When the email was sent out on Friday stating that Larry Pope, CEO of Smithfield will be speaking at this year’s Commencement, many CNU students were surprised and not in a good way. It was the topic of discussion in classrooms and hallways across campus, and my Facebook newsfeed further confirmed students’ concern.
It is no secret that Smithfield Foods is a sponsor of CNU and donates tons of money to the school. We now have two buildings named after both the founder (Joseph Luter) and the CEO (Larry Pope). And now we are having Larry Pope speaking at graduation. I know I am not the only person disgusted by this close-knit relationship our school has with a meat producer/processing plant. Just to prove that I am not a blind-sighted vegetarian, I actually met with Kathleen Kirkham, sustainability and social media manager of Smithfield Foods and talked with her about the company’s practices. The answers she gave me proved my suspicions about Smithfield. Kirkham mentioned that the pigs are all regularly treated with antibiotics from an early age and iodine shots are given to newborn pigs (for unknown reasons). For those of you who do not know this, antibiotics given to farm animals is excreted and can enter the waterways, making its way to us humans. Antibiotic resistance can then be established, causing people to get sick and even die because the medications no longer work on them. Smithfield has no plans to change these practices.
The company also gets rid of its waste in controversial wet manure lagoons. These lagoons are filled with a mixture of excrement, urine, blood, afterbirths, stillborn pigs, drugs and other chemicals, and guess what? It overflows when it rains and when the liners are punctured by rocks, causing all of this filth to be able to run into waterways and then come into contact with us. How disgusting, yet Smithfield once again refuses to acknowledge this as a problem, even though they have had leaks in the past, which have caused them to be fined $12 million by the EPA.
Now, to talk about the company itself. Smithfield workers have testified in court as to how unsafe the conditions are in a Smithfield plant because of how quickly they are expected to process an animal. Workers have no time to sharpen their knives, and so they have to swing harder, which usually results in injury. Also, in 2009 Smithfield was charged $900,000 for illegal merging activities with a company it was taking over; probably not something we want to use to encourage our business students, right? The company also spent $683,900 in 2012 to fight against California’s Prop 37, which would have required the labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients (possibly because their pigs are fed GM corn, and possibly for future hopes of GM pigs, who knows?). I am wondering how Smithfield even had money to throw into this cause after laying off 4,000 people in 2010 due to financial difficulties, but hey, who cares about workers?
And my last big complaint about Larry Pope speaking at our graduation is the fact that many people who have heard him speak before say that he speaks a lot about his religion. I know that the Tribles are religious and they incorporate their God into every speech they give (unfortunately) but why make graduating seniors and all of our families listen to that? We just want our diplomas, not a church service. I guess I should have expected to have an awful graduating ceremony though; this is CNU after all.
Senior Amanda Gray