We ignored the ‘No Entry’ sign at Smithfield hog factory, near Szczecinek, west Pomerania, in northwest Poland. Clambering over wire barriers, we wrenched open the ventilation shaft of one of three vast concrete and corrugated iron sheds. Inside, 5,000 squealing pigs were crammed into small compartments. Outside, effluent from concrete cesspits had overflowed, sending a small stream into the lake below. In a large plastic bin (empty the previous night) we found 20 dead pigs.
Pig factories are invading Poland. When the German army launched its invasion in 1939, Britain declared war to save the country. Now, when the world’s largest pork production company, Smithfield Foods, threatens the livelihood of two million farmers, Poland’s best foreign ally is a lone ecologist from the state of Wyoming, named Tom Garrett.
These sorts of pig factories are not just a threat to local farmers, they are a disaster for all of us, says Garrett. Poland has tens of millions of acres of land tilled to this day without artificial chemicals. It may be the last bastion of traditional farming in Europe and our last hope for unpolluted food on a large scale. Garrett told me that Robert Kennedy Jr has said that ‘pig factory farms are more dangerous for our lifestyle and democracy than Osama bin Laden and global terrorism’.
If this sounds melodramatic, consider Garrett’s evidence. Drawing on his experience in the US, where he has faced Smithfield before, he said, ‘Everywhere this company has operated, there has been gross environmental degradation from liquefied hog faeces stored in open sewage pits and sprayed on fields. Rivers, lakes and even aquifers are polluted. In North Carolina, where industrial hog-farming is particularly intense, the rivers were so polluted that toxic algae called pfiesteria piscicida began to flourish.