The Rainforest: Pork, Beef, and Corruption by Nash Hamilton, Artwork by Clair

Updated: Mar 24


On February 4th I was enticed to write an article on the pork and cattle industry. An industry known for its poor practices and moral quandaries. After a bit of research, a few close calls with a lurching stomach, I am now a vegetarian. I know what you’re thinking, “surprise, surprise, the hippy is griping about the malpractices of the meat industry again. . .” But I promise you, I am a very stubborn individual who, before writing this article, loved eating bacon burgers; now I reside with the bean variety, and I hope after what I have to say, you may too.

In September of this last year, the Trump administration made a buzz about revamping the pork industry, something that hasn’t been done in five decades; and though change isn’t always bad (in most cases, it’s good), the changes proposed are an outbreak waiting to happen. Instead of providing my opinion on the matter (there will be plenty of time for that), I will just display the facts. The proposed changes are as follows:

-Reducing the number of USDA inspectors at packing plants from 7 to 2

-Repealing the “speed limit” at which pork can be produced and distributed

-Placing the brunt of quality assurance on factory workers inexperienced with porcine diseases

You don’t have to work at the United States Department of Agriculture to be able to deduce how unsafe these measures are, not only for the public, but for the workers as well; in fact, the USDA is currently in a lawsuit over safety measures where their official stance is a lack of responsibility towards workers’ safety. (Doesn’t that make you feel warm inside?) Now as much as I have a distaste for our president, this isn’t entirely the Trump admin’s wrongdoing; actually, there have been pilot tests of these proposed sanitary reductions for the past few decades. Named on a particularly wordy day, the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP for short) has been in the test phase to figure out how many years have to pass by before logic gets forgotten (that’s where we are now!) There are five HIMP packing plants across the United States, two of them being:

Smithfield Foods – Vernon, CA

Swift Pork Co. – Beardstown, IL

I singled these two plants out, because while I was digging up dirt, I found out a few interesting facts. Let’s start with Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the United States.

Smithfield Foods is part of an umbrella company called WH Group. What is WH group you ask? Well, WH group is the largest pork producer in the world, killing off roughly 48 million pigs per year; they are also a Chinese company whose profits were dampened in 2018-19 due to an outbreak of African Swine Fever which killed a whopping 200 million pigs in China (1/4 of the entire world population of pigs). This would’ve brought the pork giant to its knees if it weren’t for the 2013 acquisition of Smithfield Foods which has ~34 pork packing plants in the United States; this, despite saving a staple of the world economy, sadly doesn’t bode as well for the environment or U.S. citizens. In 2017, the aforementioned Vernon, CA plant (the pilot site for the lax regulations), caused the city to pass a few new rules since the smell of rotting pig carcasses was too much for residents. In 2007 (before the acquisition by WH group), the Smithfield Salt Lake City, UT plant produced more waste than the entire city itself. Smithfield Foods has an interesting problem, their shit does stink, and it’s what they’re notorious for; in fact, if you were to observe a Smithfield Foods pork plant from the air, you would notice a few pools of piggy excrement (grossly named “lagoons''). The look and smell of these ghastly ponds aren’t the only issue with this method of waste disposal, the waste in fact seeps into the groundwater, tampering with freshwater in the surrounding areas. For example, in Junction City, KS (site of a Smithfield packing plant) the nitrates in the drinking water are 11x the safe amount according to the Environmental Working Group (pig poop tends to have a large amount of nitrogen). Murphy Brown llc. (ironic name), is the production arm for Smithfield Foods and are partly responsible for the disregard of any sanitary standards; but don’t worry, they have good lawyers, beating 26 cases in 2018. This however, is just the tip of the iceberg of poor meat processing.

The second aforementioned company, Swift Pork Co., is also a part of an umbrella corporation called JBS, which stands for Jose Batista Sobrinho (goes to show, if you can’t think of a business name just use your own initials) Brazilian billionaire and founder. JBS, if you haven’t heard, is currently in some hot grease (pun) over accusations that they’ve bribed Brazilian government officials, as well as the Brazilian president himself; but that’s speculation (of sorts), let’s get to the facts:

Swift Pork Company’s pilot plant, Beardstown, IL, is the largest nitrogen polluter in the U.S. (weighing in at 1,850 lbs per day).

This means that Swift Pork Co. is literally dumping one ton of a shit in the river, a day.

As well as owning the #1 spot, Swift Pork also holds the #10 largest nitrogen polluter award for their Ottumwa, IA plant; but it gets better when we talk about JBS’ B.S. JBS is the largest meat producer, with a large beef arm in the United States (not the largest, Tyson takes the beef cake on that one); which, according to Jose Batista Sobrinho’s (the company) website’s “sustainability report”, produces 7 million pounds of beef per year (the same report states they produce 30 billion pounds of meat annually). To prove how “efficient” and “sustainable” JBS is, in 2018 they recalled 6.5 million pounds a beef due to a salmonella outbreak. As well as destroying the environment, and manning the helm of institutionalized slaughter, Jose Batista Sobrinho has an extreme disregard for human safety (kinda goes hand in hand, don’t ya think?) For example, in 2014 the Occupational Safety and Health administration got kind of mad when an employee was pulled into the conveyor belt and died at the Greely, CO plant; but it’s all smoothed over now, since retired administrator of the Food Safety Inspection Service and former Swift Pork Co. line inspector, Al Almanza, became head of JBS America’s safety initiative in 2017 (it’s like a mob movie!)

To recount: remember how I said half of China’s pigs died last year? Well, if half your cupboard disappeared after a hazy night of mistakes, you’d probably go raid your friends cupboard; and that’s exactly what WH group did with JBS. In January of this year, WH and JBS signed a $717 million deal ensuring JBS will supply China with pork, beef, and poultry annually. At the same time, China needs to get its pig population back in working order; in order to do that, they need soy. Fun fact, soy makes pigs and other livestock fat (who knew?) If you needed a lot of soy (a crop that requires a large amount of land), you’d want a government bullied by new age robber barons, and who’s public stance on the environment was that it’s expendable. Too bad the United States (China’s former soybean trade partner) started a trade war with China and put tariffs on soybeans; but wait, there’s one more country that shares these sentiments: Brazil. Brazil is a lot like the U.S. (at the rate we’re going), anything goes with regards to natural resources; such as the rainforest.

The rainforest, I’m sure you’ve heard of it, makes 20% of the world’s oxygen (kind of a big deal); well the rainforest, unfortunately, decided to set up shop in the best area to farm in the entire country of Brazil. This was a point of contention with the Brazilian government, not due to the fact that there are a whole bunch of cool fauna and flora, but because there are a few people living there too; It’s all fine though, the Brazilian government sent a compromise by word of fanned flames and the military. Our good friend Jose Batista Sobrinho’s associates (they don’t do background checks on their beef suppliers, so odds are. . .) uses this to his advantage, by just so happening to set up cattle ranches where the forest is recently ashes; and after a new plot of land spontaneously combusts, his cows mosey on forward and soybean farmers follow in suit behind them. Jose and his compadres move at a pace of 200,000 acres of destruction every day, and with only 20% of the Amazon rainforest already destroyed, the next few fiscal years will be exceptional; but imagine how the demand of cheap soy will skyrocket once pork regulations on production and inspection are reduced. Maybe if we all keep buying pork and beef, we might see 400,000 acres a day. Hell, I bet we could make 1,000,000.