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Smithfield Foods Business Model: We Won't Rest Until Everyone Gets Swine Flu

Not content with spreading disease in North America, Smithfield has actually been running its disease-nurturing factory farms in Eastern Europe. And let me just say, the locals were thrilled not to be left out.

Almost unnoticed by the rest of the Continent, the agribusiness giant has moved into Eastern Europe with the force of a factory engine, assembling networks of farms, breeding pigs on the fast track, and slaughtering them for every bit of meat and muscle that can be squeezed into a sausage.
In less than five years, Smithfield enlisted politicians in Poland and Romania, tapped into hefty European Union farm subsidies and fended off local opposition groups to create a conglomerate of feed mills, slaughterhouses and climate-controlled barns housing thousands of hogs.

It moved with such speed that sometimes it failed to secure environmental permits or inform the authorities about pig deaths -- lapses that emerged after swine fever swept through three Romanian hog compounds in 2007, two of which were operating without permits. Some 67,000 hogs died or were destroyed, with infected and healthy pigs shot to stanch the spread.

In the United States, Smithfield says it has been a boon to consumers. Pork prices dropped by about one-fifth between 1970 and 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, suggesting annual savings of about $29 per consumer.


But Robert Wallace, a visiting professor of geography at the University of Minnesota says Smithfield's global rise is part of a broader "livestock revolution that has created cities of pigs and chickens" in poorer nations with weaker regulations. "The price tag goes up for small farmers."

In Romania, the number of hog farmers has declined 90 percent -- to 52,100 in 2007 from 477,030 in 2003 -- according to European Union statistics, with ex-farmers, overwhelmed by Smithfield's lower prices, often emigrating or shifting to construction. In their place, the company employs or contracts with about 900 people and buys grain from about 100 farmers.

In Poland, there were 1.1 million hog farmers in 1996. That number fell 56 percent by 2008, as the advent of modern farming methods transformed agriculture, according to the Polish National Agricultural Chamber.

Two years ago, Daniel Neag housed 300 pigs in the empty stalls of his windswept farm near Lugoj, in Romania. Since 2005, membership in his breeder association plunged to 42 from 300.

The impact on the environment is even more marked. With almost 40 farms in western Romania, Smithfield has built enormous metal manure containers to inject waste into the soil.

Oh, yeah. That's a good idea. When you have a farm and you buy fertilizer for it, you're spreading a small amount of treated manure ONCE. You aren't injecting tons of pig shit into the ground daily. I'm sure even those of you with little imagination can see how this would turn out. Just ask North Carolina how their manure disposal program's working for them.

Smithfield farms in Romania's Timis County are among the top sources of air and soil pollution, according to a local government report, which ranked the company's individual farms No. 13 through No. 40. The report also indicates that methane gases in the air rose 65 percent between 2002 and 2007.

Taxpayers footed part of the bill; Smithfield tapped into millions of euros in subsidies -- from a total of $50 billion [Euro] available in the E.U. last year -- that are meant to encourage modern farming balanced with care for the environment.

Typical. Can you imagine a small farmer being able to collect any subsidies from the government? Yet, those with money can always get more free money.

Oh, and i love this bit:

Smithfield representatives strongly defend their methods. They say they did everything they could to quash the Romanian swine fever outbreak, and they contend the lack of licenses was an oversight. "We have learned not to assume that a government's awareness of our plans and operations is the same as permission to keep moving forward until we have obtained all necessary permits," Charles Griffith, a company lawyer, said in answer to written questions.

[emphasis mine]

By min | May 8, 2009, 9:43 AM | Liberal Outrage