Factory Farms Belong in a Museum

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June 06, 2017 | 19,538 views

Story at-a-glance

  • The expansion of industrial agriculture has coincided with a decline in global wildlife
  • Forty million hectares (nearly 100 million acres) of land have been slated for agricultural purposes over the last 10 years, particularly in Africa
  • In the last four decades, wildlife populations globally have declined by 50 percent

By Dr. Mercola

You may be aware that many of the world's most fascinating creatures — from penguins and elephants to jaguars — are facing massive population declines, to the point that many are on the brink of extinction. What you may not be aware of, however, is that the bulk of beef, pork, chicken, eggs and dairy sold at most U.S. grocery stores, and found on the majority of U.S. dinner tables, is partially (and significantly) responsible.

"Intensive farming causes immense harm to wildlife and is one of the biggest drivers of species extinction on the planet," according to Stop the Machine, a global campaign aimed at relegating factory farms, or CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), to museums.1 A key problem is that growing massive numbers of animals in a concentrated space means that natural grazing is virtually impossible.

As such, the animals are fed an unnatural diet of genetically engineered (GE) grains. A whopping 35 percent of cereal and soy harvested globally is fed to animals being raised on CAFOs.2 While promoting disease and inflammation in the animals and producing less nutritious food products, raising "grain-fed" food animals is a "wasteful and inefficient practice," Philip Lymbery, chief executive of Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), told The Guardian.3

Wildlife Populations Slashed While CAFO Animals Increase

The expansion of industrial agriculture has coincided with a decline in wildlife. The Guardian reported that 40 million hectares (nearly 100 million acres) of land have been slated for agricultural purposes over the last 10 year, particularly in Africa. Meanwhile, in the last four decades, wildlife populations globally have declined by 50 percent. They reported:4

"'Ten thousand years ago humans and our livestock accounted for about 0.1 percent of the world's large vertebrates,' said Tony Juniper, the former head of Friends of the Earth. 'Now we make up about 96 percent. This is a timely and necessary debate, and an issue that is being debated more and more.'"

If you're wondering what, exactly, the link is between CAFOs and wildlife that lives a world away, Stop the Machine painted a clear connection:5

Jaguars

There are only 15,000 jaguars left in the wild. Half of them live in Brazil, where grasslands and rainforests are increasingly being converted into soy plantations. Most of the soy is being grown to feed CAFO animals.

Sumatran Elephants

In Sumatra, lowland forests where Sumatran elephants depend on to live and survive, are being cleared out to plant palm plantations. A byproduct of this industry, palm kernels, is used to feed CAFO animals in Europe, making the palm industry more profitable and thus encouraging the clearing of more land.

The African Penguin

Fish farms, often referred to as CAFOs of the sea, are as equally devastating to the environment as their land-based counterparts. In South Africa, native penguins are facing a food shortage, caused by commercial fisheries catching massive quantities of fish. The fish are ground into fishmeal used to feed farm-raised salmon as well as CAFO chickens.

According to Stop the Machine, saving the world's wildlife is depending on stopping the CAFO, industrial agriculture machine: "The animals' only hope is that we act now. Intensive animal farming is one of the biggest drivers of species extinction and biodiversity loss. Two-thirds of wildlife loss is driven by food production. We must stop this crazy machine that kills wildlife to produce feed pellets, that pollutes our world, harms our health and causes suffering to millions of animals."6

CAFOs Are Not Necessary to Feed the World

Industrial agriculture is touted as the most efficient way to feed the world's growing population, but this is a deceptive myth. More than half of the world's calories (close to 60 percent) come from wheat, rice and corn, which is not only unhealthy but unsustainable.7 As noted by bioGraphic:8

"The Green Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s introduced higher-yielding wheat and rice, hybrid maize, fertilizers and novel pesticides to farmers. The changes brought life-saving jumps in crop productivity, most profoundly in Asia. But globally, they drastically reduced the types of crops being grown.

Hundreds of edible species were marginalized in favor of a few calorie-rich grains. And within a few decades, agriculture had been transformed from a complex, diverse, regional enterprise to evermore simplified, industrial production."

Unfortunately, as farmers increasingly plant mostly wheat, rice and corn (including for animal feed), more than 75 percent of crop genetic diversity has disappeared since the 1900s. "And that relentless march toward monoculture," bioGraphic noted, "leaves the homogenous fields more vulnerable to devastation by drought, pests and disease."9

CIWF's Lymbery noted that ending the practice of grain-feeding animals could actually feed another 4 billion people. He pointed to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) data, which found the crops harvested in 2014 could have fed more than 15 billion people, calorie wise, which is double the world's current population, had it not been largely wasted and funneled into animal feed.10

Lack of Federally Inspected Slaughterhouses Increases Hurdles for Small Farms

Access to slaughterhouses is one hurdle that keeps many small farmers from ultimately succeeding. All farmers must use USDA-approved slaughterhouses, and laws place special restrictions on grass fed slaughtering. If a grass fed rancher doesn't have access to a slaughterhouse, he cannot stay in business. This shrewd strategy effectively maintains the CAFO status quo because grass fed farmers are often forced to ship their animals hundreds of miles for "processing" — a move that's both costly and stressful.

Large slaughterhouses can also refuse smaller jobs, as they — just like CAFOs — operate on economy of scale. According to Bloomberg, there are about 1,100 federally inspected meat and poultry slaughterhouses in the U.S., but 215 of them handle 75 percent to 90 percent of the volume.11

Some slaughterhouses may handle 35,000 animals a day. Finding a USDA-inspected slaughterhouse that is nearby, treats animals ethically and is set up to handle various sizes of heritage breed animals often raised by small, specialty farmers is so challenging that it prevents many small producers from growing.

And farmers are typically unable to slaughter their own meat because the regulatory process is complex and expensive. While industrial farmers can easily plow through the red tape, small farmers may be forced out of business as a result. There are also claims, according to Bloomberg, that small slaughterhouses may be treated unfairly or even intimidated by USDA inspectors. They report:12

"In April 2017, seven enforcement actions were issued, according to an FSIS spokesperson — and five went to small and very small plants. In other words, slaughterhouses that produce a maximum of 25 percent of the country's beef, pork and chicken received 71 percent of the month's enforcement actions."

The Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption (PRIME) Act would allow states to permit sale of meat processed locally, thereby making it easier for small farms and ranches to serve their consumers. It was first introduced by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) in 2015, and he hopes to reintroduce it in 2017.

Eli Lilly Sues Company Suggesting Their Hormone Injections Are Unsafe

Meanwhile, Eli Lilly and Co. and its subsidiary Elanco US Inc. filed a lawsuit against Denmark-based Arla Foods, which ran a U.S. marketing campaign advertising their cheeses are made with milk from cows that do not consume recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rBST.13 Elanco is alleging the ads, which ask children what they believe rBST and other additives such as xanthan and sorbic acid are, are an "assault on rBST's safety."14

They don't want consumers to think about the additives in their food that, in the case of rBST (also known as recombinant bovine growth hormone) benefit the producers but not the public. Cows are injected with rBGH to boost their milk production. But science has proven this practice, although profitable to the industry, comes at a high price to you, as well as to dairy cows. Monsanto developed the recombinant version from genetically engineered E. coli bacteria and markets it under the brand name Posilac.

RBGH is the largest selling dairy animal drug in America, but it is banned in Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union because of its dangers to human health, which include a potentially increased risk of cancer in humans along with medical problems in cows.

Government Subsidizes Michigan CAFO With Numerous Violations

Another example of how the system is set up to protect industrial agriculture can be seen at Vande Bunte Eggs in Michigan, an egg-laying chicken CAFO that houses 1.6 million birds. With more than 200 state permit violations in the last three years, you might think the facility would be in danger of being shut down. Instead, it's received more than $1 million in federal subsidies. This is but one example cited in a report compiled by the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan.15,16

The report analyzed 272 CAFOs in Michigan and found they had collectively received more than $103 million in federal subsidies between 1995 and 2014, all while racking up 644 environmental permit violations by the end of 2016. MLive reported:17

"Those farms produced 3.3 billion gallons of untreated wastewater, manure, production area waste, leachate and runoff from about 20 million animals — mostly chickens, although dairy cows produce most of the waste …

In order to qualify for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a cost-share or subsidy, through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, farms are supposed to demonstrate compliance with federal, state, tribal or local environmental regulations."

U.S. CAFOs produce 500 million tons of manure annually, which is three times the amount of sewage produced by humans. This is far more manure than can be safely applied to farm fields and represents a top source of pollution in the U.S.18 Much of the waste is stored in open-air "lagoons" that may be breached by floodwaters from hurricanes.

North Carolina waste lagoons, for instance, have overflowed due to hurricanes repeatedly: in 1996 following Hurricane Fran; in 1998 following Hurricane Bonnie; in 1999 following Hurricane Floyd; and in 2016 following Hurricane Matthew.

In early 2017, 35 advocacy groups, including Food & Water Watch, called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to close federal loopholes that are allowing CAFOs to continue polluting the planet. In a petition, the groups asked the EPA to require CAFOs housing a certain number of animals or using a certain kind of manure management system to obtain a permit.

The EPA has said that up to 75 percent of CAFOs need permits but only 40 percent have them. Another problem of industrialized agriculture is the overuse of antibiotics, especially for purposes of growth promotion or providing low doses to prevent diseases that are likely to occur when animals are raised in dirty and overcrowded living conditions. As a result, the threat of antimicrobial resistance is increasing around the globe.19

Grass Fed Farming Is the Future

By mimicking the natural behavior of migratory herds of wild grazing animals — meaning allowing livestock to graze freely, and moving the herd around in specific patterns — farmers can support nature's efforts to regenerate and thrive. This kind of land management system promotes the reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) by sequestering it back into the soil where it can do a lot of good. Once in the earth, the CO2 can be safely stored for hundreds of years and adds to the soil's fertility.

In the video above, I speak with Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia. Harris is a pioneer of grass fed products and what he calls "a kinder, gentler agriculture." His farm is a great demonstration of how you can convert conventionally farmed land to a healthy, thriving farm based on regenerative methods. Conventional chemical agriculture typically involves the growing of a single crop, such as corn — a strategy that decimates the soil and, as mentioned, is even destroying wildlife globally.

Harris recently purchased the land I visited, where he's in the process of implementing regenerative principles to rebuild the soil and make it productive again. It's becoming impossible to ignore the fact that industrial agriculture is destroying the planet and its inhabitants, while a return to natural farming methods could feed the world while saving the planet.

As Lymbery said, "[F]actory farming belongs in a museum."20 If you live in the U.K., you can take action to "Stop the Machine" by contacting Commissioner for the Environment, Karmenu Vella. The Common Agricultural Policy is being reviewed, so you can ask that any subsidies support farming that respects animal welfare and helps to preserve wildlife.

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1, 2, 3, 4, 10, 20 The Guardian May 24, 2017
  • 5, 6 Stop the Machine
  • 7, 8, 9 BioGraphic
  • 11, 12 Bloomberg May 23, 2017
  • 13 Courthouse News May 22, 2017
  • 14 Eli Lilly Case No. 1:17-cv-703
  • 15, 17 Mlive May 25, 2017
  • 16 Sierra Club May 24, 2017
  • 18 Socially Responsible Agricultural Project
  • 19 EFSA Journal January 26, 2017