Photos of Granjas Carroll de Mexico pork factory are sickening, even with no flu connection

Updated May 4, 9:30am PST with editor's note and hog farmer's perspective

Smithfield, you're forked now: The Observers, a French citizen-journalism site, has reposted text and disturbing photos here from a Mexican blogger who claims to be from near La Gloria — the town where the first case of H1N1 flu was discovered and a few miles from Granjas Carroll de Mexico. Granjas Carroll is an enormous hog producer — calling it a "farm" is like calling Paula Deen a "chef" — that the locals have long protested for its pollution of their air and drinking water, which it apparently treats as cavalierly as its parent company, Smithfield Foods, aka "The Death Star of Pork," does North Carolina's.

The blogger, writing originally at another citizen-journalism website, Enlace Veracruz212, has posted photos purportedly taken at the Granjas Carroll site of broken waste pipes, a dead hog in the drinking water supply, underground "bio-digesters" full of dead hogs, and other hygienically unappetizing conditions (see photo above). Although the Observers website leads heavy-handedly with the possible (and as yet unproven) connection of such conditions to the virus outbreak in the nearby town, the blogger himself does not make any specific connection to H1N1 flu, sticking strictly to lambasting the Mexican government for selling out its citizens and allowing such corporate criminals to wreak havoc. (I don't read Spanish, but the handy site Babelfish provided a reasonable translation of the post.)

The comments on the Observers.com post run the gamut from the "mmm I love bacon" tough guys to the horrified "I'll never eat pork again," plus a link to another blog with more photos of dead pigs in the digesters around the delightful environs of the Granjas Carroll factory (left).

This is why Smithfield CEO Larry Pope and the rest of Big Pork are sweating bullets, and the reason they're lobbying so hard to change the name from "swine flu" to "novel H1N1 virus": they don't want anybody looking at these factories too closely. Because if animal-loving Jane America does, she too might just be so horrified that she never eats factory pork again — whether it's flu-free or not.

(Hat tip to @civileater on Twitter for the link)

Editor's note: Bonnie here. I debated whether or not to post the above and, knowing it was probably going to spread around the Internet regardless, decided to go ahead. Walter Jeffries, a hog farmer in Vermont and a frequent commenter here, has left feedback that makes me regret that decision. I have decided to post his comment here in its entirety, as I think he is right: the photos above are not especially damning except to city people unused to death… or who still think "hog farms" refer to quaint places like Walter's Sugar Mountain Farm, and not the crowded, confined cities above. I know better (and so does Tom Laskawy, posting here.)

Walter's politely administered spanking is after the jump.

Comment by Walter Jeffries:

The linked to blogging is simply sensationalism. The broken pipe is literally nothing. Look at it. The entire pipe leads out into, not a lake, but a waste lagoon. The idea is to put the material into the lagoon and water evaporates so it condenses and can be managed better. The pipe is disconnected but the disconnect is out over the lagoon so it is still dumping in the lagoon - nothing to see there folks, let’s move on.

Barrels full of bacteria? Huh? What I see in that photo is a crushed soda bottle. Perhaps he had another photo he meant to use but that is a pretty clear photograph of a pop bottle - Sprite perhaps? But speaking of bacteria, you do realize that good bacteria are a vital part of breaking down materials, like in compost, into nutrients that plants can use? That photo was pure emotional sensationalism. I’m not impressed.

Dead pigs in a pile waiting to be moved. Again, nothing wrong. We’re looking for some thing real bad, not merely gross.

Dead pigs being moved on cart. Well, you need to move them somehow. Are these perhaps even the same pigs before and after loading? Yes, it grosses you out if all you’ve ever dealt with is ‘clean’ cities but there’s a misnomer if there ever was one. Again, nothing wrong.

Dead pigs in the methane digester. Well, yes, of course, that’s where you put them, in a compost pile or methane digester. That’s the right thing to be doing. Again, nothing wrong. Let’s move along.

Dead pig out in the lagoon. Yeah, that one stinks, literally. These things happen though. So they produce 1 million pigs a year and the photographer managed to find that dead pig. Kind of hard to tell it is a pig. I wouldn’t have guessed from the photo but I’ll believe the blogger. Yet, what’s it going to do there?  Decompose? Yup, that’s what it will do. Not really that big a deal. Of course, it should be in the compost pile or in the methane digester.

So, out of a million pigs there are going to be a few dead ones. This is reality, not a Disney movie. The numbers don’t impress me. This winter we lost five of our sows. They were old - they had begun as a group and died the same year. Death happens. I composted their bodies with fitting ritual - they’re sticks-and-stones-amists. They return to the Earth from whence we all came. Dust to dust and all that good organic stuff. The compost will fertilize fruit trees I will plant. The cycle of life continues. We raise 200 pigs on our small pasture based farm. Five died. At the Smithfield plant in Mexico they raise 1,000,000 pigs a year. If the ratio held true so that they were doing as well as a small farm we all say we want emulated then they would have 25,000 death pigs a year. Yowsa!

That puts the numbers in perspective. There were only a few dead pigs in those photos, not 25,000 dead pigs. Remember, they’re producing about a million hogs a year. That’s a major city of people. Even if you divided 25,000 by 365 days in a year you’re still talking 68 dead pigs a day. That wasn’t 68 pigs so it wasn’t a day’s worth by that math. I count maybe a maximum of 20 pigs in all of those photos. Your count may vary, slightly, but not by much. It is hard to tell if perhaps some of those photos might be multiple shots of the same pigs which would reduce the count.

There is death on the farm. If you grow vegetable crops you kill snakes, rabbits, birds, mice, deer and other animals when you plow, till, harvest and otherwise work the soil. If you raise livestock there will be some who die - not 100% are going to make it to the plate. The bodies should ideally be composted to return the nutrients to the soil. A methane digester is an alternative some places now also use to generate electricity and gas to produce their own energy. This is well and good.

By now you think I’m here to defend Big Ag. I’m not. I’m trying to put some perspective on this, especially for city folk who deal with death in shrink wrapped packages. I am not defending CAFOs in the slightest - I do not like them at all. I am not defending their pollution of the water supply, the air, the horrible way that they raise animals, their worker conditions or anything they do. But let’s do accurate reporting rather than sensationalism. Articles like the above just cause a loss of credibility and lose the focus on what really matters.

6 Responsesto “Photos of Granjas Carroll de Mexico pork factory are sickening, even with no flu connection”

  1. Tom Laskawy says:

    Not to suggest that livestock farms aren't messy, even bloody but the fact is that these CAFO pictures clash pretty seriously with Smithfield's claims of the "biosecurity" of their operations. I discussed this at a bit more length here.

  2. GWH says:

    @Tom

    I can speak directly of Smithfield's biosecurity claims. Of course, this is the internet, and you can choose to believe what you want.  I've visited multiple Smithfield facilities, including their locations in Pampa, Tx, and La Gloria. When you enter the facilities, you strip out of all of your clothes, take a shower, put on clothes they provide you, and then further "sanatize" with alcahol based foam. They do not mess around with the possibility of infecting their herds. They are trying to make money, and dead pigs mean less money. It's fairly simple logic. I can provide a good example of the measures Smithfield takes to ensure safety among all of their stock (they ship pigs around to different facilities for breeding/etc.). Last month, at Smithfield's genetics operation in Pampa, TX, a few sows were infected with PCV (Porcine Circovirus). Smithfield depopulated the entire facility (hundreds of thousands of animals). It will be repopulated in about a month, only after intensive disinfection procedures. They really are trying to make money, and viruses running rampant among their herds does not lend itself to making money. Dead pigs outside of their facility does not in any way "clash" with their biosecurity claims. If you really want to maintain the title of "media and technology expert", do a bit of research before you make wild claims. You are no more professional that the general population who sees dead pigs and "manure lagoons", and says "GROSS! There has to be viruses there, it's so gross!" Real professionals get facts straight before spewing ignorance.

  3. Sean says:

    If you start with the assumption that a concentrated animal feeding operation such as this is "normal," then all of Mr. Jeffries responses make sense.  We need to back up and realize that this sort of operation is NOT normal and that it isn't a simple matter of fixing some of the internal systems within the farm.  The ENTIRE SYSTEM is broken!  Animals should be raised on pasture, not crowded together inside and fed antibiotics to ward off infections caused by the crowded condition.  Don't make excuses for a system that is destroying the environment and, very possibly, going to lead to a flu pandemic that kills millions of people.

  4. Yes, exactly, Sean. Which is why I raise animals on pasture, year round, without barns, antibiotic feeds, pesticides, herbicides, etc. However, it is important not to spread lies such as those photos because it reduces our credibility. If we tell the world, X, Y, Z and it turns out that Y was a purposeful lie then people will suspect that we are also lying about X and Z. Not good for our goal of moving farming away from the factory model.

  5. What GWH described was just the way people take care and protect themselves, but what about thw waste dispposal process? why have they faced legal claims in the USA? it is no secret some companies go to Mexico because regulations are very lenient and some authorities are corrupt so they don't face the same legal problems 

  6. Adam says:

    Speaking of composting see http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM1917.pdf for the big ticket items.