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Cheap meat comes at a high price

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Cheap Meat Comes at a Very High Price


The New Statesman (London) March 9, 2011


Cheap meat comes at a high price


The conditions of pig farms in parts of the EU

are atrocious, but the fightback has begun.


By Tracy Worcester


Across Europe, a battle is being waged against an

agenda that puts the rights of corporations ahead

of human health and animal welfare. Against the

huge resources of pan-European lobby firms, their

advisers and pocket MEPs, there is a fightback

that unites those socialists, greens and

conservatives who respect and understand rural

communities. Between 2005 - 2009, I made a film,

Pig Business, about it (which you can watch here: ).


In it, I revealed the industrialization and

corporatization of pork farming in Poland, which

has resulted in a tide of cheap meat bankrupting

farmers all across the EU. It's not much fun

feeling like a modern Canute but the events of

recent months have convinced me that industrial

pig farming will not prevail in silence. The

local and national pressure against mega farms is

raging against the case of getting big or getting



While the application for a mega dairy in Nocton,

Lincolnshire has recently been withdrawn, libel

lawyers have been engaged in an attempt to

silence objections that the application to build

a mega pig farm in Foston, Derbyshire, which

critics claim will pose health risks to



Poland is, however, where it all started. US

giant Smithfield Foods of America, had persuaded

the previous government to sell ex-state farms

for what their CEO boasted, were "small

dollars".Using funds secured from the European

Bank for Reconstruction and Development (paid for

by European taxpayers) they "modernised" the

farms. Modernisation meant putting as many pigs

in as small a space possible. It meant very cheap



Smithfield specialise in this form of industrial

farming. It is not without consequence. The

effect on local eco-systems from tens of

thousands of densely packed-pigs is immense. Pigs

produce 10 times as much waste as humans do. The

waste is stored in stinking lagoons and sprayed

onto fields. This system pollutes the coastline

causing massive fish kills, and sickens

neighbouring residents. In March 2010 a court in

Missouri ordered a Smithfield Foods subsidiary to

pay local residents $11m for "odours so offensive

that they defied description". Stephen A. Weiss,

a New York attorney, who represented the

families, said: "These corporations have chosen

to invade traditional family farming communities

and construct industrial operations that simply

fail to respect the community and the land."


The neo-liberal government of Poland in the late

1990s welcomed Smithfield with open arms. The

"shock therapy" created a great deal of pain not

least in the rural areas and the government was

replaced by The Law and Justice Party, which

sought to limit the damage of the pro-corporate

agenda by making industrial factory farming

adhere to regulations.


Smithfield's response was to move the new wave of

operations to a more corporate friendly country,

Romania. "We have been very disappointed by the

way we have been treated by the government in

Poland," said Richard Poulson, executive

vice-president of Smithfield, the US based

meatpacker. "It has been an uphill fight in

Poland and Romania is frankly a way for us to

hedge our bets. The difference between the way

the Polish government treats us and the way the

Romanian government treats us is like night and



The Polish MEP, Janusz Wojciechowsk, is one of

the heroes of this story. Wojciechowsk was one of

three MEPs, along with Jose Bove and Dan

Jørgensen, who invited me to screen my film Pig

Business, and host a debate on Feb 9th 2011, as

reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

were being discussed in the European Parliament.

The Event was held to highlight the hidden costs

of factory farming on pigs, people and the

planet, as well as the farmers themselves. It

could not have been more timely following a

"winter of discontent" for pig farmers facing low

supermarket prices for pork, high feed costs, a

health scandal caused by animal feed contaminated

with dioxin, and the recent discovery that flies

are spreading antibiotic resistant bacteria from

intensive farms to neighbouring urban areas.


José Bové, a French MEP once a farmer himself

before becoming a European politician, has for

many years opposed genetically modified crops and

industrial agriculture. He was arrested for

dismantling a MacDonald's restaurant that

threatened to destroy his local town's economy.

He is clear about the threat industrial pig

farming poses to traditional forms of farming. He

told the conference attendees of MEPs, their

advisers, lobbyists, NGOs and press, that

"following the deregulation of markets and open

ports, come the big firms, like Cargill, Tyson

and Smithfield and with them the concentration of

production that is causing the elimination of

small farmers. If the CAP supports a system of

agriculture that destroys the environment and

makes poor quality industrial products, I do not

see why Europeans would want to subsidise it.

Everyone knows that 75 per cent of CAP aid goes

to 25 per cent of farmers. This is unacceptable."


As the big get bigger and drive costs lower

thanks to CAP subsidies and externalizing their

true costs on to the broader community, small and

medium scale farms can only survive by copying

the giants and cramming ever more animals into

tiny compartments.


A recent survey found that 50 per cent of

consumers across the EU believe that pigs are

"fairly well treated". The opposite is true. NGO,

Compassion in World Farming, found out the

reality during a spot check of Europe's farms.

Their research showed that up to 75 per cent of

EU pigs are subject to such horrendous conditions

that their treatment is illegal even with the low

threshold of EU regulations.


Consumers should be empowered by being able to

find both country of origin and method of

production labels on animal products. Just as the

EU demands farmer's eggs are labeled if they are

from caged hens, the same rule should apply to

pigs crammed into barren concrete and metal pens

with no access to natural light or fresh air and

pumped with antibiotics to keep the miserable

creatures alive. When I show consumers the

reality of this farming method in Pig Business,

almost all say they will never buy factory pork



The corporate takeover of agriculture has wrecked

family farms in America too. On March 9th, Bobby

Kennedy Jr. will co-host the Pig Business US

screening for Congress members and staff on

Capitol Hill, Washington. Experts from animal

welfare, human health and family farm groups will

reinforce the film's findings that factory farms

across the US abuse the animals, threaten human

health by over-reliance on antibiotics and force

traditional farmers out of business.


At the congress event, I will explain reforms to

CAP that many concerned EU consumers, MEPs and

NGO, are requesting and compare these with

legislative changes demanded by similarly

concerned Americans. Although EU free market

rules have allowed low welfare imports to

undermine small scale family farms, it is nothing

in comparison to the US where neo-liberal

policies advocated by a few big corporations that

have decimated the small farm economies and with

it, quality food and human health. For example,

although adding antibiotics to pig feed

specifically to promote growth has been banned in

the EU since 2003, it is still allowed in the US.

This has resulted in 80 per cent of US

antibiotics being used in livestock production -

not on human health. Doctors and scientists are

concerned that this practice is leading to new

antibiotic resistant diseases which, like MRSA,

pass from pigs to humans. A pilot study in Iowa

found the pig strain of MRSA in 45 per cent of

the workers and 49 per cent of the pigs.


Also as we in Europe are asking that the CAP

ensures animal welfare laws are better enforced

and improved, the United Sates has no federal on

farm animal welfare legislation.


With Eastern Europe joining the EU, the average

EU farm size has reduced to 12 hectares and many

are run as small scale family enterprise. In the

US, however, the average farm size is 418

hectares. The EU's small farmer champion is the

Romanian European Commissioner for Agriculture

and he is determined to help small farmers

survive through directing CAP subsidies away from

large to smaller scale farm enterprises.


This approach is unpopular with the large EU farm

lobbyists who want agricultural industry

consolidated and mechanized, and who claim to be

competitive, while soaking up massive subsidies.


The third option for many EU and US agricultural

policy makers is to call for food production to

be exempted from trade rules like the EU and

World Trade Organisation (WTO) so that all

nations and regions have the right to protect

their farmers from low cost and low animal

welfare imports.


This battle rages across the political divide and

between intensive and extensive farmers. In the

UK, in the light of the withdrawal of the Nocton

mega-dairy application, concerned consumers and

neighbouring residents hope that 'Midland Pig

Producers' will not re-submit their planning

application to Derbyshire County Council to build

the UK's biggest factory pig farm bedside a

women's prison in Foston, Derbyshire. The company

submitted plans for an intensive pig unit of

2,500 sows and around 20,000 piglets which will

spend all of their lives indoors. Neighbours are

objecting to the planning application in fear of

their health and house values and hundreds of

small and medium scale UK farmers will have to

"get out" while a few producers "get big" to

compete with cheap imports.


To help UK small and medium scale pig farmers

survive the stream of cheap meat, consumers need

to buy high-welfare UK farm produce! Eating

smaller quantities of high quality, expensive

meat is the healthier, cheaper option.


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