Column: Pigs Have Come A Long Way to Supreme Court


By Michael Smith, Columnist, Opinion, The Pilot (NC)

May 10, 2022


Here’s the thing about pigs: They didn’t volunteer to come to America. And they wish they’d never come. Let’s unwrap their story.


Folks who study fossils say wild pigs scooted around in European and Asian swamps 40 million years ago. Thirty-nine million years later, around 1500 BC, the Chinese domesticated the things. Later, the Romans refined pig production to feed their empire.


By 1500 AD, the European “haves” — the wealthy and the royalty — happily chewed on pig meat while have-nots eschewed it. The poor feared trichinosis and found pigs unclean.


Pigs ate everything, even human excrement in the streets and dead people. In Shakespeare’s time, executed prisoners were left unburied for pigs to dine on. Shakespeare’s title character in “Richard III” was described as a “foul swine” who “Swills your warm blood like wash, and makes his trough / In your embowell’d bosoms.”


Swine are not native to these shores. Guys like Columbus, Hernando de Soto, Cortés and Sir Walter Raleigh brought them here. Many escaped, ran feral, proliferated and wreaked havoc everywhere. It is said that Wall Street in Manhattan got its name from a wall constructed on the northern edge of the colony to, in part, keep out rampaging pigs.


But farmers discovered profit in pig proliferation. One sow can produce about 18 piglets per year. With a brief gestation period, they reproduce far more quickly than cows and sheep. Then too, pork is a meat easily preserved without refrigeration, via salt, sugar and smoke.


Pork — marketers some time ago branded it “the other white meat” — is now the third meat of choice, following chicken and beef. China, the country that domesticated pigs, is still the largest pig producer. The United States is a close second. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says pork producers in this country slaughter about 130 million pigs each year. That works out to about 52 pounds of pork per person.


The excess, about one-third, is exported, principally to Mexico and Europe.


Pig production is big business. Top pork producing states like Iowa benefit to the tune of $4.2 billion annually. Pigs bring North Carolina, the third largest producer, roughly $1.46 billion per year.


With 24.6 million pigs in Iowa, they outnumber the 3.16 million people there by a margin of 8-1. In Sampson County, N.C., there are 29.5 pigs for every person; 2,000 pigs per square mile.


With the advent of refrigerated railroad cars, pork meat became widely available everywhere. And pig production methods changed to satisfy added demand.


Small independently owned hog operations are yesterday-stuff. Today, 98 percent of pigs are raised in farm “factories.” And that can be problematic. Fewer and larger hog “enterprises” yield odor, water contamination, deteriorated air quality and health hazards, portending tension between nearby residents and pork producers.


In 2020, following six years of litigation, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals held that Chinese-owned Smithfield Corp. operated with wanton disregard for residents near one N.C. hog farm. The corporate farm raised 15,000 hogs annually, flushing their urine and feces into open pits.


It was worse yet for the pigs. The judicial opinion described a system where pigs were forced to live inhumanely, in overcrowded, “almost suffocating closeness.”


Some states have laws addressing animal treatment. But nationally, there is only the Animal Welfare Act, which mainly regards animals used in laboratory experiments. It does not apply to farm animals.


Pigs are believed to be the most intelligent of the farm animals. And research led by the University of Copenhagen, involving scientists in five European research labs, have proven that pigs are sentient.


Pigs are voluble: They squeal, scream, bark, grunt and snort. Basically, the scientists proved pigs have emotions by associating their various sounds with occurrences they go through.


Sounds emitted during events such as castration or impending slaughter were markedly different.


In 2018, Californians overwhelmingly approved a ballot proposition that requires more space for hens, pigs and calves. Hog farmers, through the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), have fought the law tooth and nail, losing at every turn...