The retail prices may be low, but they fail to include impacts on human health, the environment, and other shared public assets.
You will ultimately foot a much bigger bill, paying your part of hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies, medical expenses, insurance premiums, declining property values, and mounting cleanup costs.
Lie #2: Industrial Food is Efficient
Industrial food animal producers rely on heavily subsidized agriculture, large infusions of capital, and lax enforcement of regulations. High productivity and domination of market share should not be confused with efficiency. When you measure total cost per unit of production, or even net profit per animal, you find that confinement operations come with hidden costs.
Lie #3: Industrial Food is Healthy
Industrial animal food production heightens the risk of the spread of food-borne illnesses. And it is no coincidence that rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity are at an all-time high. What's more, respiratory diseases and outbreaks of illnesses are increasingly common among CAFO and slaughterhouse workers -- and spill over into neighboring communities.
According to AlterNet:
"Food production that is safe for the environment, humane to animals, and sound for workers and communities gives us the best chance for a food system that is safe and healthy for eaters and producers alike."
The cheap dollar menus at fast-food restaurants and sales on meat in your grocery store at prices that are often less per pound than the price of tomatoes are courtesy of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, otherwise known as CAFO or factory farms.
These buys may seem like a steal, but they are no bargain when it comes to your health, the environment or the animals' welfare. In the new book CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories, you can get an inside look at the real, tragic effects of factory farms, as told through a collection of over 400 photos and 30 essays.
The three lies above came from an excerpt of this book … and they begin to reveal the true price of CAFOs.
Why Cheap Food is No Bargain for Your Health
Cheap food is actually incredibly expensive once everything is added up, including stratospheric health care costs, continued dependence on fossil fuels, and the destruction of the earth as a whole.
As written in CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories:
"These costs, known among economists as "externalities," include massive waste emissions with the potential to heat up the atmosphere, foul fisheries, pollute drinking water, spread disease, contaminate soils, and damage recreational areas.
Citizens ultimately foot the bill with hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies, medical expenses, insurance premiums, declining property values, and mounting cleanup costs."
None of these immeasurable costs are factored into the $1 cheeseburger you had for lunch, but they exist nonetheless.
The environment is being impacted by these massive Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations as I write this, with animal wastes contaminating water and releasing greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide into the air. Workers in these facilities also suffer from the emissions, as do those in nearby communities.
Soil and water are also further devastated by the long-term use of pesticides and fertilizers used to grow food for livestock.
And those who eat the meat from these factories are unknowingly eating food that is pumped full of antibiotics that are fueling a growing rise in antibiotic-resistant organisms ("superbugs").
The meat is also in no way healthy, as the animals have been fed a completely unnatural diet of pesticide-laden grains or fishmeal, not to mention is highly likely to be contaminated with feces or other disease-causing organisms because of the unsanitary conditions in which the animals are forced to live.
Factory Farms are Not Efficient
From a strictly money-making standpoint, factory farms make sense. A large number of animals, typically 1,000 or more, are raised in a 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 their world. These would be foreign 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!
So if your idea of "efficiency" is producing massive quantities of meat, eggs and dairy products, factory farms are efficient.
But at what real cost?
As written in CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories:
" … high productivity or domination of market share should not be confused with efficiency. When we measure the total cost per unit of production, or even the net profit per animal, a more sobering picture emerges.
Confinement operations come with a heavy toll of external costs--inefficiencies that extend beyond the CAFO or feedlot. These hidden costs include subsidized grain discounts, unhealthy market control, depleted aquifers, polluted air and waterways, and concentrated surpluses of toxic feces and urine."
Government Subsidies Support Factory Farms & Punish Small Farmers
Factory farms use massive quantities of corn, soy and grain in their animal feed, all crops that they are often able to purchase at below cost because of government subsidies.
Because of these subsidies, U.S. farmers produce massive amounts of soy, corn, wheat, etc. -- rather than vegetables -- leading to a monoculture of foods that create a fast food diet.
In essence, these commodity programs are subsidies for the creation of junk and fast food, not REAL food that could have a positive impact on public health. But in addition to producing little else but fast food, this type of monoculture is also very dependent on fossil fuels.
As Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma, has stated, we're actually eating oil -- we just don't know it. Because when you grow one type of crop almost exclusively, you deplete the soil, which means you have to use more fertilizer, which is made from fossil fuel. Monocultures also invite more pests, which need to be treated with ever increasing amounts of pesticides -- also made from fossil fuel.
The only reason factory farms are able to remain so "efficient," bringing in massive profits while selling their food for bottom-barrel prices, is because they substitute subsidized crops for pasture grazing. As CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories states:
"Thanks to U.S. government subsidies, between 1997 and 2005, factory farms saved an estimated $3.9 billion per year because they were able to purchase corn and soybeans at prices below what it cost to grow the crops.
Without these feed discounts, amounting to a 5 to 15 percent reduction in operating costs, it is unlikely that many of these industrial factory farms could remain profitable.
By contrast, many small farms that produce much of their own forage receive no government money. Yet they are expected somehow to match the efficiency claims of the large, subsidized megafactory farms. On this uneven playing field, CAFOs may falsely appear to "outcompete" their smaller, diversified counterparts.
What Type of Food Would You Rather Eat?
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 …
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, forced to live in its own feces, 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 for 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.
Take Responsibility for Who (and What) You are Supporting When You Buy Your Food
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.
But that doesn't mean you have to go on supporting it.
There are still small farmers out there who raise animals as animals, not commodities. These farmers allow their cattle to graze on pasture; they produce only manageable amounts of waste that is used, in turn, to fertilize crops. They forgo dangerous chemicals, hormones and drugs, and their farms operate as self-sustaining ecosystems, producing very little waste or pollution.
The food from these farms may cost more than what you can find at your local supermarket, but the benefits it offers you in terms of your health and the environment are priceless.
By far, the vast majority of food at your local supermarket comes from polluting, inhumane farm conglomerations. So if you want to stop supporting them, you need to find a new place to shop.
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.
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 and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), providing a very graphic and powerful reinforcement of the material presented in this article.
I strongly encourage you to view this film as it will empower you and your family to make positive changes. Collectively we can have a very profound impact.