Friday, January 26, 2007

Pigs and workers

Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer, was in the news twice today: for how it treats its pigs and for how it treats its workers.
The world's largest pork processor said on Thursday that it would phase out confinement of pigs in individual gestation crates over the next decade, a move animal welfare advocates said would end one of the cruelest practices in the agriculture industry.

The processor, Smithfield Foods, which raises sows at 187 farms in eight states, said it would replace individual metal cages with pens where the sows would be housed in groups, allowing more mobility.

Animal welfare activists praised the move. "This is perhaps the most important moment in animal welfare in the agribusiness sector in 50 years,"” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.

The Humane Society and others have long criticized the use of gestation crates. The sows spend up to three years continuously reproducing -- much of the time confined in stalls where they cannot turn around --— before being slaughtered. Veal cows are confined to two-foot-wide crates for four months and then slaughtered. Hens spend about a year laying eggs in "“battery cagesÂ" --— where they do not have room to flap their wings --— before they are slaughtered.

But the confinement of breeding pigs to two-foot-by-seven-foot metal cages "“is the most intensive and longest that any animal in agriculture is subjected to," Mr. Pacelle said.

Animal welfare groups have successfully pressured universities and retailers like Whole Foods and Ben & Jerry'’s to ban the practice of buying eggs from companies that confine hens in battery cages. But the groups have had less success in the United States in persuading meat processors to change their practices.

The rest of the story is here.

Then there is this:
An immigration raid at a huge North Carolina pork-packing plant provoked protests yesterday from union officials, who said the company, Smithfield Foods, had collaborated with the authorities searching for illegal immigrants to discourage its workers from organizing.

The dispute arose after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 21 workers on Wednesday morning at the plant, in Tar Heel, about 80 miles south of Raleigh. The workers, 18 Mexicans and 3 Guatemalans, were in this country illegally and will be deported, immigration officials said.

Smithfield executives said the immigration agents informed them on Tuesday that they would be coming to question the immigrants. They said they had been working with the immigration agency since July to verify that the 5,200 employees at the plant had legal employment and immigration documents.

Dennis Pittman, a Smithfield spokesman, said the arrests caused no disruption at the plant, one of the largest pork factories in the world, which processes as many as 32,000 hogs in a day. "There were no helicopters or buses or even anybody in uniforms," Mr. Pittman said. "It was done in an orderly, professional fashion."”

He said the raid was not related to a bitter standoff that began more than a decade ago between the plant and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which is seeking to represent the workers.

Gene Bruskin, an organizer for the union, said the company had started to cooperate closely with immigration authorities after a walkout by immigrant workers last summer. "“My concern is the company is using the immigration issue to manipulate this long fight over workers'’ rights,"” Mr. Bruskin said.

And the rest of that story is here. Can anyone say "Boycott"?