Life at Smithfield: An Eyewitness Account
As told by Charles G. Bohlinger IV, former employee
When the temp agency first sent me to Smithfield, I was excited that I’d finally found a job that I could do that wouldn’t hurt my already injured back. It was an awesome opportunity for a high school grad just out of the military and in need of money. But when I took my first trip to Smithfield, the first thing I noticed was the horrible smell—and it wasn’t just at the plant. The smell started miles away. It wasn’t until I worked there a while that I actually saw the source of it all.
I showed up for the night shift and was told that my job would be easy and require a few simple tasks. They showed me the ropes, and pretty soon, I was on my own—sitting in the little wooden security shack all night, signing trucks in and out. The trucks, packed with panicked pigs who were squealing with all of their might, started bothering me, but I tried to block it all out of my head. I had a job to do: to keep people who weren’t supposed to be there out, and I took my job seriously.
I remember the sick laughter of those who had been there for a long time. They’d make comments on how futile the pigs’ efforts were. I hated to see the pigs struggle and squeal in their tightly packed mobile cells or see their sad eyes peek out through the tiny openings. Though it was nighttime, the heat was unbearable that summer, and nothing was done to cool them off.
I eventually asked about the black smoke that appeared to be the source of one of the foulest smells. Smugly, a worker responded, “That is where the dead pigs go.” I instantly recalled a horrifying scene from the movie Schindler’s List.
Later, I jumped at the opportunity of getting out of that hot little shack and checking out the perimeter. If only I had known how that would end up. I drove around a corner and almost hit a gray mass that was on the ground. I realized that it was a dead pig who had been left there in the road, and it wouldn’t be the only thing I’d find before my career was over at Smithfield. In all, I couldn’t count how many ears, feet, or other body parts I found in different places.
It wasn’t until later that I found out how they treated animals who were still living. After pigs arrive on the truck, they’re kicked out into small holding chambers. Dead pigs are thrown aside and later transported to the largest pile of death you could imagine. Unlucky pigs who happen to survive transport are shooed and sometimes cattle-prodded up a ramp to an inside room. These rooms are the hottest that you will ever experience—and the most grotesque.
Here, pigs are shocked with a stun gun and thrown onto a conveyor belt, where their legs and feet are tied and their necks are broken in a bizarre machine. Not even a second later, they’re hung upside-down on a meat hook and sliced open. Their guts are scooped out and thrown into a trash can, which ends up next door to be processed as “other” pig products. The swinging bodies are still twitching as they continue on to be cut up into smaller pieces. Blood and guts are everywhere.
The heat that summer, combined with the countless gutted animals, made this whole scene unimaginable. The smell haunts me, and I still have nightmares. Two years later as I write this, I’m shaking, pale, and sick to my stomach. How can such barbaric behavior be all right? I remember how employees were reprimanded or fired because they couldn’t work as fast as others could in this killing spree. It was obvious that profit was the only thing that mattered to Smithfield.