I got an interesting press release in my inbox yesterday morning. Here’s the jist of it:
Murphy-Brown LLC, the livestock production subsidiary for Smithfield Foods, Inc. (NYSE:SFD), recorded a stellar year in 2011 for successfully managing the complex environmental aspects of its hog farms across the country, and its feat hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Murphy-Brown has earned Smithfield Foods’ Zero Hero Award for its outstanding environmental management performance last year, which included managing more than 450 company-owned farms nationwide without incurring a single environmental notice of violation (NOV).
Did they just give themselves an award and send a press release about it?
Smithfield’s Environmental Record
“Outstanding environmental management” is really in the eye of the beholder. What Smithfield is awarding itself for is basically following the rules. This would be like giving myself an award for not shoplifting for the whole year. Awards are normally for going above and beyond, and from an animal rights perspective, Smithfield and Murphy Brown have a ways to go.
Murphy-Brown is the same company that, back on 2010, got caught abusing animals when the Humane Society sent in undercover investigators. No wonder big ag supports these ag gag laws! Without that video, we might not know about those abuses. You can check out that video here:
Of course, that was in 2010, and the award they gave themselves was for 2011. 2011 was the year that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) filed a legal complaint against the company with the SEC for making false claims about its sustainability. Smithfield/Murphy-Brown released a series of its own videos in 2011 called Taking the Mystery out of Pork Production, and HSUS didn’t buy it. Here’s what HSUS had to say about the videos on their website:
In its videos, Smithfield claims, for example, that it provides animals with “ideal” living conditions and that their animals’ “every need is met,” despite the fact that the vast majority of its breeding sows are confined in gestation crates — metal cages that virtually immobilize animals for nearly their entire lives. Smithfield also routinely castrates animals and cuts portions of their tails off without painkillers.
The videos, which were released just months after an HSUS undercover investigation documented severe cruelty inside a Smithfield facility in Virginia, also include false and misleading claims about an environmental certification from the International Organization of Standards and misleading claims of “organic” agriculture.
In December of 2011, Smithfield “recommitted” to phasing out gestation crates by 2017 – that’s “re” because they committed to a 10-year phase out in 2007 but in 2009 said they couldn’t do it after all. In the meantime, most of Smithfield’s and Murphy-Brown’s pigs live in these confined conditions. What’s also ongoing at Murphy Brown is animal mistreatment that they haven’t vowed to stop. According to PETA:
At Smithfield, female pigs endure constant cycles of forced pregnancy. Newborn piglets are taken from their mothers after just a few weeks. They have their teeth clipped in half, their tails cut off, and their ears mutilated, and the males have their testicles ripped out—all without any painkillers. All these practices should be illegal, but farmed animals are specifically exempt from the Animal Welfare Act, so almost anything goes at a Smithfield pig factory.
Following the rules is great, but what we really need to see is a shift in how we treat farm animals as a whole. Like PETA and HSUS point out, farm animals are not protected under the Animal Welfare Act, and if we really want conditions to change in industrial farming farm animals need similar protections to the ones we give dogs, cats, and other pets. That might mean that the cost of meat goes up, but do we need meat at every meal? I’m not saying everyone should go vegan here, but meat is not a daily necessity, and if higher prices also mean better conditions for farm animals, maybe it’s worth it to consider meat a sometimes food. Who knows? It just could improve our health!
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by Green Fire Productions.