Great Danes? Not in Poland.

story by Tom Garrett

On a quiet Sunday morning last June, Marek Kryda and I drove west from Gdansk through the forests and farm villages of the former Polish Corridor. Our focus was Poldanor, a Danish hog factory operation that preceded Smithfield Foods in Poland—arriving in 1998—and has grown alarmingly.

The area in central Pomorskie voivodeship where Poldanor operates is marked by no boundary, yet one has an immediate sense something has changed. Rural Poland's characteristic diversity is gone; in its place are immense fields bounded by walls of mature forest. The fields, in contrast to Polish practice, are monocultural; most are in maize.

The first stop was outside the town of Koczala, 70 miles from Gdansk, where Poldanor's largest hog factory is located. It is, as usual, a reconstructed state farm. The compound contains at least 25 large hog sheds, each painted a distinctive yellow-orange. This is the Poldanor color. We walked around the compound to the immense open concrete cesspool in which the effluent is stored; the concrete apron was covered with black residue.

By evening we had scouted and photographed three more large hog factories: automatic feeders whirring, pigs squealing. In two of them, effluent was being stored in corroded iron cisterns left from state farms. The next day we stopped at another Poldanor operation—the fields were so enormous that plowing tractors looked like insects.

After two days, Marek and I were convinced what we had observed was beyond the capacity of the owners of record, a Danish farming cooperative with 160 members. In central Pomorskie alone, Poldanor farms over 230 square miles and slaughters 300,000 pigs each year.

The months since our June reconnaissance have richly vindicated the impression that Poldanor had—lurking somewhere—a more massive partner. It does indeed: The Danish government! Poldanor's initial funding came from interest free loans advanced by the Danish Investment Fund for Central and Eastern Europe (IO), supervised by the Danish Foreign Ministry. Further, it now devolves that sitting members of the current Danish government, along with prominent ruling Liberal party members are among Poldanor investors. IO funds are also behind the malodorous Danish Farming Consultants hog factory in southwest Poland, and similar Danish operations in Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

When the Poldanor story finally broke last fall in the Danish magazine Fagbladet, Marek flew to Copenhagen for meetings with opposition MPs and heads of Danish trade unions. The Social Democrats attacked Poldanor's "blatant disregard for environment" Denmark's SiG trade union, interpreting both Poldanor's operations and the takeover of slaughterhouses in Eastern Poland by "Danish Crown" as outsourcing of Danish jobs, has called for a boycott of Polish meat.

On the face, Poldanor appears to be in trouble. Open cesspools are illegal under Danish law, EU regulations and the Polish Fertilizer Act. Only one Poldanor hog factory has an EU mandated "integrated permit," four—long after the deadline—have not even applied. Other infractions have come to light. The Naclaw hog factory, for example, is confining 12,000 pigs under an outdated state farm permit authorizing 3,000. If the laws are enforced, most of Poldanor will simply be shut down.

But the laws are not being enforced, and neither Poldanor nor its backers in the Danish government have shown the least sign of contrition. On the contrary, Poldanor has just announced a joint venture with Tikon, Denmark's second largest hog butcher, to purchase a bacon processing plant and a slaughterhouse with a capacity of 1.5 million pigs annually at Nowe, south of Gdansk.

What now seems underway is an unabashed attempt by Danish industrial agribusiness, with the full cooperation of the Danish government, to seize as much of Poland's former state farm system as they can, in any way that they can. We are faced with a new battle: one that we did not want but that we cannot avoid.