Pigs causing illness in humans even before they�re eaten
By Martha Rosenberg
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Apr 4, 2008, 00:38
The bad news just doesn't end for the hog industry.
It was just recovering from Hurricane Floyd, which flushed
gallons of its liquid manure into floodwaters and drowned 20,000
hogs in their cages, when New
York Times reporter Charlie LeDuff went
undercover at the Smithfield Packing Co. slaughterhouse
in Tar Heel, NC.
Even as readers digested LeDuff's behind the scenes images
of black women "assigned to the chitterlings room, where they would scrape
feces and worms from intestines" and workers throwing "a piece of
shoulder at a friend across the conveyor" just to get his attention, the
Chicago Tribune took up the baton.
"The odor knocks visitors off balance the moment they
walk in the battered front door," wrote
Andrew Martin about HKY Farm in Bloomfield, Nebraska.
"It's not so much a barnyard smell as a noxious combination of manure,
ammonia and death that intensifies as one moves toward the barns. Next comes
the sound of dozens of sows screaming and thrashing at their cages."
Then Rolling Stone joined in with an article called Boss
Hog that added a photo of a pyramid of dead, discarded hogs reminiscent of
the Floyd decimation to the mix and the fact that at least eight people have drowned in manure lagoons.
And there's more bad news for the hog industry.
Increasingly, people don't want a property with a lake view
when that lake is excrement.
Alabamans are fighting an industry backed Senate bill that
would protect mega farms from lawsuits. And neighbors of a high profile 52,800
hog facility planned near Yuma, Arizona, co-owned by Hormel, have succeeded in
stalling development, maybe permanently. ("12 football field-sized
concrete pits lay idle," notes Feedstuffs, the agribusiness weekly.)
Indians on the Rosebud
Indian Reservation, SD, regret the 24 metal-roofed hog barns Sun Prairie
built nine years ago, saying the ammonia makes them cough until their ribs hurt
and that animals are packed so tightly in pens that "strong hogs begin to
cannibalize the weak, eating off tails and ears."
And now there's a hog-to-humans disease.
It's hard to write a story about the 13 workers at the
Quality Pork Processing slaughterhouse in Austin, Minn., who came down with a
strange neurological disease in December without mentioning the head table.
The head table is the station where compressed air is shot
into the hog's head cavity with a hose to "blow its brains" out
through the base of the skull or the snout. A Plexiglas shield protects the
hose operator from blowback but not other table workers who have "exposed
arms" and no "face shields to prevent them from swallowing or
inhaling sprayed brain tissue," say news reports.
The pulverized brains are "then collected and poured
into containers to be shipped to China, Korea, and even parts of the United
States, where cooks like to stir fry them and some people like to add them to
their scrambled eggs."
Even as the 13 workers experiencing heavy legs, weakness,
pain and numbness were sent to the Mayo Clinic, three more head table workers
came down with the disease-- this time from Indiana Packers Corporation in
And this month, a worker at a Hormel plant in Fremont,
Nebraska, became ill. Guess where the employee worked.
Of course there's plenty of spin with the story: How Mayo
doctors identified a brand new disease, quickly named Progressive Inflammatory
Neuropathy (PIN), instead of another grotesquerie of
factory farming. And how the workers are fine and the pigs, meat and even
brains safe if you just don�t inhale the latter.
"It's an exposure issue, it's not a contagious
disease," assures Nebraska's chief medical officer Dr. Joanne Schaefer.
But others say not so fast.
"Several people diagnosed locally with PIN said their
symptoms were so severe that they awoke unable to move; had to use wheelchairs;
or lost sensation in their arms, legs, feet or hands," writes the
Post-Bulletin's Jeff Hansel. "Although steroid and other treatments have
helped, the term 'recovered' can't be used because they continue to experience
the effects of spine and nerve inflammation."
"I got to the point where my son would put my walker in
front of me, and he'd hold down on the walker so I could use that to pull
myself out of the chair," says Susan Kruse, 37, who worked for 15 years at
Quality Pork Processors in Austin.
In his whistle blowing article in Rolling Stone, Jeff Tietz
observes that, "the immobility, poisonous air and terror of confinement
badly damage the pigs' immune systems" so that diseases, "once
established in one pig, will rush spritelike through the whole
Maybe that should read "populations."
Martha Rosenberg is
staff cartoonist on the Evanston Roundtable. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 1998-2007 Online Journal
Email Online Journal Editor