Originally due to premiere on Channel 4 in February, Pig Business – a documentary about intensive pig farming – was cancelled because of fears of legal action from Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest producer of pork. Subsequent screenings have also ran in to difficulties, with a recent showing at the Barbican only going ahead once the director, Tracy Worcester, signed an indemnity taking personal responsibility for its content.
So what are Smithfield Foods so afraid of?
Four years in the making and just over 70 minutes long in its current form (the version I watched may be cut down for future broadcasts), this cogent documentary argues that intensive pig farming is "bad for our food, our health and the livelihoods of our rural communities."
Initially focussing on the
Housed in superstore-sized sheds in cramped conditions with little natural light, the stressed-out hogs produce a staggering amount of waste (pigs defecate ten times the amount a human does), often contaminating the local water table and emitting an illness-inducing stench. Tom Garrett, from the Animal Welfare Institute, argues this is nothing less than "the application of industrial systems that were designed to build car and machines, to living creatures."
Tired of being steamrolled by large corporations, in the 90s a grassroots movement of farmers and environmentalists won a number of small, but significant victories, leading to greater regulation of pig farms in the
In response to this popular protest and increasingly restrictive laws, Smithfield Foods relocated much of its business to countries such as
A long-time environmental activist working on a small budget,
Frustratingly, like much of the coverage of animal welfare in the mainstream,
But while the debate continues about how best to improve the lives of pigs and those people – workers, local residents and consumers – who are most affected by the industry, it is clear Smithfield Foods only has one interest: profit. As Joel Bakan notes in his seminal study of the corporate world "the corporation’s legally defined mandate is to pursue, relentlessly and without exception, its own self-interest, regardless of the often harmful consequences it might cause others."
Seen in this light, the legal threats from Smithfield Foods are a logical response to this illuminating and absorbing documentary. In short, there is no doubt that if Pig Business receives a wide audience, it will be very bad for Smithfield Foods own pig business.
"It’s a battle about who is going to control our resources", Kennedy, Jr sums up at the film’s close. "Are our resources going to be controlled by a corporate-feudal system or are they going to be controlled by the people?"
Pig Business is directed by Tracy Worcester: http://www.pigbusiness.co.uk/.
*An edited version of this review recently appeared in the Morning Star. [email protected].