The Flu Lagoon: A Disaster Waiting To Happen

From 1991 to 1995, Smithfield Farms’ North Carolina operation spilled over two million gallons of pig waste into the Cape Fear River. In Virginia, Smithfield was fined $12.6 million in 1997 for 6,900 violations of the Clean Water Act. In 1994, as soon as NAFTA came into effect, Smithfield opened “Carroll Ranches” in the Mexican state of Veracruz, alleged to be the source of the Swine Flu outbreak.

“The so-called ‘swine flu’ exploded because an environmental disaster simply moved (and with it, took jobs from US workers) to Mexico where environmental and worker safety laws, if they exist, are not enforced against powerful multinational corporations.”

– The Narco News Bulletin

“In 1997 [Smithfield] was the nation’s seventh-largest pork producer; by 1999 it was the largest. Smithfield now kills one of every four pigs sold commercially in the United States.”

– Rolling Stone Magazine

It’s no secret anymore that animals are confined and tortured all over the world, in intensive operations. It’s also no secret that these vast animal concentration camps provide ideal breeding grounds for all sorts of infectious diseases.

When animals are deprived of basic requirements such as sunlight, fresh air and space, and their ‘living’ conditions are terrifying, stressful and filthy beyond belief, the only way the outbreak of disease can be kept at bay is by pumping the animals full of antibiotics. It seems obvious that this causes mutant strains of infectious diseases to develop, diseases that will eventually, one way or another, transfer to people.

When the Swine Flu broke out in 2009, the best piece of journalism I could find came from Rolling Stone magazine. Anyone who wants to be informed about this issue ought to read this article. It is packed with information about the likely cause of the outbreak that everyone should know about.

Ironically, this foreboding exposé was written in December 2006. What author Jeff Tietz was warning us, nearly five years ago, was that an outbreak of disease, originating in one of these pork production facilities, was inevitable.

In his article, The Dark Side of America’s Top Pork Producer, Tietz describes the conditions of the pig production units owned by Smithfield Foods here in the US:

“Smithfield’s holding ponds — the company calls them lagoons — cover as much as 120,000 square feet. The area around a single slaughterhouse can contain hundreds of lagoons, some of which run thirty feet deep. The liquid in them is not brown. The interactions between the bacteria and blood and afterbirths and stillborn piglets and urine and excrement and chemicals and drugs turn the lagoons pink.”

Over four years, from 1991 to 1995, Smithfield’s North Carolina ‘lagoons’ spilled two million gallons of pig waste into the Cape Fear River, 1.5 million gallons into its Persimmon Branch, one million gallons into the Trent River and 200,000 gallons into Turkey Creek. In Virginia, Smithfield was fined $12.6 million in 1997 for 6,900 violations of the Clean Water Act — the third-largest civil penalty ever levied under the act by the EPA.

But the production unit alleged to be the source of the outbreak isn’t in the US. It’s in Mexico, where environmental regulations are much more lax, and much less frequently enforced.

In 1994, as soon as The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect, Smithfield Farms opened “Carroll Ranches” in the Mexican state of Veracruz.

From The Narco News Bulletin:

“Unlike… Smithfield Farms in the US, the new Mexican facility – processing 800,000 pigs into bacon and other products per year – does not have a sewage treatment plant.”

If the conditions in the US facilities are as bad as described in Rolling Stone, one wonders what on Earth the conditions in Mexico are like, where Smithfield Foods found a haven from the environmental laws of the US?

Amongst a wealth of information about the horrendous conditions in Smithfield’s US production units, Jeff Tietz offers the following:

“A lot of pig shit is one thing; a lot of highly toxic pig shit is another. The excrement of Smithfield hogs is hardly even pig shit: On a continuum of pollutants, it is probably closer to radioactive waste than to organic manure. The reason it is so toxic is Smithfield’s efficiency. The company produces 6 billion pounds of packaged pork each year. That’s a remarkable achievement, a prolificacy unimagined only two decades ago, and the only way to do it is to raise pigs in astonishing, unprecedented concentrations.”

“The drugs Smithfield administers to its pigs, of course, exit its hog houses in pig shit. Industrial pig waste also contains a host of other toxic substances: ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, phosphorous, nitrates and heavy metals. In addition, the waste nurses more than 100 microbial pathogens that can cause illness in humans, including salmonella, cryptosporidium, streptocolli and girardia. Each gram of hog shit can contain as much as 100 million fecal coliform bacteria.”

These ‘lagoons’ are far from a safe way to store such highly toxic waste. As for the name, I can’t help but wonder how the pork industry managed to come up with a name that is the veritable epitome of euphemism. The word conjures up images of submerging oneself in a tropical pool of water in the heat of summer… But at the end of the day, these lagoons, by any other name, would smell…like… Well, you get the idea.

“Even light rains can cause lagoons to overflow; major floods have transformed entire counties into pig-shit bayous. To alleviate swelling lagoons, workers sometimes pump the [waste] out of them and spray that waste on surrounding fields, which results in what the industry daintily refers to as ‘overapplication.’ This can turn hundreds of acres — thousands of football fields — into shallow mud puddles of pig shit. Tree branches drip with pig shit.”

“Some pig-farm lagoons have polyethylene liners, which can be punctured by rocks in the ground, allowing [waste] to seep beneath the liners and spread and ferment. Gases from the fermentation can inflate the liner like a hot-air balloon and rise in an expanding, accelerating bubble, forcing thousands of tons of feces out of the lagoon in all directions.”

“According to the EPA, Smithfield’s largest farm-slaughterhouse operation — in Tar Heel, North Carolina — dumps more toxic waste into the nation’s water each year than all but three other industrial facilities in America.”

What does this pollution actually mean for the rivers themselves? Basically put, the waste from an industrial hog farm can kill the life in a river… Fast.

“Toxins and microbes can kill plants and animals outright; the waste itself consumes available oxygen and suffocates fish and aquatic animals; and the nutrients in the pig [waste] produce algal blooms that also deoxygenate the water.”

“In North Carolina, much of the pig waste from Smithfield’s operations makes its way into the Neuse River; in a five-day span in 2003 alone, more than 4 million fish died. Pig-waste runoff has damaged the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound, which is almost as big as the Chesapeake Bay and which provides half the nursery grounds used by fish in the eastern Atlantic.”

In 1995, a 120,000-square-foot lagoon (owned by a competitor of Smithfield) ruptured, causing the biggest spill in the history of corporate hog farming. This spill released 25.8 million gallons of waste into the headwaters of the New River in North Carolina.

“It was the biggest environmental spill in United States history, more than twice as big as the Exxon Valdez oil spill six years earlier. The sludge was so toxic it burned your skin if you touched it, and so dense it took almost two months to make its way sixteen miles downstream to the ocean. From the headwaters to the sea, every creature living in the river was killed. Fish died by the millions.”

“Corporate hog farming contributes to another form of environmental havoc: Pfiesteria piscicida, a microbe that, in its toxic form, has killed a billion fish… Nutrient-rich waste like pig [feces] creates the ideal environment for Pfiesteria to bloom… Pfiesteria is invisible and odorless — you know it by the trail of dead. The microbe degrades a fish’s skin, laying bare tissue and blood cells; it then eats its way into the fish’s body. After the 1995 spill, millions of fish developed large bleeding sores on their sides and quickly died.”

“Fishermen found that at least one of Pfiesteria’s toxins could take flight: Breathing the air above the bloom caused severe respiratory difficulty, headaches, blurry vision and logical impairment. Some fishermen forgot how to get home; laboratory workers exposed to Pfiesteria lost the ability to solve simple math problems and dial phones; they forgot their own names. It could take weeks or months for the brain and lungs to recover.”

The question remains: Is it possible to raise pigs for pork without these kinds of atrocities occurring? The answer… Not in the quantity that our ravenous human population requires. Without a major reduction in global meat consumption, these massive operations will remain necessary to feed our growing population.

The Smithfield conditions are not the exception; they are an example of the rule. What is the rule? It’s simple. In order to feed our vast human population animal products, we must raise animals in horrifically intensive operations. And in order to turn a profit, these companies will continue to act irresponsibly. To do otherwise would not just mean less profit, it would actually mean no profit at all.

“Smithfield estimates that its total sales will reach $11.4 billion this year. So prodigious is its fecal waste, however, that if the company treated its effluvia as big-city governments do — even if it came marginally close to that standard — it would lose money.”

“There simply is no regulatory solution to the millions of tons of searingly fetid, toxic effluvium that industrial hog farms discharge and aerosolize on a daily basis. Smithfield alone has sixteen operations in twelve states. Fixing the problem completely would bankrupt the company… From the moment that Smithfield attained its current size, its waste-disposal problem became conventionally insoluble.”

The article written by Jeff Tietz in Rolling Stone describes food production conditions that the average person would be horrified by. The brief excerpts that I have quoted represent only a small portion of the sickening picture that he paints of modern pork production.

The revelations in Tietz’ article appear to provide overwhelming evidence of the irresponsible practices of the pork industry. In the meantime, on the Smithfield website, one of their press releases declares, “Based on available recent information, Smithfield has no reason to believe that the virus is in any way connected to its operations in Mexico.”

This strangely Orwellian attitude is appropriately reflected in their motto, which seems, in light of this information, ridiculously ironic, and at the same time, terribly sad:

Smithfield Foods – Good Food. Responsibly.



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