A factory farm near Wieckowice in Poland, owned by US pork giant Smithfield Foods, the biggest pig factory farming corporation in the world, has been infected with African Swine Fever. The Guardian reported on 8th April 2020 that over 10,000 piglets on the farm would be culled.
I went to Wieckowice to film my (2009) Channel 4 documentary Pig Business where I met local residents and workers suffering from respiratory, neural and intestinal diseases because of toxic emissions from this very same pig factory that has closed today. I climbed factory farm perimeter fences to film suffering pigs and interviewed Smithfield Foods’ US lawyer and local directors, EU bankers and EU bureaucrats to hear their excuses for their destruction of rural culture, health and economies.
Meanwhile on 16 April 2020, 700+ workers at a Smithfield Foods processing plant in South Dakota, were tested positive for COVID-19, representing 55% of all confirmed cases in the state.
In this uncensored version of the 2009 film Pig Business you will hear pork processing workers describing their cramped, dangerous and unsanitary conditions in Smithfield’s slaughter and packing plant at Tar Heel, North Carolina. Though most of the meat is now sent to China and the workers have union representation, most of the workers are undocumented migrants whose rights are undermined. So it is not surprising that during this pandemic Tar Heel is still open and slaughtering 34,000 pigs per day.
In 2009, the censored version of Pig Business was broadcast by Channel 4. We have now posted the uncensored film that includes footage of local doctors, workers and of Robert F Kennedy Jr that had to be taken out of the Channel 4 broadcast version because of threats of defamation from Smithfield Foods.
The competitive imperative for livestock farms to ‘get big or get out of the industry’ is threatening the health of people, animals and ecosystems around the world. What hope of curbing the possible vector of viruses in the UK if pig and poultry factory farms continue to grow ever bigger?
The launch of the Pig Business, The Full Tail – an uncensored version of Pig Business (2009) comes as US pork giant Smithfield Foods – featured in the documentary – slaughters 10,000 pigs stricken with African Swine Fever in a factory farm in Poland, and closes its packing facility in South Dakota where 700+ workers tested positive for COVID-19. Where Smithfield Foods sowed bad karma of cruel treatment of pigs and sick workers and neighbours, so they now reap the consequences.
When I first heard about the outbreak of COVID-19, one emotion I didn’t feel was surprise.
No measures were taken to prevent the root cause of swine flu, mad cow disease and avian flu, and so it was only a matter of time before some new and deadly disease spread from animals to humans. This time it is COVID-19. Many scientists are again suggesting that the pig and poultry industries could be the vectors of the disease in its passage from bats to humans. So, instead of our governments only investing in cures and vaccines, we urgently need to prevent the outbreaks of zoonotic diseases by ending factory farming.
My film Pig Business, exposes the true costs of the corporate takeover of the pig industry focusing on US pig giant Smithfield Foods’ invasion of Poland. It was broadcast on Channel 4 in 2009, during the global pandemic H1N1 (swine flu) that killed approximately 253,000 people worldwide, though some sources report much higher.
Smithfield Foods’ takeover of pig farming and processing in Poland has come home to haunt it. They were in the headlines earlier this month when African Swine Fever struck their factory pig farm in Wieckowice, Poland, 93 miles from the German border, and all 10,000 piglets had to be slaughtered.
A week later, Smithfield was in the news again when their packing plant in S. Dakota was closed due to a staggering 700+ confirmed COVID-19 cases among Smithfield employees and people associated with them. Smithfield-related infections account for 55% of the caseload in the state.
My film tells the story of neighbours living near the US-based (and now Chinese owned), Smithfield Foods, the world’s biggest pork producer, that had expanded into Poland in the late 1990’s thanks to a favourable loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Imported pork began flooding the Polish, European and UK markets undermining local smaller scale farms. Smithfield Foods pork is only cheaper because they are raised in cruel overcrowded and unhealthy conditions with hundreds of thousands of tons of waste polluting the surrounding countryside.
Pigs are raised in unhealthy, stressful conditions that cause such suffering to the animals that they have to be given prophylactic antibiotics to keep them alive. The sheds become a breeding ground for antibiotic resistant diseases that form part of the toxic brew, including ammonia, hydrogen sulphide from biodegrading faeces, that threatens the health of both workers and neighbours with respiratory, neural and intestinal diseases.
To compete with this global race to the bottom, EU and UK pig farms are still expanding and externalising their true costs, or facing bankruptcy.
When the BBC World rejected the film, Pig Business for fear of litigation, Channel 4 agreed to air it. But when Smithfield got wind of it in 2008, they instructed a London lawyer to threaten Channel 4 with a libel action if they dared go ahead with the broadcast. Channel 4 hired a specialist libel lawyer to alter the film to ensure it was protected from the very corporate-friendly libel laws that prevailed in the UK at the time. In 2013 the law was changed so that now a profit-making entity must prove serious financial loss before it can sue for damages.
Though Channel 4 did broadcast the film, Smithfield’s threats to sue them resulted in scores of important testimonials being removed.
I am now publishing the Pig Business ‘The Full Tail – uncensored version’ film that contains those powerful extracts as they are as relevant today as they were back in 2009. The arrival of African Swine Fever in their farm in Poland and the rates of COVID-19 in their processing house proves that their dangerous businesses practices have not changed despite the suffering and diseases that locals have complained about for decades.
Below are some of the statements that have returned into the Director’s cut.
- Polish Minister for Agriculture; ‘Often they try to keep the inspectors out of the farms altogether. The owners use various legal loopholes and tricks……to stop vets entering the farms’
Why was this removed? In a libel court in the UK we would have to prove that this happened repeatedly and on specific farms on specific dates’
Smithfield former farm worker; ‘The doctor asked where I worked before… and I said on the pig farm… He said I simply breathed all those fumes and my lungs couldn’t cope. He said my lungs had shrunk day by day. I’ve damaged my lungs and there was no cure.’
‘When there was an inspection, we were told to remove all the treatment charts and when they’d gone we hung them up again. If the inspectors should ask us questions we were instructed to say we were only cleaners…and that the vet was doing all the treatment not us.’
Why was this removed? No workers were allowed to be used in the film
Smithfield former farm worker ‘Most people are sick but hide it for fear of losing their jobs. They come from local villages. The problem is the microclimate… which contains concentrated… hydrogen, sulphate, nitrogen… and other poisonous substances.’
‘…because of the large amount of pigs, we found many sick pigs during our routine rounds, so we would give medicines all the time”
Why was this removed? No workers were allowed to be in the film. Smithfield might argue that we cannot prove specific cases with medical records, although 25%-30% of factory pig farm workers suffer permanent lung damage.
Neighbour of the Wiekowice pig factory; ‘The gasses from the farm have been tested. A certified company called Atma conducted the research. This was paid for by the county mayor. The results showed the pollution was up to 30 times above the recommended guidelines’.
Why was this removed? They had to be able to prove that these gasses are emitted every day.
Each day’s test cost £1,100 so the local mayor could only afford one test
Robert F Kennedy Jr: ‘They can’t raise hogs with this kind of cruelty unless they give them lots of antibiotics, sub-therapeutic antibiotics. The United States dept of agriculture just made a study that said that every one of these facilities puts out 1 billion antibiotic-resistant bacteria every day that crosses the property line and threatens the health of people who live down-wind of those facilities and the herds of animals that live down-wind of those facilities’.
‘They can’t produce a pork chop cheaper than a family farmer without breaking the law.’
Why was this removed? Can’t use Robert Kennedy unless he is speaking in the senate
With global trade, pig farming has to compete with global ‘vertically integrated’ giants like Smithfield Foods that own both pig production and processing to reap the profit from the entire system. Their monopoly enables them to push down the prices of pork and so bankrupt independent pig producers and their contract farmers and externalise their true polluting costs onto the broader community. Local diseases are now proving to be global. The power is in our hands. We can prevent these diseases by only buying meat from local small scale family farms where animals are treated as sentient beings not industrial raw materials.
The good karma of only eating meat with a high welfare label will reap the reward of less animal-to -human diseases. The health of our animals is integral to our own survival. Look for the high welfare labels RSPCA Assured, Free Range or best of all, Organic or go direct to your farmer via farmers market, websites like Big Barn or your local box delivery scheme to find high welfare. Please sign and share our petition asking the government not to sign a trade deal with the US that allows imports of pork raised in conditions that are illegal in the UK.
Tracy Worcester, Director