Boss Hog: Rolling Stone Gets Down in Pig Manure


Move over, Upton Sinclair and Michael Pollan. Make room for Jeff Tietz, who has written an extraordinary article in Rolling Stone, of all places, about how "America's top pork producer churns out a sea of waste that has destroyed rivers, killed millions of fish and generated one of the largest fines in EPA history" It is a dire and frightening tale. The first paragraph has perhaps the year's longest run-on sentence, designed to convey the scale of the industry and the analogy to human beings is stunningly effective.

"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."The article continues in that style, hitting you with statistics and similes. "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. " and 26 million tons of it are discharged each year. Into holding ponds, sprayed on fields, leaking into rivers.

The article is primarily about shit. It briefly touches on animal welfare- "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." Which doesn't get much of a response from Smithfield Chairman Joseph Luter : "The animal-rights people," he once said, "want to impose a vegetarian's society on the U.S. Most vegetarians I know are neurotic."

It then goes back to looking at what is in pigshit, how it is dealt with, where it goes and how it gets into the environment.

People become vegetarians for various reasons; personal health and concern for animal welfare are big ones. It is likely that environmental concerns are becoming a major cause; since I started reading TreeHugger I have learned about the carbon footprint of a hamburger and the water footprint of a pound of meat. Learning about the shit footprint of a pound of pork has put me over the edge. I know what my New Year's resolution is: no more factory farmed meat. ::Rolling Stone

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