By Dr. Mercola
A ridiculous video from the Pork Producers Council attempts to explain why factory pig farming is a wonderful thing.
They say they put up "modern" barns to protect animals from harsh weather, illness and predators … which when translated to reality means the pigs never get to see the light of day, are packed in so tightly, living in their own feces, that illness runs rampant, and as for predators, well, the farm workers themselves are often caught in acts of abuse.
The idyllic cartoon farm pictured in the video above is a far cry from the typical confined animal feeding operation (CAFO), which can house tens of thousands of animals (and in the case of chickens, 100,000) under one roof, in nightmarish, unsanitary, disease-ridden conditions.
What Does a Typical Swine CAFO Look Like?
You may be surprised to learn that pigs are more intelligent than dogs.
Their cognitive ability is even greater than most 3-year-old children.
If given the chance, pigs are social and playful, and they spend their days rooting for insects, grazing on grass, and rolling in the mud.
The vast majority of the nearly 66 million pigs raised for food in the United States never experience this life,1 however, as they are born and raised in CAFOs, where they are subject to mental and physical anguish, not to mention subject to incredibly unhealthy practices, like the administration of unnecessary low-dose antibiotics and living in their own waste, which impacts whoever ends up eating the meat as well as the environment.
As written in the book "CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories": 2
"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."
Unfortunately, even though most food comes from facilities that resemble factories rather than farms, many Americans still believe their food is grown on small family farm like the ones in the above video. This is exactly what the Ohio Pork Producers Council, and other industrial agribusiness giants, want you to believe.
Because if you really knew where your pork, chicken or beef had come from, there's a very strong chance you would not only refuse to eat it, but would be incredibly appalled at the very thought. "CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories" continues:
"The CAFO is the ultimate expression of the industrialization of nature. If all of us knew more about the realities of modern industrial animal food production, however, one would hope that we would apply the collective brakes on this dietary, environmental, and ethical madness."
There's Nothing "Neighborly" About a CAFO …
The Pork Producers Council had the audacity to massively misstate that their farms are designed to protect the environment and be good neighbors. Swine CAFOs are notorious for the odors they produce. Living in the nearby vicinity to one is akin to living next to a landfill or a chemical factory, maybe even worse. It's not unusual for people to report the fumes coming from the CAFOs are so bad they can't make it from their house to their car without stopping to retch. This isn't only a matter of bad odor, though; it's a serious health threat. As reported in a literature review from the National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production:3
"Ammonia emissions from hog farms react with other gases in the air to form fine particle pollution, a public health threat linked to decreased lung function, cardiovascular ailments and most seriously, premature death.
… Air emissions from lagoons, sprayfields and hog houses have been linked to neurological and respiratory problems … Subjects in a controlled exposure chamber who were exposed to air from hog operations for one hour reported headaches, eye irritation and nausea … Unpleasant odors have been found to be a nuisance and emotional stressor on neighbors and are known to contain irritants that can cause damage to mucosal linings in the nose, throat and respiratory tract.
… Researchers from the UNC School of Public Health and Duke University found that neighbors exposed to odors from hog operations showed evidence of reduced immune system function … Evidence is also emerging that indicates that the health of citizens living near hog operations is negatively affected. Research in Iowa and North Carolina showed that neighbors living within three miles of hog operations experience elevated levels of respiratory complaints relative to those living near other animal production operations or crop production.
… Abhorrent odors can be exacerbated by the smell and sight of rotting flesh from hog carcasses that are often stored in "dead boxes" close to neighbors' property lines. "Dead trucks" that transport hog carcasses to rendering facilities also emit odor.
… There are also concerns about the exposure of workers or neighbors to antibiotics in the dust generated in the hog confinement facilities, which are vented to the outdoors. …A North Carolina study of 58,169 children found a 23% higher prevalence of asthma symptoms among students attending schools where staff noticed livestock odors indoors twice a month or more."
There are other serious problems as well, including drinking water contamination from the massive amounts of animal waste generated on CAFOs. The literature review continued:
"Ground water nitrate levels beneath animal waste sprayfields are typically found to range from 10 to 50 parts per million (ppm). The drinking water standard for nitrate is 10 ppm. Even wells drilled to clean aquifers below surface contaminated groundwater aquifers are at risk because well casing construction flaws can allow leaks of highly contaminated groundwater into drinking water wells.
Results from a free well-testing program for people living adjacent to hog farms in North Carolina … found more that 10% of the wells tested failed to meet drinking water standards for nitrate. Three wells had nitrate concentrations in the 70 – 100 ppm range. The NC Department of Health and Human Services found that the results of the well testing program "…illustrate a potentially serious groundwater problem to the people utilizing wells near Industrial Livestock Operations … "
Pork Consumption is Linked to Liver Damage, Other Health Problems
I am not opposed to eating meat, as long as it comes from a healthy source and is cooked properly (which is lightly or not at all), but there is reason to carefully consider whether pork should be a part of your diet, regardless of the source.
Pork consumption has a strong epidemiological association with cirrhosis of the liver -- in fact, it may be more strongly associated with cirrhosis than alcohol (although some have questioned the studies that indicate this, and point out that countries with high pork consumption tend to have low obesity rates.) Other studies also show an association between pork consumption and liver cancer as well as multiple sclerosis. However, this may be more related to the way that the pork is raised than the actually toxicity of the meat.
Most pigs raised in the United States are fed grains and possibly seed oils, which dramatically increase their omega-6 content, as well as the highly inflammatory byproduct of omega-6 fatty acid metabolism: arachadonic acid. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, lard from pigs fed this type of diet may be 32 percent PUFAs.4 On the other hand, lard from pigs raised on pasture and acorns had a much lower PUFA content, at 8.7 percent, while those fed a Pacific Island diet rich in coconut had even less, only 3.1 percent.i
As reported by Dr. Paul Jaminet, a trained astrophysicist and his wife Shou-Ching, a Harvard biomedical scientist, who together authored the book Perfect Health Diet:
"So the omega-6 content can cover a 10-fold range, 3% to 32%, with the highest omega-6 content in corn- and wheat-fed pigs who have been caged for fattening. Corn oil and wheat germ oil are 90% PUFA, and caging prevents exercise and thus inhibits the disposal of excess PUFA. Caging is a common practice in industrial food production."
Consumption of this PUFA-rich meat may very well be a factor in liver disease, as studies show feeding mice corn oil (rich in omega-6) and alcohol (which is metabolically similar to fructose) induces liver disease5 and omega-6 fats have also been linked to cirrhosis of the liver. Ironically, despite this known connection, Dr. Jaminet reports that liver cancer appears to be even more strongly associated with the consumption of fresh pork than processed pork, which suggests another causative factor. Dr. Jaminet suggests that an infectious pathogen in pork is responsible for the associated health conditions including liver disease and multiple sclerosis:
"Consider: Traditional methods of processing pork, such as salting, smoking, and curing, are antimicrobial. They were developed to help preserve pork from pathogens. So if processed pork is less risky than fresh pork, we should look for a pathogen that is reduced in number by processing."
So this is an area that you will have to make up your own mind about. All I can do is present you with the evidence and you can make your own decision. There are many bright people in natural medicine who believe organic healthy raised pork is a health food and other experts agree even that is best avoided. Personally, I like to err on the side of caution and do severely limit my pork intake, but I will have it occasionally. I never eat ham lunchmeat and avoid pork chops and ham roasts but do enjoy nitrate-free sausage occasionally.
U.S. Government Supports CAFOs Over Small Family Farms
The U.S. government has a history of supporting 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. For instance, in December 2011 police raided a North Carolina Butterball turkey farm in after hidden camera video obtained by the animal rights group Mercy for Animals showed workers kicking and stomping on turkeys, as well as injured birds with open wounds and exposed flesh.
But 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. As reported by ABC News, Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy for Animals, stated:vi
"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."
Corporate-owned CAFOs have been highly promoted as the best way to produce food for the masses, but 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 contribute to a fast food diet. As written in "CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories":7
"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."
As it stands, the book notes that "grazing and growing feed for livestock now occupy 70 percent of all agricultural land and 30 percent of the ice-free terrestrial surface of the planet. If present trends continue, meat production is predicted to double between the turn of the 21st century and 2050." Does this sound sustainable to you?
There are Better Places to Get Your Meat
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.
Whether you do so for ethical, environmental or health reasons – or all of the above -- 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 and distributed for centuries ... before it was corrupted by politics, corporate greed and the blaring arrogance of the food industry.
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 animal welfare and 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.
- i USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, Hogs and Pigs, December 23, 2011
- ii CAFO – The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories, The Issue
- iii National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, Literature Review
- iv Weston A. Price Foundation November 25, 2011
- v J Nutr. 2004 Apr;134(4):904-12.
- vi ABC News January 11, 2012
- vii CAFO – The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories