Among the problems Kirby notes:
“... you're often no longer feeding animals what they're genetically designed to eat. CAFO cows eat a diet of milled grains, corn and soybeans, when they are supposed to eat grass.
The food isn't natural because they very often put growth hormones and antibiotics in it. That becomes a problem when you put that manure on the ground.”
Animal Factory also looks at the fate of the Neuse River in North Carolina, where waste runoff from pig farms caused massive fish die-offs.
Factory farms, or as the industry calls them “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations” (CAFO), are the commercial equivalent of the small family farm. What Wal-Mart is to shopping, factory farms are to agriculture.
From a strictly money-making standpoint, factory farms make sense. A large number of animals, typically 1,000 or more, are raised in one small area, fed cheap (typically grain-based) food, and supplemented with hormones and antibiotics to maximize their growth potential.
Things like access to pasture or natural foods, sunlight and fresh air are not a part of this world. These would be superfluous to an industry that is solely interested in producing the maximum amount of meat for the least amount of money.
Unfortunately, their business model has been working. As Time magazine reported, 2 percent of U.S. livestock facilities produce 40 percent of farm animals!
But as David Kirby’s new book Animal Factory reveals, this irresponsible “big business” attitude toward farming and food is having disastrous consequences, for both your health and that of the environment.
What Happens When Thousands of Animals are Raised in One Small Space?
While the implications for the animals are obvious, the impact on the environment is very well concealed from public view. When you raise thousands of animals, you’re left with a lot of waste.
In a small farm setting, that waste is used to naturally fertilize the land, and in that way it becomes quite healthy. In a factory farm setting, however, there is no way you can use millions of gallons of animal waste in a “healthy” way. So, large “lagoons” are created to hold the waste, or excessive amounts of the waste are sprayed onto crops in the area.
It is not at all unusual for this waste to leach into groundwater or run off into surface waters. At Farm Sanctuary, a farm animal protection organization, they explain what this means for the future of the environment:
“The quantity of waste produced by farm animals in the U.S. is more than 130 times greater than that produced by humans. Agricultural runoff has killed millions of fish, and is the main reason why 60% of America's rivers and streams are "impaired."
In states with concentrated animal agriculture, the waterways have become rife with pfiesteria bacteria. In addition to killing fish, pfiesteria causes open sores, nausea, memory loss, fatigue and disorientation in humans.”
If you want to get an inside look at what really goes on in factory farms, you can view the Farm Sanctuary photo gallery … but I warn you, it is not for the faint of heart.
Do You Really Want to Eat Factory Farmed Animals?
If you were to grow food for you own family, my guess is that you, like most people, would do so with extreme care -- the best seeds, the healthiest animals, the least amount of chemical additives. Yet, when most people buy their food they have no idea where it actually comes from, and conversely the people who grow this food have no idea who ends up eating it.
So to the “farmer,” you are a stranger. When people are able to grow food for the faceless masses, I think it somehow justifies these terrible practices that have become commonplace: pumping animals full of hormones and drugs, dousing vegetables with chemical pesticides and fertilizers, introducing genetically modified seeds into the environment.
If you had to see the animal you were about to eat before it makes its way to the supermarket or your dinner table, would you choose one that had lived out its days in a filthy, crowded cage? One that had been mutilated and tormented, then pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, while being fed pesticide-laden grains it was not designed to eat?
Or would you choose one that had lived a nurtured and well cared fort life, free to roam on pasture, see the sunlight and breathe in fresh air? One that was fed its natural diet and nothing more?
The choice is obvious, which is exactly why agri-business has done such a masterful job of concealing what really goes on from the vast majority of Americans.
All you see is a cellophane-wrapped package, maybe a picture of a barn with happy cows and chickens standing near. In many cases, if you could really see how that animal was raised, you would likely shield your children’s eyes, then turn away in disgust.
It’s Time to Open Your Eyes
Factory farms allow us to be removed from taking personal responsibility for raising our own food. There is no one to be held accountable for raising garbage food or treating animals inhumanely because the system has taken on a life of its own.
As for regulations, these are often done on the state and county level, and in agriculture-friendly states, industrial farms are given a lot of leeway. In fact, government subsidies are often paid out to these very farms. At Sustainable Table, they write:
“Because factory farms are considered “agricultural” instead of “industrial,” they are not subject to the regulation that their scale of production (and level of pollution) warrants.
Because they employ powerful lobbyists that can sway the government agencies responsible for monitoring agricultural practices, industrial farms are left free to pollute, to hire undocumented workers (and pay them next to nothing), and to locate their businesses without regard to the impact that has on surrounding communities.”
By far, the vast majority of food at your local supermarket comes from these polluting, inhumane farm conglomerations. So if you want to stop supporting them, you first need to find a new place to shop.
If you’re still on the fence, I suggest you watch the movie Food, Inc. The full 90-minute movie highlights two of the most prominent investigative journalists in the industry, Michal Pollan (Omnivore’s Dilemma) and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), providing a very graphic and powerful reinforcement of the material presented in this article.
I highly encourage you to view this film as it will empower you and your family to make changes. Collectively we can have a very profound impact.
Tips for Finding Safe, Humanely Raised Food Sources
It is relatively easy to find a humane and reliable source for your food -- sources that are growing food with the health of the environment and the animals as the driving forces.
At LocalHarvest.org, for instance, you can enter your zip code and find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, all with the click of a button. For an excellent list of sustainable agricultural groups in your area, please also see Promoting Sustainable Agriculture -- this page is filled with resources for high-quality produce and meats in your area.
The more we all make it a point to only buy food from a source we know and trust, the faster factory farming will become a shameful practice of the past.