Time for JBS Swift to pack up its piggies and go

When a truck full of pigs overturns on a downtown highway en route to a slaughterhouse that sits amidst homes, a thriving business and entertainment district and a large, therapeutic children’s home, it is yet another reminder to start talking about the future of the JBS Swift pork processing plant.

JBS Swift needs to pack up its piggies and move out of Butchertown. It isn’t just that it smells bad or that it is an eyesore. It’s so much more than that.

The company traces its roots to the mid-19th century when Swift and Company was started in Massachusetts by Gustavus Franklin Swift. The plant in Louisville was built in the late 1960s when Butchertown wasn’t exactly in the heart of a major metropolitan city as it is today. Butchertown was the place where farmers brought their animals for processing. As the city grew, the other slaughterhouses and farmers took their livestock operations elsewhere.

Andrew Cornelius, former president of the Butchertown Neighborhood Association, said the crash further highlights the disconnect between the JBS industrial plant and the quickly evolving neighborhood. Across the street is Butchertown Market, with Work The Metal, Cellar Door Chocolates, Moss Hill Bath and Body and Bourbon Barrel Foods. A block away is Copper & Kings Distillery, a beautifully designed facility that sponsors community events and draws tourists. Next door to Copper & Kings is Play Louisville, a popular dance club with high-quality drag shows and a theater.

Butchertown is happening.

And then there is JBS, more than a block of industrial buildings split by a train line and visited by a parade of trucks filled with hogs on the way to slaughter.

“I can’t get the image of the dead pigs from the semi crash on the interstate in Spaghetti Junction out of my mind,” Cornelius said. “It was the perfect display of short term thinking and lack of vision for Louisville’s future. You had dead pigs, going to the only urban mega-slaughter house in the country, strewn about a newly expanded waterfront expressway, in an era when other city’s are removing those expressways and reclaiming their waterfronts. That combination is mind-blowing in 2017.”

JBS’ relationship with the neighborhood is continually strained by the smells emanating from the plant and the cavalcade of stinky trucks filled with hogs. Neighbors have complained for years. So much so that the neighborhood versus JBS has become a part of daily life in Butchertown. JBS makes claims about its neighborly-ness, but those in the area say different.

“The JBS plant has been, and continues to be a persistent nuisance,” said Cornelius. “The upgrades are the minimal effort on behalf the company to make JBS look like they decent corporate citizen.”

Several attempts to reach JBS for comment were unsuccessful.

Regardless of whether you agree with the slaughter of hogs for food, JBS has had problems. Swift has been hit with many violations in recent years and this year it was cited for the “egregious” charge of violating humane slaughter guidelines. According to a January article in The Courier-Journal, plant inspectors cited Swift after noting employees had to use bolt guns more than once to put down animals.

As recently as two weeks ago, in The CJ, a story following up on the Swift violations said the plant has agreed to pay $60,000 in fines for several of the violations, including the improper draining of fat. Plant Manager Peter Charbonneau told the paper that the company had been working with the Air Pollution Control District to correct issues at the plant. He said Swift has a “positive working relationship” with the APCD. Part of its agreement, according to the story, is that they admit no wrongdoing.

The plant has had so many violations, animals are suffering, and the neighborhood surrounding the plant is asking for them to vacate — all good reasons for Louisville to step in and encourage this move. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, agrees, and it’s erecting a billboard to commemorate the pigs killed on the freeway.

Times have changed, so now, it is Swift’s opportunity to do the area a solid and hit the road. If increased production is what the plant wants, it needs facilities that can handle the increased capacity. It needs to look outside of Butchertown. There are areas.

Former owner of NexGenCAM and Butchertown resident Charles Davis shared with LEO his “Open Letter to Mayor Fischer” about the JBS plant. “The main thing holding Butchertown back is the location of the JB Swift plant, separating Butchertown from Irish and Crescent Hills. Simply put: a big, ugly and smelly slaughtering plant whose trucks idle at night is completely incompatible with a vibrant residential, cultural, tourist and technology center,” he wrote. Davis never heard from the mayor.

Davis moved to Butchertown a year and a half ago. He loves the area and sees its potential but is baffled by the continued presence of JBS. He isn’t the only one. The late Branden Klayko of Broken Sidewalk and former LEO editor Stephen George have also questioned JBS Swift’s continued presence.

“It’s a thorn in the side that keeps that area from exploding in a very good way,” Davis said. He suggests the city do a land swap or that JBS move closer to the airport. “Out by the airport there’s plenty of space. There’s got to be a place where there’s no close by residential. ”

Cornelius said the battle to move JBS is not an attack on the workers. “The issue is 100 percent management and bottom-line driven. The workers are unfortunately caught in the middle of the actions their management team chooses,” he said.

Cornelius and Davis do not want to see the workers displaced, and they think the airport space may actually improve worker options including opening the possibilities of more bus lines to and from work. A move for JBS could mean new possibilities for transportation of animals and positive benefits including expanded and improved facilities and better working conditions. The plant employs 1,300 United Food and Commercial Workers union members making it one of the larger local employers. It is important that these jobs are preserved.

Whether or not Butchertown continues to hold on to its history of being where animal slaughter happens should be up to residents. If they are looking toward the future with a vibrant and more modern neighborhood, perhaps putting the carnage behind them is a good first step.

That means JBS Swift needs to go.