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From 27 December 2000 Issue

Poland Says No to Massive Hog Farms
by Rachelle Detweiler, The Animals’ Agenda

In a modern-day version of David and Goliath, Polish farmers recently blocked efforts by Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer, to modernize their farms using production methods that can hurt animals, small farmers, and the environment.

Last year, a group consisting of Polish farmers, environmentalists, educators, and presidential candidate Andrzej Lepper witnessed the aftermath of Smithfield’s massive U.S. pork facilities on rural communities during a tour organized by the Washington, D.C.-based Animal Welfare Institute (AWI). After speaking with local residents, seeing the habitat degradation first-hand, and briefly entering one hog facility, the Polish contingency refused to allow Smithfield to jumpstart their agricultural economy through vertical integration, an agribusiness system that centralizes production from birth to slaughter and processing under tight and often inhumane standards.

“These are concentration camps for hogs,” stated Lepper, the president of Samoobrona Self-Defence, the Polish Farmer’s Union, after traveling among sites in North Carolina to Missouri and Iowa. “We had concentration camps in Poland before. We will not allow them again.”

The outspoken Populist kicked off an anti-Smithfield campaign in Poland by sending about 5,000 copies of the videotaped tour to every town, city, and county government along with a letter asking them to deny building permits to Animex, Poland’s largest meatpacking plant and a company in which Smithfield’s has held a majority stake since 1999. Poland’s agriculture minister and the head of the state Agricultural Property Agency surprised everyone by joining the campaign, along with many farmers whose rebellious natures helped them keep 80 percent of their farms in private hands while under communist rule. Their relentless drive to control their livelihoods helped them thwart a pork-industry powerhouse. After less than a year of campaigning, Smithfield withdrew their plan earlier this summer to make Animex the largest hog producer in Europe -- with a projected revenue of about $1 billion-- by replacing three of its plants with four massive hog factory complexes. Yet despite the victory, activists remain wary. “He [Smithfield CEO Joe Luter] plays to win,” said Tom Garrett, AWI’s rural advisor who led the campaign. “So we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop to see what concession he exacted in return for suspending [conversion] of the Animex plants.”

Now the humane farming advocates are battling to convert the 20 percent of state-run factory farms to less cruel production systems. The State Farm Property Agency has agreed to pay for circulating AWI’s humane farming brochures among existing state farms and farmers leasing land from the state. The agency would connect interested producers with AWI, which would draw up individualized conversion methods, with the state covering farmers’ costs. Although no plans have been implemented yet, organizers anticipate that the Polish farmers may opt for more humane farming solutions now that they have rejected intensive confinement systems.

“The [agribusiness] changes happened in the United States without the farmers really doing anything to prevent it, and the Polish farmers are trying to keep Animex out and the state farms out,” said Gail Eisnitz, chief investigator for the Humane Farming Association, who contributed to organizing efforts during a trip to Poland. “The farmers were really outraged and anxious to do anything to prevent this from happening.”

“Reprinted with permission from The Animals’ Agenda, P.O. Box 25881,
Baltimore, MD 21224; (410) 675-4566; www.animalsagenda.org.”
Email: office@animalsagenda.org.

Go on to Peace
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