No doubt there's still some squealing to be done in the protein world. This isn't really news at this point, though, as we've heard from companies ranging from Tyson (NYSE:TSN) to Sanderson Farms (NASDAQ:SAFM) to Hormel (NYSE:HRL) on the tougher operating environment for meat producers. And while Smithfield (NYSE:SFD) may like to brag about its long-term performance (a worthy boast, mind you), it's suffering just like everyone else now.

The numbers from the quarter pretty much tell the tale. Revenue dropped 8%, gross margins fell four full points, and operating profits were cut down by more than 70%. Just look at the details in the hog production business and you see the trouble -- market prices for live hogs are down about 17%, while raising costs are basically flat (and up a bit sequentially).

It's not exactly the end of the world, though. First, certain product categories like pre-cooked items are doing well. Second, companies like Smithfield have been through these ups and downs before and know that they are just a part of being in this line of business. In other words, I don't expect management to panic or look for quick fixes that might improve today's results at the expense of tomorrow.

All of that is admittedly cold comfort to investors who bought the stock expecting a repeat of the performance from 2000 to 2005. I mean, does it really soften the sting of seeing red on your screen to know that this too shall pass? Does news that the company might buy SaraLee's (NYSE:SLE) European meat business make you feel much better?

I write a lot on the meat complex, so my opinions on the various players are pretty well-known. In the case of Smithfield, it has never been my favorite pick and it really isn't today either. It is a good company, though, and investors looking to make an opportunistic bet on the meat sector should at least give it a once-over in their due diligence.

For more meaty Foolishness:

Sara Lee is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection.

Fool contributor Stephen Simpson but has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).