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Possible Smithfield Foods Sale Could Put Pig Promises in Jeopardy

PHOTO: The Humane Society of the United States wants Smithfield Foods to continue to phase out use of "gestational crates," even if it is sold to a Chinese company. Photo credit: Humane Society of the United States
PHOTO: The Humane Society of the United States wants Smithfield Foods to continue to phase out use of "gestational crates," even if it is sold to a Chinese company. Photo credit: Humane Society of the United States
May 30, 2013

RICHMOND, Va. - After the Humane Society of the United States exposed the treatment of pigs at a Smithfield factory in Virginia, the company promised to make changes, including expanding the cramped cages that didn't allow pigs to move. Now that the company could be sold to a Chinese firm, a Humane Society official is worried about the fate of those factory-farm improvements.

"As terrible as animal welfare in the U.S. agricultural industry is, it is even worse in China," said Paul Shapiro, the society's vice president for farm animal protection, "so there is a real concern about that here."

Smithfield's chief executive issued a statement saying the company - the largest pork producer in the United States - does not anticipate any changes in how it does business. Shapiro sees that as a good sign.

"Fortunately, the modest animal welfare policies that Smithfield does have seem to be remaining in place even in light of this new information," Shapiro said. "However, we need to be vigilant, and those policies need to be strengthened."

China's Shuangui International announced Wednesday it would buy Smithfield Foods for $4.7 billion in cash. The deal still must be approved by a federal panel that reviews such transactions with foreign companies.

The Smithfield Foods statement is online at investors.smithfieldfoods.com.

Alison Burns, Public News Service - VA