Animal-rights activists have a vigil set for Wednesday outside the Farmer John slaughterhouse in Vernon for the thousands of pigs killed at the facility for food despite plans for the plant to close in early 2023.
The plant and its associated hog-production farm have been the target of weekly vigils organized by the Animal Alliance Network, protesting the treatment of baby pigs they say are raised in cramped conditions until they are loaded onto trucks bound for the slaughterhouse.
This week’s demonstration comes just days after the plant’s Virginia-based owner announced the facility would close in early 2023, citing the rising costs of doing business in California. Parent company Smithfield Foods is also exploring “strategic options to exit its farms in Arizona and California.”
Company officials said they are providing “transition assistance” to employees at the plant, including “relocation options” to other Smithfield facilities and farms.
“We are grateful to our team members in the Western region for their dedication and invaluable contributions to our mission. We are committed to providing financial and other transition assistance to employees impacted by this difficult decision,” Smithfield Chief Operating Officer Brady Stewart said in a statement.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn has also pledged to assist workers who will be displaced after the plant closes.
“The planned closure of the Farmer John plant in Vernon will have an impact on the economy and workers in Southeast LA County,” Hahn said in a statement Friday. “I will do everything I can to get County resources to Farmer John employees to help them with the job training and assistance they need to get new good-paying jobs.”
John Grant, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, which represents union meat-packers at the plant, said he hopes another operator takes over the operation.
“Despite a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with Farmer John employees and their union, Smithfield has decided to exit operations in California,” Grant said in a statement. “A fair agreement that compensates their workers until next year has been reached, and we hope that another operator will take advantage of the highly trained and stable workforce that makes the Farmer John plant a productive and profitable part of Vernon’s packing infrastructure.”
A union spokeswoman told City News Service that there are roughly 1,500 UFCW workers at the plant, with other workers represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the International Union of Operating Engineers.
The Animal Alliance Network has long criticized the Farmer John plant and organizers announced Saturday that those vigils will continue.
During the demonstrations, volunteers show up in the early morning hours to offer water and human touch to the animals in the back of the trucks as they await entry into the slaughterhouse.
“They are packed into trucks with over a hundred of them piled together, often without room to move freely,” according to the organization’s website. “These pigs are usually raised in warehouses without windows and the first time they see the light is when they are loaded onto these trucks.”
The activists said they have spoken with Jim Monroe, vice president of corporate affairs at Smithfield, and asked the company to expand its plant-based meat line, Pure Farmland, or even shift to a plant-based business model, which they said “will save millions of pigs’ lives, be healthier for their consumers, safer for those living in close proximity to their slaughterhouses, and be sustainable for our environment overall.
“We believe that a transition to plant-based meats will be better for their business and their employees in the long run. Slaughterhouse work is at the top of the most dangerous and traumatic work a person can do,” the group said.
Monroe and other Smithfield officials could not be reached for comment, but the group said Monroe “expressed his willingness to speak again regarding our requests and possibly share our requests with others at Smithfield.”
The activists say they’ve also offered to help coordinate the rescue of “a few” pigs who would be sent to sanctuaries, but the company has so far declined that request.
In 2019, Farmer John chose not to renew its contract to supply Dodger Dogs to Dodger Stadium and grocery stores after more than 50 years.
It is unclear what will happen to the meat-packing facility at 3049 E. Vernon Ave., which has long been a popular destination for tourists.