Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Factory farming, too often large dirty pig sties

The following post has been hit many times by folk from all around the world. Tonight, Oct. 13, 2009, I am adding a link to a story in the Huffington Post, "What Can Danish Hogs Teach Us About Antibiotics?" (Sunday, January 3, 2009, I'm adding another link: Where swine flu began by Thane Burnett of Sun Media.). And another link was added Mar. 8, 2010 from the New York Times: The Spread of Superbugs. And on Sept. 15, 2010, I added yet another NYT link: U.S. Meat Farmers Brace for Limits on Antibiotics.)

According to the Huffington Post article: "American agribusiness often has criticized Denmark's 1998 ban on antibiotics, calling it an outright failure. But compelling new research presented by a Danish scientist earlier this year showed the opposite, revealing that antibiotic use on industrial farms has dropped by half while productivity has increased by 47 percent since 1992."

Maybe their is hope for our pig farmers after all.

Pig farms — I hate to write about pig farms. I would bet that pig farms in Canada employ thousands and that hundreds, if not thousands, of Canadian families have their wealth completely tied up in the family business, a large pig farm operation. But the recent announcement of $75 million of Canadian taxpayer money for the pig industry plus $17 million to assist in the marketing of pork thrust pig farmers into my morning thoughts.

Why do I hate to write about them — because they are a disgrace. How pig farming got to its present state would be a whole, exceedingly long blog. Done properly, such a story would fill pages in a monthly magazine and would be a good, interesting read.

Yesterday The London Free Press reported that the pork industry was reeling from too many financial hits. One nasty hit was the labelling of H1N1 as "swine flu". The association of pig farming with a potential pandemic influenza virus has unfairly tarnished the industry, the producers complain.

This talk makes pig farms sound like the dirty, disease prone operations which they are. They just don't spread "swine flu," or do they?

I quote from the blog Beyond Factory Farming: "In order to prevent disease outbreaks caused by unsanitary, confined conditions, factory farms routinely use antibiotics as an ingredient in feed.

The systemic overuse of antibiotics in agriculture is encouraging the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria or “superbugs” such as Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) that threaten the efficacy of antibiotics used to treat humans.

The World Health Organization (WHO) calls for an end to the use of antibiotics in livestock that compromise human medical care. Nevertheless, the use of antibiotics in livestock production in Canada continues."

Before I left the paper, one of my last assignments was to get a picture at a local pig farm. It was a small, family operation under fierce financial pressures. This family farm had thousands of pigs — thousands!

When I got out of my car on arriving at the farm the pig farm smell was strong. One immediately knew why pig farms were not wanted as neighbours, even in the country. The farmer greeted me and took me into the nearest barn.

A wall, a solid wall, of stench hit me as we entered. I have lung problems, asthma, and immediately I began to struggle to breathe. The farmer led me down a long hallway which opened into a large room holding hundreds of pigs. A white, wooden, fencelike barrier prevented the pigs from entering the hall. I shot quickly and in moments I had my picture and we left.

When I got back to the paper, Mike Hensen, another staff photographer and who shared the alcove where we both downloaded our pictures, asked me to move. He could not take the smell and worse I was going to make him smell if I stayed. I stayed. He moved.

Soon I was getting complaints from all over the newsroom. File your pictures and go home, I was told. My clothing reeked, my camera gear reeked. Only moments exposed to the air in a pig barn had done this.

I went home, showered, threw my cloths immediately into the washing machine — including my photographer's vest. I even carefully washed my camera gear and wiped down the inside of my car. It was winter and it wasn't possible to do a first-rate job. My wife could smell the lingering odour in my car for months. We used her car whenever possible.

I'm not an expert and I don't profess to have all the answers but I do have some questions. If the air in a pig barn is that foul, that potent, how is it possible to raise healthy animals in that environment? Uh, would the answer be putting antibiotics in the feed?

O.K. Let's agree that it's unfair to associate "swine flu" with pigs just because the genetic make-up of the virus is of a type that normally affects pigs. Some say it started in pigs and then mutated, making the jump to people.

Some even say that the recent "swine flu" outbreak started in Mexico and that ground zero was Carroll Ranches, opened by Virginia-based Smithfield Foods in 1994. This pig farm, they say, was the cause of the epidemic. Maybe, just maybe, "swine flu" is a more information dense name for this type of influenza than H1N1. (I first heard this connection on the all news network CNN from the States.)

Allow me to quote from the Narco News Bulletin. (The whole report is actually worth a read. The story is shocking and nicely substantiated. The writer did his homework.)

"La Jornada columnist Julio Hernández López connects the corporate dots to explain how the Virginia-based Smithfield Foods came to Mexico: In 1985, Smithfield Foods received what was, at the time, the most expensive fine in history – $12.6 million – for violating the US Clean Water Act at its pig facilities near the Pagan River in Smithfield, Virginia, a tributary that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The company, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dumped hog waste into the river.

It was a case in which US environmental law succeeded in forcing a polluter, Smithfield Foods, to construct a sewage treatment plant at that facility after decades of using the river as a mega-toilet. But “free trade” opened a path for Smithfield Foods to simply move its harmful practices next door into Mexico so that it could evade the tougher US regulators.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect on January 1, 1994. That very same year Smithfield Foods opened the “Carroll Ranches” in the Mexican state of Veracruz through a new subsidiary corporation, “Agroindustrias de México.”

Consider what happens when such forms of massive pork production move to unregulated territory where Mexican authorities allow wealthy interests to do business without adequate oversight, abusing workers and the environment both. And there it is: The violence wrought by NAFTA in clear and understandable human terms.

The so-called “swine flu” exploded because an environmental disaster simply moved (and with it, took jobs from US workers) to Mexico where environmental and worker safety laws, if they exist, are not enforced against powerful multinational corporations."

Now, the Canadian Ministry of Agriculture has announced that swine producers will be able to share in a $75 million money pot being made available to assist producers to get out of the business. MP Gary Schellenberger (Conservative: Perth-Wellington) is quoted in The London Free Press as saying, "What this will do is help people get out of the business if they can't prove their business can be viable."

Viable. The word worries me. Does this translate into bigger, more efficient factory farm operations. Does this mean more pigs in fewer pig barns and all demanding more antibiotics to maintain good health?

My father raised hogs when he had a farm eighty years ago in eastern Ontario. He told me that the stories about pigs were mostly myths. Pigs, he said, were clean if given a chance. Look to the pig farmer as the reason for the filth, not the pig. Hell, he said, pigs don't smell; they don't even sweat.


For another view, if you have the time, the CBC took a look at pig farming in Canada. It's long, but worth it.

Or for an MSM take read the article in the Toronto Star, Blame NAFTA for swine flu, expert say.

It is not just large pig farms that are causing problems. The New York Times has a continuing series Toxic Waters. Read how other massive farming operations are causing problems.

If you have read this far, you may be interested in a later post: What is in Canadian ground beef?


  1. I once heard a story that when planes would fly over southern Illinois, where there are/were?, alot of pig farms and you could smell them in the plane. I doubted the story, but now I am wondering. We have corrupted our food chain so badly, I wonder if we can ever fix it. I haven't eaten pork for long time, I don't know if I will again!!!

  2. Originally this post carried the plural word styes in its title. Styes is actually the plural of sty - an inflamed swelling on the edge of an eyelid. Sties is the correct plural of sty - an enclosure for pigs.

    Ah for the days when I worked at a newspaper and enjoyed the luxury of good editors checking my copy.

  3. All factory farms should be shutdown! Not only are they completely cruel, but they are bad for climate change. When will the stupid governments wake up.