Sometimes the true price of cheap pork is very high

The Chicago Tribune did a series of articles earlier this year on the pork industry in Illinois.  It’s a pretty bleak, unsavory picture.  Here’s an excerpt from the first article.

The state Department of Agriculture, which is charged with promoting livestock production as well as regulating it, often brushed aside opposition from local officials to issue about 900 swine confinement permits in the last 20 years. Long-standing community residents were left feeling their rights had been trampled and the laws stacked against them.

In a wide-ranging investigation that spanned dozens of Illinois counties and analyzed more than 20,000 pages of government documents, the Tribune also found that the growth of these confinements has created a persistent new environmental hazard.

Pig waste flowing into rural waterways from leaks and spills destroyed more than 490,000 fish in 67 miles of rivers over a 10-year span. No other industry came close to causing that amount of damage, the Tribune found. Many operators faced only minor consequences; some multimillion-dollar confinements paid small penalties while polluting repeatedly.

The state also does little to investigate allegations of animal cruelty submitted by whistleblowing employees who work for some of Illinois’ most prominent pork producers. Inspectors dismissed one complaint, state files show, after simply telephoning executives to ask if it was true that their workers were beating pigs with metal bars.

. . .

Twenty years after the state law was put in place, critics liken its provisions to a frontier-era timber blockade in the path of a bullet train.

There’s more at the link, and in the other articles in the series.  It’s worth reading them in full to see how a state bureaucracy can actively cooperate with big business against the interests of residents, and animals, and the environment.

After reading them, I want to know more about how other states – particularly my own, newly adopted state of Texas – are doing about the problem.  This has ramifications far beyond paying the cheapest possible price for the pork I eat.  That may well be kept artificially low by causing costs in other areas – monetary or otherwise – that are unacceptably high.



  1. Peter .. You live in small town TX now .. Ask around at the coffee shop and buy your pork on the hoof from a local . Include delivery to a local packing house in the deal . I am sure the cabal there in town would split pork and beef if done that way .

  2. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (what was once known as the Soil Conservation Service) has as one of its functions helping farmers deal with agricultural waste, particularly animal waste. I had a good friend who was an Engineering Technician with them in Perry County Ohio, specifically, Somerset (he got himself thrown out of a bar in Charlottesville, VA when he drunkenly owned up to being from the hometown of Phil Sheridan), and one of his primary functions was dealing with animal waste. He told me that swine operations had some of the hardest streams to deal with. I never got the reason from him as the last time I saw him we got interrupted and I've not seen him since I had to leave SE Ohio.

    having been downwind of a couple of swine operations, I could well believe that it could be hard to deal with.

    When I lived in SE Ohio, there were pork and beef farmers that sold directly to consumers and supplied the product already wrapped and ready for the freezer. It was a very economical way of filling the freezer too.

  3. Yes, find a local farmer and find a way to purchase your pork, beef, and chicken directly from them. Go see how the animals are raised and treated. I won't go down the path of how animals 'feel' about things but the reality of a 'hard' vs 'easy' life makes a big difference in the quality of the final product.

  4. More and more these large operations are not what you would consider farmer owned. They're either wholly owned by an agrigiant corporation or a producer who doesn't live anywhere near the operation. When there are farmer owned hog operations they're many times just contracted to an agrigiant corporation. The corporation fronts the money at a low interest rate to build the facility and get the operation going or outright builds the place and the farmer provides the land and gets a cut or a payment for managing the operation. The whole damn business is dirty in more ways than one. These huge confinements at one time at least provided work to locals but more and more they import foreigners to man the facilities even providing housing. I know of several instances where local people were directed to train mexicans and other foreigners as their replacements via agrigiant supplied interpreters. I won't get too specific for legal reasons but the floor workers basically said F you and the foreign replacements were trained by supervisors who had been assured their jobs were safe and that they'd be running the foreigners. It wasn't long before the supervisors and managers were replaced by foreigners and the agrigiant cut the locals out entirely. As a farmer myself I'm loathe to tell anyone what they can or can't do on their own land but these CAFOs are an exception. I'm hardly averse to the odors of livestock as I have stock 50 yards from my house but a large CAFO is something else entirely. They're large scale heavy industry with industrial levels of pollutants and need to be treated as such. There also needs to be a breakup of the large meatpacking and agrigiant corporations. They should be forbidden from from being involved in production in any way. Foreign companies shouldn't be allowed to own agricultural land or food production facilities in the US. Owners of CAFOs should be required to live on site. You can run a large hog operation with really minimal off site environmental impact but there isn't much of an incentive to do so at the moment.

  5. buy from a small producer. How do you find one? The local pig show. I am serious. Duncan OKLA has one of the biggest pig shows in the country. 80 miles north of the Texas line in SW OKLA. I am a small producer of beef in that area. We are humane, and sustainable using natural grasses. Our cattle are gentle and happy. Farm tours available by appointment. Local and small pig farmers are the same. Take good care of your animals and they take care of you.

  6. @sdharms: How do I contact you? I'm close enough to you that I can make the trip. Please send me an e-mail with contact details (my address is in my blog profile – see 'About me' in the sidebar).


  7. i wondered how pork could be so inexpensive.
    now i know.
    i cannot digest it but i won't buy it any more for the rest of the clan.
    CAFO's and all cruelty are some of many stenches in the nostrils of God.
    there will be judgement.
    cruelty is unnecessary in meat production or any other endeavor.
    there must be silver crossing palms. what other reason could there be?

  8. Peter–the prudent practice is to take the article with a grain of salt. SOME of it is true, and SOME of it is propaganda.

  9. Peter, I have an article I would like to link you but I am not sure it will post (spam filter?).

    Please google "A Tale of 2 manure spills and a loss of credibility" for an interesting article from Wisconsin on this topic and the complete lack of awareness of a source of waste spillage an order of magnitude larger than the CAFOs you are talking about here.

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