Friday, January 20, 2012

Smithfield, NAFTA, and Mexico

David Bacon has a long investigative piece (here) in the January 23rd issue of The Nation that shows the implications of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for farmers in Veracruz, Mexico. Although you wouldn't know it from the title--"How U.S. Policies Fueled Mexico's Great Migration"--the entire essay focuses on transformations in the North American pork industry. In short, when NAFTA opened up Mexican markets to pork imports from U.S. companies like Smithfield, Mexican pork prices dropped 56 percent and approximately 4,000 Mexican pig farms had to shut down, displacing workers and devastating local economies. This in turn fueled migration to the U.S., both illegal and legal through the H2-A visa program that allowed U.S. agricultural employers to bring workers into the country on employment contracts. Ironically, many of these Veracruzano pig farmers and slaughterhouse workers wound up in North Carolina, where they got jobs in Smithfield's Tar Heel slaughterhouse.

Bacon's well-researched article looks at efforts to unionize the Tar Heel plant and the anti-immigrant climate and crackdowns by agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that have subsequently driven many of these Mexican workers from North Carolina. The photo above, one that accompanies the on-line version of Bacon's article, is of a market in North Carolina named for and catering to these Mexican migrants, although many of these businesses have lost customers as they have fled the state.

Although it is less central to the article, Bacon also examines the environmental and economic effects of large scale pig farming operations in Mexico, especially those at the plant known as Granjas Carroll de Mexico in Veracruz's Perote valley, one now owned and operated by Smithfield. Throughout he is interested in activism on both sides of the border dedicated to improving people's living and working conditions, activism that has to be transnational because it is responding to global trade and transnational corporations. Overall, this is a great read and contains material I wish I'd been able to include in PIG, although I do tell similar stories about the implications of the expansion of industrial-scale pig farming for local communities and traditions in North America and throughout the globe.

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