Earlier this year, the Colorado Legislature became the first in the nation to prohibit the use of gestation crates for pregnant pigs and veal crates for calves. Florida and Oregon voters have banned gestation crates, and Arizona voters banned both gestation crates and veal crates.
California's egg industry, which is the fifth largest in the country, is preparing an all-out campaign to defeat the measure. The United Egg Producers and the Pacific Egg & Poultry Association are arguing that the measure would threaten the health of hens and eggs, since hens allowed to roam free might contract avian diseases from exposure to the outside. Pressure is mounting for food producers to clean up their acts, and this California legislation is a perfect example of that.
I think we can all agree that keeping animals confined to the point that they can barely move is cruel, regardless of whether those animals are destined to become food. It’s also completely unhealthy for the animal, and is a major reason why infections and disease run rampant in factory farms (and, consequently, why antibiotics are in just about all factory-farmed meat).
How could any living creature be healthy when it’s not allowed to roam, and when it’s kept in extremely overcrowded conditions?
The fact that this practice was allowed to become so widespread to begin with, now there is something I don’t understand.
Actually, I take that back. Farming practices like these emerged when people stopped farming for the sake of raising food and started doing it for the sole purpose of making money.
From Farming to Big Business
I believe that at the heart of the problems underlying the food system in the United States (and there are many) is one simple premise: most food is grown for, and by, strangers.
What do I mean by this?
Well, 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.
There are people to feed, after all, and agribusiness, for all of its shortcomings, has mastered the art of producing food in the cheapest, quickest way possible.
Would these agribusiness masterminds want their grandchildren raised on the contaminated fruits of their labor?
Meat from a sickly cow that was fed meat from its own species and given hormones that may or may not be safe? Or eggs from a chicken that never saw the light of day? My guess would be no. But for a stranger, well, factory-farmed foods would suffice.
To sum it up, factory farms remove us 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 with legislature like the one proposed in California, we can begin to take back control of the food system, and return it to the hands of people who still care.
Why I’m Hopeful About the Future of Food
The U.S. food supply has been swiftly tumbling down a slippery slope for the last few decades. And it’s still not out of the woods. For a good overview of the issues, take 90 minutes to watch The Future of Food. It’s eye-opening, to say the least.
At the same time, people are becoming more informed about what’s really going on, and they don’t like what they see. In just the last few years, interest in farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture has increased and foods that come from healthy, humanely raised animals are much more in demand.
Meanwhile, positive practices like permaculture, which promotes raising food according to the laws of nature, are receiving mainstream press as the farming of the future.
So I remain hopeful.
Hopeful that people like you will voice your opinion by supporting farmers that still hold raising wholesome food as a top priority. And hopeful that factory farms will one day be run out of business, because no one will even think of buying their substandard food.