Bottom of the (Pork) Barrel

Bottom of the (Pork) Barrel

Pigs in a crowded sty in Wieckowice, Poland. Photo: Wojciech Grzedzinski for The International Herald Tribune. <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/visionshare/3508357536/">visionshare (flickr)</a>
Pigs in a crowded sty in Wieckowice, Poland. Photo: Wojciech Grzedzinski for The International Herald Tribune. visionshare (flickr)

Pork is a staple of the Romanian diet, and the country has become one of the largest producers of pig products in Europe. But it's not necessarily Romanians who are profiting from the growing industry.

U.S. agribusiness giant Smithfield Foods has carved its way into Eastern Europe's pork market, tapping European Union farm subsidies to set up shop in countries like Poland and Romania. Since its arrival in 1999, the Virginia-based Fortune 500 company has swiftly become Romania's top pork producer.

Smithfield has upended traditional ways of doing farming in Romania, one of Europe's poorest countries. The New York Times reports that 90 percent of the country's small farmers have lost their jobs in the last six years. Many have been forced to leave home in search of construction jobs in other EU member states.

The impacts of Smithfield's empire can be tracked all the way to West Africa, where the company exports cheap pork scraps to markets in Liberia, Equatorial Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire. In these countries, frozen offal sells at half the price of local pork — a bargain for consumers that again comes at the expense of local farmers.

“My farm isn’t working,” said Cote d'Ivoire farmer Patrice Yao, who told the The New York Times that he owns 45 hogs compared to the 100 he had three years ago."The Europeans are sending all their cheap meat to our market."

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