Monday, January 08, 2007

Pig Shit and Profits

The autocratic ruler of Jordan, King Abdullah II, enjoys barbecuing in the palace garden. Recently, however, he felt obliged to send a letter of complaint to Israel's environment ministry regarding an unwanted and unsavoury export from that country. Indeed, the stench of manure from a kibbutz was so objectionable that he cancelled a planned international conference at the Aqaba palace as well as, presumably, further BBQs.

Needless to say, as a right royal parasite he has the freedom to complain about whatever he wants - a privilege not shared by the vast majority in his country. In fact, somewhat surprisingly for an allegedly 43rd-generation direct descendant of Mohamet (see ), not showing proper respect to Abdullah bin al-Hussein is considered a much more serious offence than criticizing Islam. But this is to digress.

When it comes to bad smells, few things can compete with "..the largest and most profitable pork processor in the world.." Truly, if such an abomination as Smithfield Foods did not exist it would take the combined imaginative talents of a George Orwell and Upton Sinclair to come up with something similar. Consider the stink and waste resulting from the raising and slaughter of tens of millions of hogs (27 million in 2005). Inconceivable? OK, Take then, if you can, the smell associated with the mere 500,000 pigs at one Smithfield subsidiary in Utah, a stink which is strong enough to poleaxe people:

"We are used to farm odors," says one local farmer. "These are not farm odors." Sometimes the stink literally knocks people down: They walk out of the house to get something in the yard and become so nauseous they collapse. When they retain consciousness, they crawl back into the house."

The company with estimated total sales of $11.4 billion (US) in 2006 is spreading malignantly to other areas of the world such Eastern Europe:

"The usual violations occurred. Near one of Smithfield's largest plants, in Byszkowo, an enormous pool of frozen pig shit, pumped into a lagoon in winter, melted and ran into two nearby lakes. The lake water turned brown; residents in local villages got skin rashes and eye infections; the stench made it impossible to eat. A recent report to the Helsinki Commission found that Smithfield's pollution throughout Poland was damaging the country's ecosystems. Over application was endemic. Farmers without permits were piping liquid pig shit directly into watersheds that fed into the Baltic Sea.

"When Joseph Luter [the chairman of Smithfield Foods] entered Poland, he announced that he planned to turn the country into the 'Iowa of Europe.' Iowa has always been America's biggest hog producer and remains the nation's chief icon of hog farming. Having subdued Poland, Luter announced this summer that all of Eastern Europe -- 'particularly Romania' -- should become the 'Iowa of Europe.' Seventy-five percent of Romania's hogs currently come from household farms. Over the next five years, Smithfield plans to spend $800 million in Romania to change that."

Greens and Vegetarians will, no doubt, squeal in horror at the environmental damage, the slaughter and bleat about cleaner alternatives whilst ignoring the fact that this is business as usual, just one hideous aspect of a worldwide system where profit is king. Myopic reformists, they forget the plight of workers in such factories, where the " temperature often hotter than ninety degrees. The air, saturated almost to the point of precipitation with gases from shit and chemicals, can be lethal to the pigs. Enormous exhaust fans run twenty-four hours a day. The ventilation systems function like the ventilators of terminal patients: If they break down for any length of time, pigs start dying."

Sinclair wrongly saw reform rather than revolution as the answer to 'problems' which are endemic to the capitalist system. Orwell too, despite observing that "men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat" fell into the same trap. In a world of plenty, none need go without: "we have enough food to provide everyone in a world with a least 2,720 kilocalories per person per day" (The Independent, 16 October 2006) Smithfield Foods, and the like, will not exist in a Socialist world. With the desire to minimise dirty work and suffering, we might turn to biotechnology and by doing so even please groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals:

"no one who considers what's in a meat hot dog could genuinely express revulsion at eating a clean cloned meat product" (Ingrid Newkirk of PETA) . But before we can be free to develop sustainable, desirable ways of living we must bury King Capital.

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