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Virginia Company Involved in Controversial Court Case in Poland

Jan. 4, 2005

Virginia Company Involved in Controversial Court Case in Poland

SmithfieldFoods Fights Small Family Farmers to Expand Its Market Reach

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Smithfield Foods might bill itself as a family company from Virginia, but in establishing itself as a major player in the international hog market, its aggressive business model is creating waves in Poland.   Today marks the first day of a trial in Wolsztyn, Poland, where four farmers are charged with threatening one of Smithfield’s contractors with arson.   

The accused farmers, plus more than 20 others, say the Smithfield contractor is siphoning away their business by raising thousands of hogs on a farm in the village, so they protested by blocking the entrance to the contractor’s farm for nearly two months – but did not set any fires.

“The only way the contractor could remove the protesting farmers was by accusing them of threats of arson,” said Andrianna Natsoulas, field director for Public Citizen’s food program. “This trial is likely just the beginning of what will be seen in Poland as Smithfield increases its global market shares in the face of active resistance by family farmers who do not want to be forced out of business by an agribusiness giant taking advantage of corporate-managed trade rules in a global economy.” 

Smithfield owns and operates large industrial pig operations in several countries, including Poland, where thousands of pigs are crammed together and are unable to see sunlight and breathe fresh air, and do not have enough space to move freely.

“Smithfield’s motto is that they control their hogs from ‘squeal to meal,’ but their predatory approach isn’t working with farmers in Poland who don’t want an American company taking over their land and undercutting their prices, which forces them out of business,” said Natsoulas.

Smithfield is a major supplier of pork and processed meats to the food service, retail and international markets.  In 2003, Smithfield’s domestic sales totaled more than $8 billion and its foreign sales totaled $1.3 billion.

Smithfield started doing business in Poland in 1999 when it bought its ownership stake in Animex, a leading meat production and processing company in Poland.   Two years later, two businessmen from Poland, representing a company called Prima Foods, started buying hog farms in northwestern Poland and signing deals with small-scale farmers. Soon, Polish authorities learned that Smithfield was using Prima as a front company, providing the funds for buying the farms. This permitted Prima to grab the land without violating a Polish law that restricted foreign companies from buying more farmland.

“We urge American consumers to learn more about what American companies are getting away with overseas,” said Natsoulas.  “Smithfield is moving into other countries, destroying traditional ways of life and ignoring or circumventing national laws. The Polish contractor has a permit for only 150 pigs, but Smithfield is operating a facility that can hold up to 4,500 pigs.”

Animex, the Smithfield subsidiary, sold $338 million worth of goods in 2003, sells nine brands of meats to Poles, operates six subsidiary companies and seven processing plants, and has 5,300 people on the payroll. 

It appears that Smithfield’s foreign subsidiaries are following its U.S. trend of being polluters.  In the United States, Smithfield was fined $12.6 million for violating federal pollution standards in the Clean Water Act because waste from its slaughterhouse in Smithfield, Va., leaked into the Pagan River, James River and the Chesapeake Bay for more than five years.

Similarly, in 2003, in Byszkowo, Poland, a frozen lagoon full of pig waste from a Smithfield subsidiary melted and made its way into the local water supply. The water took on a brown color, one child developed an eye infection and rashes while swimming in contaminated lake water, and villagers endured the terrible stench that pervaded the air. Smithfield’s response, from company vice president Dennis Treacy, was condescending: “We are obeying Polish law and safe farming practices.” 

To read Public Citizen’s corporate profile on Smithfield, go to https://www.citizen.org/sites/default/files/smithfield.pdf.