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Big pork’s pandering

BY KIRSTEN JACOBSEN | MARCH 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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“Pork, be inspired.”

That’s the new slogan of the National Pork Board, better known over the last 24 years for its infinitely catchier identifier: “the other white meat.” (This, in itself, is a lie: Hogs are actually constituted largely of red meat with a dash of snout and tail.)

Apparently, the new slogan is designed to showcase “proud, energetic, approachable, and unapologetically optimistic” attitudes toward the popular meat, says Ceci Snyder, the vice president of marketing at the National Pork Board.

While I support thriving industries in the state, the growth and manufacture of hogs has taken a massive toll on Iowa’s land and people, and amplifying current operations only leads to unsafe and inhumane practices.

Iowa is the nation’s largest producer of hogs — to the tune of some 30 million per year — and 39,000 jobs in the state revolve around the pigs’ care and keeping. Additionally, the state reaps more than $2.5 billion yearly thanks solely to its hog crops, according to the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

Though the National Pork Board claims that sales are flat-lining faster than a bacon-encrusted coronary artery, a 2009 State of the Industry report by the National Hog Farmer group found that a record 116,452,000 hogs were slaughtered that year and pork was selling at its highest price ever.

So if the business of meat is bringing home the bacon — and enjoying a taxpayer-funded boost from Washington — why is the National Pork Board so intent on increasing pork sales? Two words: unconscionable profit. There’s no contention that Iowa outpaces closest rivals Illinois and Oklahoma. Yet as sheer numbers of hogs increase, so, too, do the number of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

Farms with more than 2,500 pigs weighing more than 55 pounds earn the that designation — and Iowa has 742 such farms, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA also damningly notes: “The concentration of wastes from these animals increases the potential to affect air, water, and land quality.”

But there are more “benefits” to factory farm hog-manufacturing than meet the eye (and nose). A 2009 study by Tara Smith of the UI Department of Epidemiology (et alia) shows that the rampant overuse of antibiotics on swine farms has actually led to a greater presence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria among workers and animals than at farms where no antibiotics were used.

So why does the National Animal Health Monitoring System declare that antibiotic injections (used largely to stimulate unnatural growth) are an “integral part” of hog manufacture? Obviously, larger farms such as the concentrated operations benefit from injecting animals for health purposes. But when that medicated pork reaches the table, what all are you eating?

Speaking of the pig on your plate: While researching this column, I stumbled across the highly disturbing slaughter process. Not only are 70 percent of hogs infected with pneumonia at the time of being stun-gunned, they are then shackled and hoisted for blood-letting, dumped into scalding water to remove hair, then beheaded and eviscerated, and finally cut in half and stuck in a freezer.

By no means am I advocating a PETA-like response to this reality, but for humans, this process is pretty inhumane. At the very least, Iowa should follow the likes of Michigan and California, which recently outlawed confining gestation cages for sows and containments that did not allow for animals’ movement, respectively.

Sure, the bacon that comes from these hogs may smell like heaven on Earth; I’ll readily admit that the thought of sizzling sausage on a griddle or a pork chop roasting on the grill makes my vegetarian mouth water. But while pork products look good on paper, in practice, it’s a whole different story.

Let me be the first to say: Emotional and educational tracts can’t change hard facts.

Consider me “uninspired,” pork industry.


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