**See update/edit after 4th paragraph regarding pig slaughter method.**
This 2006 article from Rolling Stone sums up all of Smithfield Foods' dirty little secrets quite well. The subtitle tells us that "America's top pork producer churns out a sea of waste that has destroyed rivers, killed millions of fish and generated one of the largest fines in EPA history. Welcome to the dark side of the other white meat."
And as I suspected, the Chairman of Smithfield Foods, according to the article, is reaping the benefits in his "multimillion-dollar condo on Park Avenue in Manhattan and conveys himself about the planet in a corporate jet and a private yacht." (The article also notes that "the 500,000 pigs at a single Smithfield subsidiary in Utah generate more fecal matter each year than the 1.5 million inhabitants of Manhattan.")
If that's not disturbing enough, I realized after watching the documentary film Food, Inc. (please follow that link and search for showtimes near you) that they are slaughtering their pigs in an illegal manner -- at least at the Tar Heel, NC slaughterhouse where a worker filmed undercover footage for the documentary. (The Tar Heel facility is the largest slaughterhouse in the world, by the way). What appeared to be groups of a dozen or so pigs crushed to death by machine (which was the same observation made in this movie review) is a far cry from the terms of the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958.
From the Wikipedia entry: "According to the law, animals should be stunned into unconsciousness prior to their slaughter to ensure a quick, relatively painless death." The pigs in the footage I saw were clearly, awake, walking, and "terrified" according to movie reviewer Brian Clark Howard.
Just last year, an undercover People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) investigator filmed a Sampson County employee mistreating pigs at another slaughterhouse. Consequently, the worker was charged with 6 counts of animal cruelty. What, I wonder, is the penalty for crushing approximately 35,000 pigs to death every day, possibly since 1992?
What you can do: Stop purchasing factory-farmed meat. This is found in fast food, most restaurants, and in most of the packaged meats in grocery stores. Instead, vote with your dollars by supporting local farmers who treat their livestock humanely. I just found this local, grass-fed ground beef at WholeFoods for $4.99/lb - which meant my husband's burger meat cost a whopping $1.75: