By Sara Peach
I felt uneasy at breakfast yesterday after I noticed a sign saying that Smithfield Foods had sponsored the meal. Smithfield is the world's largest pork producer, which I assume is the reason bacon was a prominent feature of the breakfast.
Seeing the sign set off my ethical warning bells because Smithfield is one of the worst polluters in my home state of North Carolina. Jeff Tietz at Rolling Stone wrote a great article a couple of years ago about the tens of thousands of hogs that Smithfield raises in the state and the vast lagoons of waste the animals produce:
In 1999, Hurricane Floyd washed 120,000,000 gallons of unsheltered hog waste into the Tar, Neuse, Roanoke, Pamlico, New and Cape Fear rivers. Many of the pig-shit lagoons of eastern North Carolina were several feet underwater. Satellite photographs show a dark brown tide closing over the region's waterways, converging on the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound and feeding itself out to sea in a long, well-defined channel. Very little freshwater marine life remained behind. Tens of thousands of drowned pigs were strewn across the land. Beaches located miles from Smithfield lagoons were slathered in feces. A picture taken at the time shows a shark eating a dead pig three miles off the North Carolina coast.
What does it mean for us as environmental reporters to have a conference meal sponsored by a company like Smithfield? Would we accept a lunch sponsored by Peabody Energy (an analogy suggested to me by blogmistress Lisa Palmer)?
At the same time, is a Smithfield breakfast really any more ethically problematic than the receptions sponsored by other interest groups, such as the Southern Environmental Law Center?