Monday, 29 June 2009

Pig Business - More 4

Tomorrow evening at 10pm - More 4 will broadcast PIG BUSINESS, a shocking exposé of the secretive world of corporate pig farming, created by environmental activist, the Marchioness of Worcester, Tracy Louise Ward,

The documentary focuses on Smithfield Foods and the true cost of 'cheap' pig meat - the appalling conditions of factory farms endured by animals, workers and neighbours, environmental pollution and the destruction of rural economies. It is a truly shocking program with huge implications that go far wider than animal rights concerns.

Smithfield would rather that you did not see this documentary. In fact, they previously blocked a planned broadcast in April of Pig Business on Channel 4 and unsuccessfully tried to block a recent screening at the Barbican Arts Centre in London (the Marchioness put up her own indemnity and got it through).

Even national newspapers wishing to report on the film have been bullied into silence. The Mail, The Sunday Mail and The Mirror, have all tried but failed to get an article about the film past their lawyers.

Smithfield Foods, the corporation at whose plant in Mexico the latest outbreak of swine flu is believed to have originated, "processes" 27 million pigs in 15 countries, producing sales of $12bn every year. Smithfield has denied any link to the outbreak.

Experts have been warning for years of the time bomb that is factory farming.
Incubating in the huge, overcrowded industrial pig farms of the USA and Europe swine flu is spreading at an alarming rate: 30,000 cases (and rising) within three months, across 74 countries, leading to 145 deaths.

Smithfield and other huge corporations, so big they have bank balances larger than those of most countries, control much of the food business. And they don't believe in farming. Forget the quant picture of farmer and his wife with a smallholding and happy, free roaming animals. Time to smell the coffee! All the time consumers want cheap meat, these companies will prosper and the factory methods they employ will breed more and more virulent diseases.

As Dr Michael Greger of the US Humane Society said in a recent File on 4 documentary: "The sheer numbers of animals, the overcrowding, the lack of fresh air, the lack of sunlight -put all these together and you have this perfect storm.

Smithfield Foods has moved into Eastern Europe with the force of a factory engine, assembling networks of farms, breeding pigs on the fast track, and slaughtering them.

This has caused an upheaval in the pig farm belts of Poland and Romania, the two largest E.U. members in Eastern Europe that ranks as one of the Continent's biggest agricultural transformations.

Smithfield's global approach is clear; its chairman, Joseph Luter III, has described it as moving in a "very, very big way, very, very fast." In less than five years, Smithfield enlisted politicians in Poland and Romania, tapped into hefty European Union farm subsidies and fended off local opposition groups to create a conglomerate of feed mills, slaughterhouses and climate-controlled barns housing thousands of pigs.

It moved with such speed that sometimes it failed to secure environmental permits or inform the authorities about pig deaths - lapses that emerged after swine fever swept through three Romanian pig compounds in 2007, two of which were operating without permits. Some 67,000 pigs died or were destroyed, with infected and healthy pigs shot to stanch the spread.

In the United States, Smithfield says it has been a boon to consumers. Pork prices have dropped by about one-fifth between 1970 and 2004.

In Romania, the number of pig farmers has declined 90 percent - to 52,100 in
2007 from 477,030 in 2003, with ex-farmers, overwhelmed by Smithfield's lower prices, often emigrating or shifting to construction. In their place, the company employs or has contracts with about 900 people and buys grain from about 100 farmers.

In Poland, there were 1.1 million pig farmers in 1996. That number fell 56 percent by 2008, as the advent of modern farming methods transformed agriculture.

The impact on the environment is even more marked. With almost 40 farms in western Romania, Smithfield has built enormous metal manure containers to inject waste into the soil.

Smithfield farms in Romania's Timis County are among the top sources of air and soil pollution, according to a local government report, which ranked the company's individual farms No. 13 through No. 40. The report also indicates that methane gases in the air rose 65 percent between 2002 and 2007.

Taxpayers footed part of the bill; Smithfield tapped into millions of euros in subsidies - from a total of €50 billion available in the E.U. last year - that are meant to encourage modern farming balanced with care for the environment.

In a similar chain of consequences, separate subsidies mined by Smithfield helped support the export of cheap pork scraps from Poland to Africa, where some pig farmers also are giving up because they cannot compete.

Every stage of a pig's life - from artificial insemination to breeding genetic characteristics - is controlled. A handful of employees tend thousands of pigs that spend their lives entirely indoors, under constant lighting, to spur growth. Sows churn out litters three or four times a year. Within 300 days, a pig weighing roughly 120 kilograms, is ready for slaughter.

Smithfield fine-tuned its approach in the depressed tobacco country of eastern North Carolina in the 1990s. In 2000, money started flowing from a Smithfield political action committee in that state and around the United States. North Carolina lawmakers helped fast-track permits for Smithfield and exempted pig farms from zoning laws.

As Smithfield flourished, the number of American pig farms plunged 90 percent - to 67,000 in 2005 from 667,000 in 1980. Some farm states grew wary. When Hurricane Floyd struck North Carolina in 1999, torrential rain breached six pig waste lagoons, prompting the authorities to impose a construction moratorium on new pig farms using lagoons.

Missouri, too, pressed Smithfield to install technology to reduce odor. In Iowa, Smithfield lobbyists fended off efforts to force meatpackers to purchase pigs on the open market instead of using only their livestock.

Facing more restrictions in the United States, Smithfield took its North Carolina game plan to Poland and Romania, where the company moved nimbly through weak economies and political and regulatory systems.

Today Smithfield is the biggest pork producer in Romania, where it owns an enormous meatpacking plant, almost 40 pig farms and croplands sprawling over
50,000 acres. In Poland, the company employs 500 farmers to raise pigs that are bound for its Communist-era slaughterhouse, Animex.

Romania pays a levy of around 30 euros per pig raised suggesting that, by producing 600,000 a year, Smithfield was eligible for 18 million euros in special national subsidies intended to improve the leanness of pigs. Newly released Romanian data show the company collected almost €300,000 in cropland subsidies last year and more than €200,000 in special funding for new European Union states. In Poland, Smithfield reaped more than €2 million for its subsidiary Agri Plus.

When it first arrived in Eastern Europe, Smithfield courted top politicians in both Poland and Romania, the latter a particularly poor country of 23 million with a weak government and under constant E.U. pressure over corruption.

In the post-Communist disorder, it is essential to know your way about. In Bucharest, Smithfield turned to Nicholas Taubman, a wealthy Republican businessman who was the U.S. ambassador to Romania during the administration of President George W. Bush. Mr. Taubman escorted Smithfield's top executives during meetings with the Romanian president and prime minister and president.
Once the top leaders in Romania showed their support for Smithfield, developments fell into place; about a dozen Smithfield farms were designed by an architectural firm owned by Gheorghe Seculici, a former deputy prime minister with close ties to President Traian Basescu of Romania, who is godfather to his daughter.

Further help came from a familiar front: Smithfield's lobbyist, the Virginia firm McGuireWoods, set up a Bucharest office in 2007 to liaise between Smithfield and the Romanian government. In many ways McGuireWoods was the perfect choice; it had also represented Romania for three years to press its NATO-membership campaign.

Mr. Basescu, the president, was not shy in acknowledging the company, which he praised at a joint news conference with President George W. Bush at a NATO summit meeting last year. Smithfield was also very visible in its appreciation: It contributed $20,000 to pay for Romanian ceremonial uniforms at the summit meeting, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The connections in the upper reaches of government meant that Smithfield could weather protests from local communities. The company was fined €9,000 for spilling manure on a local highway while transporting waste from a leaking container; €35,000 for a leaking bin that seeped pig waste into soil; another €35,000 for four farms operating without permits in Arad County; and €18,500 for not preventing water pollution.

Some villagers, however, concentrate on the advantages. "I have land near them and there's no problem," Dorin Mic Aurel, mayor of Masloc, said. Smithfield is the biggest taxpayer in Masloc, contributing $27,000 yearly that helped bring running water to the village.

But Smithfield found it hard to overcome fallout from the swine fever outbreak that struck Cenei. At the time, pig corpses lay in heaps, and residents remember chaotic efforts to shoot and burn them. That particular strain affects only pigs, but scientists have found elements of swine viruses - one from Europe or Asia, the other from North America - in the genetic code of the new influenza A(H1N1) virus.

When Ioan Ciprian Ciurdar, deputy mayor of Cenei, said that the stench from nearby farms was overpowering, Smithfield responded that a heat wave was to blame.

Smithfield contends that "it is impossible to know" why the pigs got sick, while noting a breakdown in the supply of government-supplied swine flu vaccines.

"Thousands of piglets were born," Mr. Seculici, the architect, said. "There was no place to put them because the new farms weren't finished. Nobody admits this, but this was the cause of swine flu. They were forced to improvise."

Smithfield acknowledges that it placed young pigs on farms under construction, but insists that doing so had no impact on health.

When it came to cleanup, Smithfield again turned to special E.U. subsidies, requesting €11.5 million in compensation. But the local authorities balked at the demand, outraged that the epidemic was taking place on unlicensed farms, which they accused of lax bio-security measures.

A special mission of the European Commission confirmed some of their complaints, finding that Smithfield had failed to submit regular reports on the deaths of its pigs and that employees moved freely between farms despite suspicions of swine fever.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Whale Wars released on DVD in the UK on 8 June

This fascinating series commenced its seven-week run on Discovery Channel on 27 April 2009 and will be released on DVD on 8 June 2009 courtesy of Demand DVD.

They are some of the most beautiful creatures to inhabit the oceans; graceful, intelligent and mysterious. But the planet’s whale population is constantly under assault from the threat of human whaling fleets. Thankfully they have found some protection in the form of The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a band of environmentalists whose ongoing struggle to protect these magnificent giants of the sea is highlighted in the adrenaline-fuelled Whale Wars.

The goal of Captain Paul Watson (Greenpeace co-founder) and his eco-pirates is simple; to eradicate whaling, poaching, shark finning and habitat destruction by any means necessary. Following the crew on a three-month search across the dangerous waters of the Antarctic Ocean, they attempt to hunt down and stop the Japanese whaling fleets from slaughtering these magnificent sea animals in the name of ‘research’.

Follow the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as they wage war against the gigantic Japanese vessels and put their lives on the line to protect the creatures that they love. This captivating series captures all the drama as it unfolds; including multiple engagements, capsizing, possible hostage taking and an alleged shooting that sparked a global media event, all in the perilous oceans of one of the most hostile environments on earth.

Whales are some of the most endangered species on the planet. Growing to sizes that dwarf any animal that has ever lived, these magnificent creatures are constantly under threat from the human species, be it through the climate change that ravishes their feeding grounds, sonar interference from military and commercial vessels and hunting fleets.

In an effort to turn the tide in the favour of the cetaceans, the radical environmentalists at the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society do what they feel no one else is willing to do in order to protect these kings of the sea.

‘Riveting’ - Time Out

'Amazing Stuff' - The Guardian Guide

'Rarely has amateurism been so enthralling - or hazardous - to watch' - Radio Times


THE END OF THE LINE - In UK Cinemas from 8 June

The End of the Line, the first major feature documentary film
revealing the impact of overfishing on our oceans

The End Of the Line was filmed over two years and shows first hand the effects of our global love affair with fish as food. The film examines the imminent extinction of bluefin tuna, brought on by increasing western demand for sushi; the impact on marine life resulting in huge overpopulation of jellyfish; and the profound implications of a future world with no fish that would bring certain mass starvation.

Tickets for preview screenings at cinemas on World Oceans Day, Monday 8 June, are now available from

On Monday 1 June, a preview screening was presented at The Imax Cinema at the Science Museum. Sea Shepherd Director Steve Roest and Shore Crewmember Mark Sanders-Barwick were invited to the preview and discussed the plight of the Oceans with Charles Clover - Author of The End of the Line, Rupert Murray - Director and Producer – George Duffield.

From left: Sea Shepherd UK Director Steve Roest, author of
"The End of the Line" Charles Clover, and Sea Shepherd UK Shore
Crewmember Mark Sanders-Barwick