Monday, January 29, 2007

Smithfield Foods—Driven to a Process

When you think about companies that are driven, maximum ability rather than minimal standards comes to mind. But not always. Some companies make their dough the old-fashioned way, they cut away all the humanity, kind of like butchering a hog—until there’s nothing left but profit.

When you think about companies that are driven, maximum ability rather than minimal standards comes to mind. But not always. Some companies make their dough the old-fashioned way, they cut away all the humanity, kind of like butchering a hog—until there’s nothing left but profit. 
Smithfieldluter Joseph W. Luter, III is the Chairman and CEO at Smithfield, grandson of the founder, contributor of big-bucks to a university department that will have his name on it and a guy you’re not likely to see in the Smithfield pig barns.
Smithfieldtriblepope In front of 500 people gathered in the Ferguson Center for the Arts, Larry Pope, president of Smithfield, announced a $5 million gift to the Christopher Newport University from the Smithfield-Luter Foundation – the largest single donation in university’s history.
“The first thing that impressed us were the audible gasps from the audience after the amount was announced, then spontaneous applause and a standing ovation.”
– Dennis H. Treacy, vice president, environmental and corporate affairs for Smithfield Foods Inc.
Smithfieldgestcrate2 Yeah, those audible gasps always get your attention.
According to Smithfield’s web site,
“Under Mr. Luter's leadership, Smithfield Foods has grown to over $11 billion in annual revenues and has successfully integrated more than 53 acquisitions over the last 24 years to expand the company's products both in the U.S. and internationally. The company has also vertically integrated hog production and processing.”
They’re good at horizontal integration as well. Gestation pens at Smithfield, those devices designed to protect pig-mothers for the approximate seven years of their reproductive lives, are an amazing 2 feet wide and 7 feet long.
Smithfieldgestcrate1 That’s a seven year sentence, sweetheart, courtesy of the friendly folks at Smithfield.
After that, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is the moms are finally let out; the bad news is that they’re headed for slaughter. Which, if it were known, might cause additional audible gasps at Christopher Newport University.
Smithfield is to pigs what abu Graib was to terrorists, and yet these critters are a threat to no one, destined for a future no more threatening than shrink-wrap, a  quick saute and a dinner plate. Quoting from Marc Kaufman’s article in the Washington Post;
"Smithfield officials denied that pressure from activists or voters had anything to do with their announcement, but they did say the company was responding to concerns voiced by customers such as McDonald's and several supermarket chains.”
So, if I have this straight, the profit honchos at Smithfield don’t now (and wouldn’t in future) give a damn about humane conditions. It’s McDonalds who did it. Let’s hear it for Ronald McDonald.
“While they defended the use of the crates -- which are so narrow that the animals cannot turn around and some have to lie uncomfortably on their chests -- they said their own research had concluded they could be replaced by group pens without any long-term problems or cost increases.”
Smithfieldgestcrate3 How do they defend these horror conditions and then go home to the wife and kiddies as if it were an ordinary day at the office? ‘Their own research’ evidently wasn’t enough on its own merits to spring mother hog from four to seven years unable to turn or move or even lie down comfortably. Talk about post-partum depression.
"Working with our customers, who have made their views known on the issue of gestation stalls, we are pleased to be taking this precedent-setting step," said C. Larry Pope, chief executive officer of Smithfield Foods. He said all 187 Smithfield-owned pig nurseries would be converted within 10 years, and contract growers will be eventually expected to move in that direction.
Pleased to be setting precedent, are they? Gonna take ‘em ten years, is it?
“The decision follows a pattern that has become increasingly common in the food industry. Groups concerned about issues such as animal welfare or the use of antibiotics or biotechnology in agriculture no longer look to government regulators to produce change, but rather take their concerns to the public, to producers, and to the restaurants and grocery chains that sell the products.”
Amazing what a long stretch it is for these corporate types to achieve humane treatment. One of the definitions of humane is ‘showing evidence of moral and intellectual advancement.’ You’d think, educated as they are, they’d be good at that.
In a statement, National Pork Producers Council CEO Neil Dierks said that while his group "respects the right of all producers to make market decisions they believe are in their best interest," the council considers gestation crates to be appropriate and humane.
"The American Veterinary Medical Association and other organizations recognize gestation stalls and group housing systems as appropriate for providing for the well-being of sows during pregnancy," he said. "We support the right of all producers to choose housing that ensures the well-being of their animals and that is appropriate for their operations."
The National Pork Producers Council and the American Veterinary Medical Association unanimously support the rights of producers—they just don’t give a tinker’s damn for the rights of animals. Nor does
  • Robert L. Burrus, Jr.; Director since 1996. Chairman and Partner in the law firm of McGuireWoods LLP, Richmond, VA; Director, CSX Corporation, and S&K Famous Brands, Inc.
  • Carol T. Crawford (62); Director since 2000, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law, January 2000 until June 2001; formerly Commissioner of the U.S. International Trade Commission, 1991 until 2000, and Assistant Attorney General of the United States, 1989 until 1990.
  • Ray A. Goldberg
  • Wendell H. Murphy
  • C. Larry Pope
  • Frank S. Royal, M.D.
  • John T. Schwieters
All of them, current Smithfield Directors.
Let’s get their names out in the open, as one or two of them may be a neighbor. Nice folks, most all of them in their sixties, sleeping in feather beds with never a care. In the ten years it will take the company (of which they are directors) to conform to basic humane procedures, most of them will no doubt have retired to play with their grandkids.
And read them fairy-stories, like The Three Little Pigs.
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