This week my film Pig Business will have its U.S. premiere on Capitol Hill. As the film's director, I believe this story comes to the United States at a very timely moment -- as unionized workers and other citizens are showing their determination to fight back against being stripped of their bargaining rights, which, I see as part of an international citizens' movement opposed to ever greater corporate greed and control.
The movie tells the tale of pork production's industrialization as it demonstrates the increasing influence corporations exert over all aspects of peoples' lives, including over governments that are supposed to protect their citizens.
But against the huge resources that meat producers' lobby firms, their advisers and a pro-corporate Congress can muster, there is a resistance that the industry fears most, a mounting disgust by consumers as they become aware of the grim realities of factory farming and are beginning to turn away from their products.
Between 2005 and 2009, I made Pig Business (you can watch the USA version or the original film in 12 different languages on our website) by tracking US pork giant Smithfield Foods, Inc. as it swept into Poland and took advantage of cheap labor, poorly enforced environmental laws, and a government fragile in its post-communist years.
Smithfield persuaded the then-government to sell ex-state farms for what its CEO boasted, were 'small dollars'. Using tax payer subsidies and preferential loans secured from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) (paid for by European taxpayers) and other global banks, Smithfield bought production and processing operations. Subsidies were supposed to help Polish farms modernize to compete with western European operations. This modernization was in reality introducing a vertically integrated, factory farming system that could produce 'cheap' pork by cramming as many pigs as possible into a small space, polluting waterways, poisoning local residents and putting generations of family farms out of business.
The industrialization of hog farming and pork production in Poland resulted in a tide of cheap meat bankrupting farmers throughout the European Union.
Industrial pig farming has other devastating ecological and social consequences as well. Tens of thousands of densely packed pigs generate massive quantities of manure and overwhelming stenches. Pigs produce up to ten times as much waste as humans, which is stored in festering lagoons then sprayed onto fields, a system that has repeatedly caused contamination of rivers, streams and coastlines, causing massive fish kills, and sickening neighboring residents.
To give just one example: In March 2010 a Missouri court ordered a Smithfield Foods subsidiary to pay local residents $11 million for "odors so offensive that they defied description," said Stephen A. Weiss, a New York attorney who represented the families. "These corporations have chosen to invade traditional family farming communities and construct industrial operations that simply fail to respect the community and the land".
Poland's neo-liberal government of the late nineties welcomed Smithfield Foods with open arms. However, when the government was ousted and replaced by the Law and Justice Party it sought to limit the damage of the pro-corporate agenda by making industrial factory farming adhere to regulations.
Smithfield's response was to move its next 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 difference between the way the Polish government treats us and the way the Romanian government treats us is like night and day."
In the United States, 80 percent of all antibiotics produced are fed to farm animals to stimulate faster growth and to keep them alive in overcrowded meat factories. Adding antibiotics to pig feed specifically to promote growth, has been banned in the EU since 2003, but is still legal in the United States. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, and American Public Health Association have all warned against the continuation of this practice. Research shows that diseases like Campylobacter and Salmonella are becoming increasingly resistant to treatment with antibiotics. A pilot study in Iowa found the new strain of antibiotic resistant MRSA, which passes from pigs to humans, in 45 percent of workers and 49 percent of pigs.
US agribusiness and pharmaceutical giants increasingly control global agriculture, endangering human health and decimating family farms across both America and many other parts of the world.
But on Monday, March 9, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and I will co-host the Pig Business US screening for Congress members and staff on Capitol Hill. Experts in animal welfare, human health and family farming will reinforce the film's findings that the factory farming system abuses animals, threatens human health by over-reliance on antibiotics, and forces traditional farmers out of business.
Bobby and I believe the event will clearly show that now is the time to tell consumers the truth about how their meat is produced. Among other things, products should be labeled about methods of production. This is what the industry fears most -- informed consumers who cannot stomach what is being done to pigs crammed into barren concrete and metal pens with no access to natural light or air. Many consumers who watch Pig Business say they will never buy factory pork again.