World’s Largest Pork Producer Counters Criticism with New PR Campaign

Food Choice Change

A sow in a farrowing crate. The expression on her face says it all. A recent university study found that pigs express sadness and joy much as humans do.
A sow in a farrowing crate. The expression on her face says it all. A recent university study found that pigs express sadness and joy much as humans do.

Smithfield puts a positive spin on pork production in a new multimedia campaign that it claims “takes the mystery” out of how they use pigs to make pork products.

This follows shortly after The Humane Society of the United States released its undercover investigation of a Smithfield subsidiary where sows were found to be raised in extraordinarily cruel and inhumane conditions. The video footage from this investigation made international headlines and was seen by millions of online viewers.

The new “face” of animal agriculture is based on a strategy that the industry has adopted from its animal protection adversaries: show people where their food comes from. For too long this industry has operated in secrecy and has been the target of much criticism for this policy of secrecy. For so long, it ignored this criticism, dismissing it as a “fringe” animal rights movement. But now, as these concerns move into the mainstream, they are rightfully fretting about their bottom line.

By “lifting the veil,” as Michael Pollen puts it in the movie, Food Inc., Smithfield is showing us a side of factory farming that will ironically still trouble many viewers. While the sows do not look like they are necessarily suffering, they are still imprisoned, exhausted and flat on their sides on a concrete floor, nursing large litters of piglets, artificially inseminated with huge needles, housed in dimly lit warehouses all their lives, etc. Some key difference are that the facilities are clean and quiet, the workers are “humane” and the narration is provided by a sweet, angelic female voice who I swore I heard in the movie Babe.

But the world’s largest pork producer that boasts $10 billion in revenues in 2010 is not the only big player doing PR damage control these days. Cargill too has risen to the challenge. Cargill plant manager, Nicole Johnson-Hoffman, appeared last month on Oprah’s show to allow viewers a rare glimpse inside a cow processing plant where cows become hamburger. This particular plant uses “state-of-the-art” technology invented by Temple Grandin. The only process Cargill refused to show viewers was the spike that is driven through the cows skull to kill it, but they assured us it was completely painless. The situation soon turned perverse when Johnson-Hoffman professed “we [Cargill] love vegans too,” a comment directed to Kathy Freston, author of Veganist who was also on the show that day.

While addressing animal welfare concerns is the main focus of the meat industry’s campaign, it also defies the well-documented environmental impact of factory farming, arguing that their large scale animal factories are greener and more sustainable than traditional farming methods.

Free from Harm has compiled several well-documented sources on factory farms and the environment. See our Food and Environment links to explore this subject further.

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by johnmcnab

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