By Dr. Mercola
Following allegations of animal abuse, police raided a North Carolina Butterball turkey farm in December 2011, inspecting nearly 3,000 birds.
The investigation, which is still ongoing, was prompted by hidden camera video obtained by the animal rights group Mercy for Animals, which showed workers kicking and stomping on turkeys, as well as injured birds with open wounds and exposed flesh.
Now it turns out that the company knew in advance the raid was coming, as phone records show a veterinarian at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture tipped off a veterinarian employed by Butterball about the coming raid.
U.S. Government Supports CAFOS Over Small Family Farms
As reported by ABC News, Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy for Animals, stated:
"It is deeply troubling that a governmental agency that is entrusted with monitoring and overseeing agriculture and food production is so corrupt that it's in bed with the very corporate interests that were documented abusing and neglecting animals. The fox apparently is guarding the henhouse."
Indeed, the U.S. government has a history of supporting these industrial confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), both by looking the other way when abuse or contamination occurs, and by directly subsidizing cheaply produced beef, and corn and soy used for feed.
As it stands, 2 percent of U.S. livestock facilities produce 40 percent of farm animals,1 and these large, corporate-owned CAFOs have been highly promoted as the best way to produce food for the masses. The only reason CAFOs 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.
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. As written in the book "CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories":2
"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."
Abuse, Filth Common at CAFOs
Animals raised at CAFOs are treated like objects, not animals -- stuck in cages, overcrowded, covered in feces -- which is not only hard to watch, but also hard to stomach. It is not at all unusual for animals to be abused in these circumstances; the very conditions in which they live are abuse in their own right. "CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories" Web site briefly describes some of the horrors of industrial food production:3
"Poultry Prisons: The world's tens of billions of meat chickens—"broilers"—grow at a freakishly fast pace. Concentrated in houses with upwards of 20,000 to 30,000 other birds, each full-grown chicken gets less than a square foot of living space. Modern broilers spend their short 7-week lives on top of their own waste encrusted bedding, which the industry refers to as "cake" or "poultry litter," and sometimes enters the food chain as a cattle feed supplement.
Cow Concentration Camps: Today it is not uncommon for a single feedlot to hold 100,000 animals at a time. While corn is the king of cattle feed, many industrial food animals are fed just about anything that can add weight cheaply and quickly, regardless of how unappetizing or sadistic it may seem. Some commonly used cattle feed additives include: hydrolyzed poultry feathers, by-products of slaughtered animals, inter-species waste such as swine manure and poultry litter, antibiotic drugs, cement dust, newspaper, and plastic roughage replacements.
Artificial Milk Machines: The Holstein dairy cow is being squeezed to the absolute physical limit to maximize milk output. This often means a life of confinement without exercise or stimulation, and a high chance of suffering maladies, like lameness, abrasions, bone deficiencies, and sorely infected udders. After just two to three years of pumping out staggering volumes of milk, the average Holstein dairy cow is culled for hamburger—that is, if she can walk under her own power to the "knock box" where the slaughter process begins.
Confined Swine: Industry might argue that hog CAFOs with climate control and automated feed and water systems, are a modern version of hog heaven. But the realities can be hellish: 1,000 to 2,500 animals in a single building, with as many as 20 hogs crammed inside pens no bigger than a bedroom, with no straw, no mud, and absolutely no way to be a pig. A CAFO hog lives out its short miserable life on a hard concrete surface, producing huge volumes of waste, which falls through the slatted floors into a massive cesspool underneath the building before it's dumped out on the landscape.
Egg-Laying Slaves: Inside the scrambled priorities of an industrial egg laying facility, most hens are confined in wire "battery cages" like egg producing slaves, often with no room to move or even flap their wings without touching another bird. Their beaks are regularly seared off so they can't kill or maim one another. They lack even a shred of privacy to lay their eggs, a condition that can cause great distress. After just a year of egg production, laying hens are slaughtered for potpies, soup stock, frozen dinners, or even ground up for fertilizer."
Antibiotic Use on CAFOs Contributing to Deadly Super Germs
For those who aren't aware, about 80 percent of all the antibiotics produced are used in agriculture -- not only to fight infection, but to promote unhealthy (though profitable) weight gain. Unfortunately, this practice is also contributing to the alarming spread of antibiotic-resistant disease -- a serious problem that the FDA acknowledged in a 2010 draft guidance, which also proposed that livestock producers STOP using "subtherapeutic," small doses of antibiotics in animal feed.
In other parts of the world, such as the European Union, the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animal feed has been banned for years. In the United States, however, CAFOs use them indiscriminately with no government interference. In fact, in December 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) quietly posted a notice in the Federal Register that it was effectively reneging on its plan to reduce the use of antibiotics in agricultural animal feed – a plan it has been touting since 1977.
With virtually no public announcement, the FDA decided it would continue to allow industrial livestock producers to use the drugs in feed, unabated; a move that is threatening food safety by contributing to the spread of new, antibiotic-resistant "super-germs."
The Environment Suffers Greatly from CAFOs Too
The trend of large corporate-controlled CAFOs making up the lion's share of U.S. food production has lead to an abundance of cheap food, but not without consequence. As a paper from a group of researchers led by Washington State University soil scientist John P. Reganold, published in Science, reported:4
"Many modern agricultural practices have unintended negative consequences, or externalized costs of production, that are mostly unaccounted for in agricultural productivity measurements or by farm enterprise budgets."
- Loss of water quality through nitrogen and phosphorus contamination in rivers, streams and ground water (which contributes to "dramatic shifts in aquatic ecosystems and hypoxic zones")
- Agricultural pesticide contamination to streams, ground water and wells, and safety concerns to agricultural workers who use them
- A decline in nutrient density of 43 garden crops (primarily vegetables), which suggests possible tradeoffs between yield and nutrient content)
- Large emission of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide
- Negative impact on soil quality through such factors as erosion, compaction, pesticide application and excessive fertilization
CAFO Meats Much More Likely to be Contaminated
If you still buy your meat at your local supermarket, you should know that you are increasing your risk of food poisoning compared to buying your meat from a more trusted source. Consumer Reports tests indicated that 83 percent of fresh, whole broiler chickens bought at supermarkets nationwide harbor campylobacter or salmonella.5This is clearly unacceptable, and if you start to demand more -- meat that is raised in a healthy, humane way, free from toxins and disease -- producers will have no choice but to listen.
Prior studies have shown that organic chickens are far less contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In fact, conventional chicken products were found to be up to 460 times more likely to contain antibiotic-resistant strains than antibiotic-free chicken products. Eggs from large flocks (30,000 birds or more) and eggs from caged hens also have many times more Salmonella bacteria than eggs from smaller flocks, organically fed and free-ranging flocks.
Even if it's not contaminated, the meat from CAFOs is far from healthy, as the animals have been fed a completely unnatural diet of pesticide-laden GM grains or fishmeal, instead of the pasture or insects they were designed to eat naturally.
The lesson here is, the closer you can get to the "backyard barnyard," the better. You'll want to get your meat, chickens and eggs from smaller community farms with free-ranging animals, organically fed and locally marketed. This is the way food has been raised for centuries ... before it was corrupted by politics, corporate greed and the blaring ignorance of the food industry.
Take a Stand Against CAFOs: Get Your Meat From a Local Organic Farmer
If you want to optimize your health, you simply must return to the basics of healthy food choices and typically this includes buying your food from responsible, high-quality, sustainable sources. As reported by Reganold and colleagues, there is an urgent need for transformative farming approaches that address long-term sustainability. They say:
"Achieving sustainable agricultural systems will require transformative changes in markets, policy, and science."
To realize this change will involve a transition away from CAFOs and toward innovative farming practices that:
" … integrate production, environmental, and socioeconomic objectives; reflect greater awareness of ecosystem services; and capitalize on synergies between complementary farm enterprises, such as between crop and livestock production."
This is why I encourage you to support the small family farms in your area, particularly organic farms that respect the laws of nature and use the relationships between animals, plants, insects, soil, water and habitat to create synergistic, self-supporting, non-polluting, GMO-free ecosystems.
You can do this not only by visiting the farm directly, if you have one nearby, but also by taking part in farmer's markets and community-supported agriculture programs.
Now that summer is on its way here in the United States, fresh produce and other wonderful whole foods are available in abundance. Not only is the food so much tastier and healthier when you get it from sustainable, non-CAFO sources, but there is something about shopping for fresh foods in an open-air, social environment that just feels right. An artificially lit, dreary supermarket -- home to virtually every CAFO food made -- just can't compete. If you want to experience some of these benefits first-hand, here are some great resources to obtain wholesome food that supports not only you but also the environment:
- Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
- Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
- Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
- Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
- Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) -- CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
- FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSA's, and markets near you.