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The Problems with Smithfield Pork and the Way to Guilt-Free-ish Bacon

Be nice to her before you fry her delicious parts.
Be nice to her before you fry her delicious parts.

McDonald's is closing out its second week of McRib season, giving the Atlantic a hook to ponder the evils of its pork supplier, Smithfield Foods. The article points out that in the midst of Smithfield's increased welfare practices intended to ensure livestock are treated humanely, the Humane Society of the United States has filed a legal complaint against the mega pork producer, alleging the media blitz has been misleading consumers.

HSUS's complaint alleges that videos created by Smithfield are "replete with false and/or misleading representations -- both express and implied -- about Smithfield's animal welfare and environmental practices." About two hours after the article published, the Atlantic updated the post with a response from Smithfield, which claims no wrong doing and that an "objective assessment of our practices would conclude that Smithfield and our employees are behaving in a socially responsible manner."

A major point of contention in the legal complaint are the gestation crates Smithfield and other large pork producers use to breed the pigs. The small, cramped confines were designed to minimize fighting amongst pregnant, scrappy sows, but the side effects from being confined in such a way are sobering.

Sweden and the UK have banned the use of these crates. The European Union has banned or limited their use starting in 2013. In the US, Florida, Arizona, California and other states have instituted bans. Texas isn't one of them.

In 2007, Smithfield acquiesced to public pressure and announced that it would phase out the use of gestation crates in all of its company-owned farms over a 10-year period. Three years later, though, it pulled back, saying it would not be able to execute the transition because of reduced sales. But that's bullshit: Other large producers have voluntarily phased out the crates, too. I think the largest pork producer in the world should be able to figure it out.

Of course sitting around waiting for a large corporation make a significant change without economic incentive is like watching the Texas sky for rain. Vote with your wallet instead. The next time you see Smithfield in your meat case remember this video, which details the practice. Then go find a small, local butcher that cares about the products they source.

Rudolph's in Deep Ellum, who we just profiled through pictures this morning, sources its swine from Eden Farms in Iowa. Products from farms that use heritage stock and good practices are incredibly different from the pork you buy at a regular grocery store. Berkshire pork is fatty (the good kind) and has a well developed flavor and a rich rosy hue. It was never supposed to be the other white meat.

Anyway, now you've got another reason to pay your old school butcher a visit.


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