By Emilio Godoy
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which governed trade between Canada, the United States, and Mexico from 1994 to this July, facilitated the expansion of industrial meat production in Mexico.
With its replacement, the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), and the growth of the Chinese market, the pork industry has found new areas of growth, while its social and environmental impacts multiply.
South-eastern Yucatán state has become the epicenter of this expansion, due to its strategic access to the United States and Asia through the port of Progreso, and the abundance of resources including water and GMO soy.
Alberto Rodríguez, president of the non-profit organization Consejo Maya del Poniente de Yucatán “Chikin Há”, says that water is the magnet attracting companies to the region. “Because there is a lot of water, the big pork farms come, it attracts them. To raise pigs, you need tons of water, because the animals can’t survive without it.”
Rodríguez, a campesino and fisherman who has been painting houses during the pandemic, lives in the ejido of Kinchil—a designation of communal land—in the municipality of the same name in the south east of Yucatán. The town is the site of a farm with 12,000 hogs, property of the Grupo Porcina Mexicano (Mexican Pork Group) company, known colloquially as Kekén, or pig in the Maya language, and one of the principal exporters to China and South Korea.
In July 2020, Mexico produced 136,000 tons of meat, 3.5 percent more than July 2019. Yucatán has become a new focal point of large-scale meat production, and now is the fourth most important state in the sector. As of March, Jalisco produced more meat than any other state, with 83,979 tons, followed by Sonora at 78,684 tons, Puebla with 42.801 tons and Yucatán at 36,733 tons.
Since 2014, meat consumption has also gone up, from 31 pounds per person in 2010 to 40 pounds in 2019. This shift has impacts in environmental resources across the country, as meat requires more water and grains to produce than other food sources.
NAFTA facilitated the transformation of the Mexican diet, by inducing increased consumption of processed foods, the production of inputs for these foods, and animal protein from industrialized farms. The United States innovated this model, based on the vertical integration of the production chain, and then exported it around the world to its neighbors and trade partners.
The U.S. also encouraged the export of American livestock to Mexican market, which as we will see later, may have been a factor in causing the swine flu pandemic in Mexico in 2009.
Industrial Pig Farming Expands
The industry has grown, despite public health consequences. In 2009, the H1N1 influenza pandemic began in the rural community of La Gloria, in the southern-eastern state of Veracruz, near the installations of Granjas Carroll, a pork farm owned by Smithfield Foods and the Mexican company Agroindustrias Unidas de México. The pandemic ended up killing more than 280,000 people globally. Starting in 1994, NAFTA facilitated the entry of companies like Smithfield to Mexico, which devastated small scale pork farms.
Pork and poultry factory farms are a prime location for the emergence and transmission of pathogens, like the swine flu, because thousands of animals are crammed into small spaces. Pigs have the capacity to incubate influenza viruses, due to their vulnerability to catching them from poultry strains and humans and passing them on.
In 2013, the Chinese company WH Group Ltd, based in Hong Kong, acquired Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer and processor. In 2015, Granjas Carroll, which has an installed capacity for 90,000 pigs, began expanding. In 2019, the company opened a plant with the goal of 10,000 livestock killed a day.
To reproduce the conditions of NAFTA, the USMCA both maintains this industrial model, and stimulates its growth by opening new markets for pork. The Covid-19 pandemic may impose limits on this expansion, improve regulations in the industrial meat sector, and improve production practices.
The Mexican pork industry plans to continue to expand installed capacity and production, fueled by the opening of new markets, such as China
Today in Mexico, there are at least 1,176 farms, of which 119 are categorized as Federal Inspection Type (TIF)—which must meet the strictest norms of security and hygiene and are certified for exports—904 municipal, and 153 private, with an installed capacity of 89.38 million livestock, including 1.76 million pigs.Click here to see more...
The pork sector has the second highest occupied capacity, at 92 percent, following the poultry sector, which is over-capacity, at 110 percent.
In the case of Puebla, the state has historically been the heart of the pork industry. Jalisco has a strong tradition of meat packing, much like Sonora, which is favored for its proximity to the United States. Yucatán has become a new growth area, for the availability of land for development, and its strategic access to the U.S. and Asian markets.