Pig Business

Last night, encouraged by a myriad of twitters and tweets, I tuned in to watch Tracy Worcester’s ‘Pig Business‘, an expos√© of the pig industry.

For those of you who did not see it, Pig Business was a relatively objective film highlighting the activities of Smithfield, one of the US‘s largest suppliers of meat, as it started up operations in Poland, where it has bought up a number of farms and meat processors in the post communist era.

The film concentrated on two main themes; surprisingly, animal welfare did not seem to rank as highly as the Industry’s impact on human health, or the loss of a traditional way of life for Poland’s many small farmers.

Human health issues were linked to the practice of spraying the pig excrement onto nearby fields from a series of lagoons, a method that is now banned for new facilities in the US due to the ill health suffered by nearby residents; needless to say there were similar complaints in Poland.

Predictably, the number of independent farmers was also on the decline, as they cannot compete with the sheer scale of the operations and were, in the main, not prepared to house their livestock in similar intensive conditions. An interesting point made by an American campaigner, suggested that this competitive edge would be seriously eroded if the intensive producers had to pay the full environmental cost of their operations; a point coming into sharper focus in most industries today.

On the lack of sentimentality I would like to applaud the film makers as many people are unconcerned by animal welfare standards or the resulting quality of the intensively raised food. As Tracy stated in the film, food has started to become a commodity: people are only interested in the cheapest price, and this is a point on which I can become quite agitated if drawn into a debate.

Over the last few months, and particularly during the European elections, there has been a lot of dissatisfaction with eastern European immigrants coming over here and taking our jobs.

Why do people not equate their purchasing decisions, and the constant drive towards price reductions, with the loss of jobs in the UK? This film made it plain to me that it’s these same decisions that prevent the same immigrants from making a living at home, unemployment was very high: jobs in agriculture have plummeted to realise the efficiency gains needed to provide us with cheap food.

Why can we not accept that food should have a minimum cost, buy a little less, eat a little less, keep people in jobs, and enjoy better quality food. Paying more might make us think twice about throwing things away.

Capitalism is a double edged sword, and it is easy to blame everything on evil Corporations, but the truth less comforting: they have to sell what we as consumers will buy. If we change our behaviour we would surely all be winners? 

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