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Special Reports Last Updated: Aug 1st, 2007 - 01:07:55

Rolling Stone, Gourmet magazines blast factory farming
By Martha Rosenberg
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Aug 1, 2007, 01:05

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It must be hard to be a factory farmer these days.

First there's the problem of finding workers.

If they appear to be legal, how do you know they're not undercover animal advocates with cameras who will make you an overnight animal abuse criminal on the Internet?

It's not like people are lining up for jobs with descriptions like "Remove dead animals from 98 degree ammonia-infused pens, $8 an hour, depending on experience." And "sex newborn chicks, grinding up males for feed: $6 dollars an hour; chance for advancement."

Even prisoners released to work at Smithfield Packing Co.'s slaughterhouse in Tar Heel, NC, quit reported Rick Bragg in the New York Times; "If this is freedom, give me incarceration" their apparent sentiment.

Then there's the public which increasingly wants transparency and humanity in the production of its meat products and won't fall for a paternalistic If-You Want-Our-Product-This-is-Is-How-It's-Made argument either. (Trust us -- we're factory farmers.)

Nor does the public fall for the "factory farms are just big family farms" argument any longer.

People are beginning to realize that farming "contractors" paid by the weight they can add onto the animals provided them -- less feed -- are just latter day sharecroppers with all the responsibility of farming and none of the benefits.

And now mainstream magazines that never had an agenda are getting into the act and going "PETA"!

"America's top pork producer churns out a sea of waste that has destroyed rivers, killed millions of fish and generated one of the largest fines in EPA history," blasts an article, Boss Hog by Jeff Tietz, in the Dec. 14 issue of Rolling Stone, about Smithfield Foods, the world largest pork producer. "Welcome to the dark side of the other white meat."

In an eight-page, 29-point response, Smithfield Foods tries valiantly to refute Tietz' charges of wanton pollution and animal abuse. But it just manages to dig itself deeper manure pits.

Instead of defending the air in hog pens, which Tietz says is barely breathable from heat, chemical fumes and uncollected animal excrement, Smithfield writes, "It is extremely rare when mechanical failure of ventilation systems causes death of animals due to indoor air quality."

Instead of refuting or explaining the Rolling Stone photo of a mountain of dead pigs -- still pink and looking eerily like children -- found on its borders, Smithfield says, "We take a great deal of pride in the operation and appearance of our hog farms."

And its only response to Tietz's charge that "Tens of thousands" of pigs perished during Hurricane Floyd in 1999 because of factory farming is that 20,000 is "the official estimate" and, "The vast majority of these pigs died inside buildings and remained there until they were removed by farm managers or owners."

It's a good thing Smithfield didn't refute Tietz's claim that seven people have drowned in manure lagoons on factory farms in recent years; five more died in July on a Rockingham County dairy farm in Virginia.

And now, Gourmet magazine has gone "PETA" too.

In June it ran an expose by NPR contributor Daniel Zwerdling about factory farming of chickens, called View To Kill, replete with a photo of chickens hanging from hooks to be processed.

"Spokesmen at the five biggest companies refused to show me the farms where their suppliers raise the chickens you eat, so that I could see firsthand how they treat them," writes Zwerdling. "They refused to show me the slaughterhouses, so I could see how the companies dispatch them. Executives even refused to talk to me about how they raise and kill chickens."

Undaunted, Zwerdling discovers that 2 percent of US processed chickens,180 million a year, are "red birds" which the National Chicken Council admits are boiled alive in defeathering tanks because they miss the assembly line blade that should kill them.

"When this happens, the chickens flop, scream, kick, and their eyeballs pop out of their heads," wrote Virgil Butler a "live hanger" in a Grannis, Ark., Tyson plant in 2003 in a sworn affidavit. "Then, they often come out the other end with broken bones and disfigured and missing body parts because they've struggled so much in the tank."

But Richard L. Lobb, the spokesperson for the National Chicken Council was annoyed at Zwerdling's interest in the boiling mishaps. "This process is over in a matter of minutes if not in seconds," he says with a sigh.

With mainstream magazines suddenly interested in animal welfare, factory farmers no doubt worry what's next. Sports Illustrated exposes veal crates? Forbes visits a Chinese fur farm?

But they shouldn't.

On the opposite page from Zwerdling's article in Gourmet is a recipe for Grilled Lobster and Potatoes with Basil Vinaigrette that instructs the cooks to "Plunge lobsters headfirst into a 12-quart pot of boiling salted water."

The one to one-and-a-half pound lobsters are alive.

Martha Rosenberg is a Staff Cartoonist at the Evanston Roundtable. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Providence Journal. Arizona Republic, New Orleans Times-Picayune and other newspapers. She can be reached at:

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