Last night Emma and I shunned the Champions League final to watch a film about Pig farming. Pig Business is set to be shown on More 4 very soon. We were made to wait about 15 minutes for the film to start thanks to the company whose shocking practices were at the heart of it. Smithfield Foods are determined to stop this film going on widespread release, they have threatened the filmmaker, Tracy Worcester, with legal action over some of the claims in the film. Worcester is not phased by this and will not be intimidated by them so the screening went ahead and I hope Channel 4 are brave enough to show it too.
The film itself describes the shocking practice of factory farming that is going on in the poorer regions of the EU. The film is shot mainly in Poland where Smithfield have moved their operations after being forced out of the USA because of changes in animal welfare standards. The EU standards for animal welfare are lower than the ones we have here in the UK, yet supermarkets here are allowed to import pork from the EU, farmed by corporations like Smithfield in these horrendous factory farms. The film described the impacts that the factory farms have had on small scale, traditional farming communities: job losses, break up of community, empty fields and so on. The film has many interviews with people whose health is being effected by the gases coming out of the factories near their homes. There is one scene in which dead piglets are dragged out by trespassing protesters from a foul lagoon of pig excrement, it is not pleasant viewing. Unfortunatley, for libel reasons, Tracy Worcester was not even able to tell us in the Q&A, how it is thought that those piglets ended up there. I cannot imagine they got there legally.
There are wider implications of this film in that it exemplifies how large corporations are overpowering and destroying many ways of life. Small businesses cannot compete with the 'efficiency' of large corporations, proud people who would once have had the dignity of running thier own business are now low paid employees who have little choice but to work for corporations.
My main feeling on this issue is that the heart of the problems lies in the way we have been conditioned to expect cheap food. As was pointed out in the film and is also dicussed in Carl Honore's book 'Slow', people, fifty years ago, used to spend around 40% of their income on food, now that figure is down to around 10%. It would make more sense if it is was somewhere around 20-25%. Factory farmed pork comes cheaper than Farmer's market pork, the reason is that Factory Farms don't pay the full environmental and social costs attached to what they do. To buy non Smithfield, or non factory farmed pork, or any kind of non factory produced meat for that matter, costs more money. Being able to buy food (a basic material need) cheaply, frees up our wallets to spend a larger portion of our income on our wants, wants that have come to be perceived as needs... "I need a new top, I need some new shoes, I need Sky TV, I need that new CD etc, etc"... Buying food from farmer's markets is seen as a bit of a luxury pursuit (it shouldn't, the price differences are really quite small) that only the richer classes can indulge in.
I agree with Zac Goldsmith and the French here, I think the UK should ban imports of food that is produced using methods banned in the UK. The result would be an increase in the price of pork, a price that factors in true environmental and social costs and therefore a real price. If you then want Pork you need to make the decision whether to have an extra 4 pack of lager in the fridge or some very tasty bacon. The price of food produced in environmentally and socially sustainable ways is not too high, our expectations of how much of our income we should spend on food are too low.
Right, its lunchtime, I'm off to make a vegetarian pasta dish, because the easiest way to remove oneself from an industry that treats animals as nothing more than raw materials for processing is to not buy any of its products, ever.