October 1, 2012
Compassion Without Borders
HSI combats factory farming in Mexico
by Julie Falconer
What awakens Fausto Limón in the middle of the night isn’t a sound but a smell. Since 1994, the Perote Valley, Mexico, resident’s closest neighbor has been a massive pig farm co-owned by U.S.-based Smithfield Foods. When the stench is unbearable, Limón and his family get out of bed and drive in search of cleaner air. On those nights, the rural farmer, his wife, and their three teenagers sleep in the car.
Mexico has no laws limiting factory farms’ size, location, or proximity to human populations, so people like Limón have little recourse when industrial-size pig or chicken operations move in. “It’s land that his family has had for several generations,” says Humane Society International’s Sergio Moncada. “He plants crops and sells dairy products from the two cows that he has. He knows no other way of life, so leaving the valley, leaving what he has, is nearly impossible.”
The plight of the communities
Limón’s is one of many stories Moncada has uncovered since he began documenting how industrial pig factories affect communities in the Perote Valley, where factory-raised pigs outnumber human residents by more than five to one. Along with noxious air pollution, residents are contending with contaminated groundwater, depleted aquifers, and even the loss of their livelihoods, as small- and medium-size pork producers are forced out of business.
Moncada’s work is “critical to fighting the misperception that factory farming provides economic opportunities for poor communities,” says HSI director of farm animal issues Chetana Mirle.
Working for change
At the heart of HSI’s campaign are gestation crates that allow each factory farm to confine thousands of breeding pigs, and that are so small the animals can’t even turn around. Campaigners are enlisting support from environmental and social justice advocates and encouraging retailers to require higher welfare standards from their suppliers.
The Mexico campaign is still young, but Moncada is optimistic that it will have an impact for animals and for people like the Limóns. “They’re facing a government that’s not listening. And an industry that does not want any reforms,” he says. “They are very, very thankful to have the presence of international organizations here.”
A video documenting the impact of pig factory farms on the Perote communities can be found here.