Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pigs in the Supreme Court

The New York Times reports (here) on Monday's Supreme Court decision that unanimously struck down a California law that prevented the slaughter of non-ambulatory animals. Justice Elena Kagan wrote the opinion, which held that the Federal Meat Inspection Act (a result, in part, of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle back at the start of the twentieth century) preempted the state law. Kagan's opinion focused on pigs, with the justice calculating that between 100,000 and one million pigs annually become unable to walk after being delivered to slaughterhouses. Under the California law--one prompted by a Humane Society of the United States undercover investigation of animals being kicked, dragged, and prodded to slaughter--these "downer animals" would have to be immediately euthanized and not killed for consumption. The Supreme Court's decision puts paid to the idea, put forth by U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, in support of the California law, that "States are free to decide which animals may be turned into meat." The current system, in which federal meat inspectors decide what is done with "downers," remains in place. By the way, the USDA estimates that over 28 million hogs will be slaughtered in the first quarter of 2012 in the United States.

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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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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Nicknames of the States, 1884

Thanks to my colleague Oliver for tipping me off about this Boing Boing post (here) about H.W. Hill & Co.'s 1884 "Nicknames of the States," which features pigs enacting, well, the nicknames of the states. The original is at the Library of Congress (here) where I found a number of excellent images for my book Pig, but not this one. The details here are amazing, as are the many (often forgotten) state nicknames. Hill & Co. manufactured and sold farm equipment, including rings for hog's snouts to prevent rooting.


Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Pigs in Japan's Radiation-Exclusion Zone

A student e-mailed me a link (here) to a collection of photographs by AP photographer David Guttenfelder, sent by National Geographic to the nuclear exclusion zone around Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Among the resulting and haunting images Guttenfelder took of this abandoned area (abandoned by humans, that is) was this one, of a hog taking a nap after a meal in a feed store. There are other images of pigs in this "The Big Picture" feature, including one of a hog taking a nap in a puddle in the middle of the street. Clearly people were evacuated without much thought for the welfare of their animals. Guttenfelder's photos were taken in late June 2011, so it is not clear what life is like for these abandoned hogs, if indeed they are still living.

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