In a recent interview with vegan advocacy newsletter VegNews, U.S. Rep. Cory Booker (D-NJ) seems to be taking the plight of North Carolina hog farmers and their neighbors seriously.
Pork producer Smithfield, a former U.S. family company now owned by a Chinese conglomerate, has lost several recent lawsuits brought by neighbors of their domestic hog farms. Juries have awarded the plaintiffs millions of dollars in penalties as compensation for the air pollution they say has made their life a living hell.
“Literally, people that are living in those communities can’t open their windows, can’t run their air-conditioning, can’t put their clothes out on the clothing lines,” Booker told VegNews.
Booker is an early Democrat candidate for the 2020 presidential race.
Lawsuits have alleged that Smithfield crams thousands of hogs into a small area, concentrating the waste they produce. That waste is stored in outdoor ditches and sprayed as fertilizer onto nearby fields, sending the bacterial contaminants airborne.
The congressman noted that the methods Smithfield employs not only can cause respiratory diseases and cancer, but also are damaging the livelihood of the local farmers subcontracted to operate the hog farms.
Booker said Smithfield treats farmers “more like sharecroppers than small business people.
“It is grounding down the livelihood, the environment, the health and safety of folks,” Booker said. “And all to do what? To produce pork that is being exported back by a Chinese company, Smithfield, being exported back to China. China is treating us now like a colonized country by outsourcing all of their pollution onto the United States.”
Although he sounded a sympathetic tone when it comes to helping U.S. small business farmers, Booker was also critical of the industry itself.
“This planet simply can’t sustain billions of people consuming industrially produced animal agriculture,” Booker told VegNews. “It’s just not possible, as China, as Africa move toward consuming meat the same way America does because we just don’t have enough land.”
For Booker, the culprits are familiar left-wing targets: the agricultural lobby and the big-business meat producers they represent. He ties the increase in meat consumption, which he blames on the American diet and up-consumption in emerging countries, to greenhouse gas production and threats to the rain forest.
He also described Smithfield and its peers as being successful because of hard-nosed strategies unfavorable to American farmers.
He stopped short, however, of condemning meat consumption altogether, nor is he advocating a ban on meat eating.
Responding to what’s happening in North Carolina “doesn’t mean, in any way, getting rid of animal farming, but in many ways, it means lifting up the voices of small farmers again,” Booker said. “It’s just crushing our ideas of family farms, crushing our ideas of the power of the American farmer. It’s something we have to start talking about.”