviors. The gestation crates have only enough room for a sow to stand or lie on her side. There is no room to turn around. The crates are set atop slatted floors through which excrement drops into a removal system below the crates. Sometimes (as the longer video will show) if a sow delivers while still in the gestation crate, piglets can slip through the excrement slats and fall into the waste removal system below. (The millions of gallons of hog waste generated by hog factory farms in North Carolina is a continual eco-threat to the eastern part of the state where these plants are located. Anytime there is heavy rain, or a hurricane, the threat exists for the hog waste lagoons to overflow and spill untold amounts of waste into local fresh-water sources, fouling them for weeks at a time. This has happened more than once since I've been living in NC.)

3. Farrowing crate: a slightly larger confined area with a solid floor where the sow can deliver her litter. The sow is moved from the gestation crate to the farrowing crate when she is ready to deliver. Still, there is no room to turn around -- only room for the sow to lie on her side so the piglets can nurse immediately after birth until they are separated from the mother.

4. Insanity: think about what it would be like for a female human to be confined the way a sow is, with the sole interruption in her existence being childbirth and re-insemination. Losing one's mind would not be a surprise -- and that's what animal scientists observe happening to sows in gestation crates. Their confinement in wholly unnatural facilities leads to wholly unnatural behavior. If it's true that we are what we eat, then I wonder what the long-term effect is on humans of eating flesh that has been under immense stress (marinating in adrenaline and other hormones for several years) its entire life.

Even if you consume animal products, I hope you'll consider the steps you might take to force producers like Smithfield and celebrities like Paula Deen to do away with gestation crates and create a more humane environment for the animals they raise. That's a long way from the perfect solution, but every little step helps.

The HSUS video:


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this William. This is absolutely horrendous!

  2. Hey there, William...

    Very insightful, glad you posted this..."thanks!"

  3. Good job! I've already started a boycott of Paula Deen and Smithfield on my FB page. After watching, "Food,Inc.", I started looking for local, humanely raised pork, beef and chickens and to my great pleasure have found several other sources than the supermarkets that support CAFO's and such. Glad you are spreading the word!

  4. i would say Paula Deen looks like a fat hog, but I like hogs. shame on you Deen. I threw my paula deen cookwear when I found out how you like to treat pigs.