A historic legal decision was just issued today against Smithfield, the world's largest pork company. It contains what is probably the most damning indictment of factory farming that has ever been published by a court of law.
The majority opinion held that Smithfield and its officers "deliberately" mandated its farmers to use such disgusting and unsanitary practices that it made neighboring properties unlivable--"because doing so would increase profits."
One judge in the majority wrote a separate “concurring” opinion to detail the devastating harms industrial farming inflicts on animals, workers, the environment, and rural communities, and notes how our all our lives and wellbeing are intertwined.
Here’s my attempt to paraphrase with some excerpts from this extraordinary opinion against Smithfield:
<<It is past time to acknowledge the full harms that the unreformed practices of hog farming are inflicting...
What was missing from [Smithfield] was the recognition that treating animals better will benefit humans. What was neglected is that animal welfare and human welfare, far from advancing at cross-purposes, are actually integrally connected…
Once, most hogs were raised on "smaller, pasture-based hog farms." Now, the paradigm has shifted: "large numbers of hogs, often many thousands" crowd together in each of the many cramped "confinement structures" that comprise the typical hog CAFO.
The following illustrates how Kinlaw Farms [a Smithfield farm], an endpoint of this pasture-to-CAFO transition, created serious ecological risks that, when imprudently managed, bred horrible outcomes for pigs and humans alike…
The warp in the human-hog relationship, and the root of the nuisance in this suit, lay in the deplorable conditions of confinement prevailing at Kinlaw Farms, conditions that there is no reason to suppose were unique to that facility.
Confinement defined life for the over 14,000 hogs-all of which [Smithfield] owned-that Kinlaw Farms had crammed into its twelve confinement sheds remain in these densely packed pens from the time they arrived to the time they were shipped for slaughter...
...straining in vain as their increasing girth slowly but surely reduced them to almost suffocating closeness…
The dangers endemic to such appalling conditions always manifested first in animal suffering. Ineluctably, however, the ripples of dysfunction would reach farm workers and, at last, members of the surrounding community. To start, take the basic issue of air quality.
hen pigs defecated, gases accumulated in their sheds. But at certain concentrations-only possible under conditions of overcrowded, indoor confinement- these gases could become toxic, even fatal, to the hogs.
To prevent its hogs from dying in their own wind, Kinlaw ventilated their sheds by opening curtains that released these noxious fumes unfiltered into the air outside…
Given that these gases could kill pigs, it is entirely unsurprising that "approximately 50 percent of [CAFO] workers experience one or more of the following health outcomes: bronchitis, toxic organic dust syndrome, hyper-reactive airway disease...
...chronic mucous membrane irritation, occupational asthma and hydrogen sulfide intoxication."
What may seem surprising, but should not, is the gaseous spiral's final arc: the air quality threat posed to Kinlaw's neighbors. Like workers, neighbors living within two miles of hog CAFOs suffer from elevated rates of respiratory problems.
Nearby residents may also suffer from aggravated rates of high blood pressure, depression, and infant mortality. One study has even shown that children attending schools as far as three miles away from a hog CAFO face an increased likelihood of presenting asthma-related symptoms.
Pathogens like H1-N1 "swine flu," which incubate and mutate in pigs, can sometimes jump to human hosts. The swine flu outbreak of 2009, which led to almost 275,000 hospitalizations and 12,500 deaths in the United States, put the country on notice of that fact.
In any future pig-to-human transmission, individuals working directly with affected pigs at facilities like Kinlaw are likely to be among the first infected, followed shortly thereafter by other members of their community…
Analogous is the problem of diseases communicated not virally, but rather through bacterial infection.
And again, it starts with the harms that pigs suffer in confinement: to compensate for the stressors of close confinement, CAFOs commonly administer antibiotics at subtherapeutic concentrations both "as prophylactic drugs and to increase feed efficiency and daily weight gain."
The predictable result is the genesis of novel strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These strains, much more difficult to eradicate, plague the hogs more acutely…
The fourth and, in many senses, final confinement-related variation on this theme is the sheer amount of death at hog CAFOs like Kinlaw…
At the end of all this wreckage lies an uncomfortable truth: these nuisance conditions were unlikely to have persisted for long-or even to have arisen at all-had the neighbors of Kinlaw Farms been wealthier or more politically powerful…
It is well-established-almost to the point of judicial notice-that environmental harms are visited disproportionately upon the dispossessed-here on minority populations and poor communities…
[Smithfield's] interference with their quiet enjoyment of their properties was unreasonable. It was willful, and it was wanton…
Moreover, plaintiffs' suffering-stemming from Murphy-Brown's mistreatment of its hogs-was avoidable. The scale of industrial hog farming is no warrant to ride roughshod over the property rights of neighbors, the health of workers and community members, and the lives of the hogs..
Finally there is Wilbur, the pig who was friends with a spider, a rat, geese, sheep, cows, and a little girl. Charlotte's Web reminds us that all life is interconnected.
And while not all pigs will be pardoned like Wilbur, it is fitting that the creatures who give their very lives for us, receive in return our efforts to make their brief stay on earth less intolerable. For their sake and for ours. Such is the web of life.>>

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