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More Problems for the Other White Meat As New Disease Spreads

By       Message Martha Rosenberg       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   2 comments

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The bad news just doesn't end for the hog industry.

It was just recovering from Hurricane Floyd which flushed 120 million 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 of HKY Farm in Bloomfield, NE. "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."

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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 lakeview when that lake is excrement.

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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, AZ 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, MN who came down with a strange neurological disease in December without mentioning the 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."

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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 Delphi, IN.

And this month, a worker at a Hormel plant in Fremont, NE became ill. Guess where the employee worked?

Of course there's plenty of spin with the story.

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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