Monday, January 16, 2012

A Few Fun Facts About Factory Farming

Ok, you got me! There really is nothing fun about these facts, but I’m a sucker for sarcasm … and alliterative sarcasm is even better yet! I decided to put together this list of things that you may not know about the process that provides meat to the vast majority of carnivores in this country. I will TRY to keep my own editorializing to a minimum as these facts pretty much speak for themselves.

  • Þ   Factory farms are actually called CAFOs Concentrated (sometimes Confined is used instead) Animal Feeding Operations. No need for editorializing, the name says it all.
  • Þ   Confinement truly means confinement. Movement is restricted and normal animal behavior is not possible. Physical alteration is also the norm, including de-beaking of poultry and docking (tail removal) of cows and pigs.
  • Þ   While the number of hog farms drops dramatically each year, hog production remains stable. 80% of hog farms have a head count of 5,000 or more. The percentage of hogs produced through contractual operations increased from 5% in 1994 to 67% in 2004 (this is significant because it means that huge profits are shifting from small, local farms to giant agribusiness corporations that control the contracts).
  • Þ   On average in CAFOs three full sized (roughly 250lb) hogs share a space approximately the same size as a twin bed. (It should be noted here that pigs are highly intelligent, social creatures. In their natural habitat, they are clean, curious, playful, and form strong social bonds. In the ranking of animal IQ, pigs rank 4th behind chimpanzees, dolphins, and elephants. It is because of this level of intelligence and social complexity that their treatment is exceptionally cruel in this environment. We would never allow dogs to be treated this way, but because we enjoy pork – and don’t eat dogs- we look the other way and continue to allow this inhumane treatment of pigs on a MASSIVE scale.)
  • Þ   Male chicks are particularly useless in the poultry business. Unfortunately, almost half of all chicks hatched are male. Because they offer no source of revenue, most are destroyed (in other words, killed rather unpleasantly). Bull calves in the dairy industry usually do not fair well either.
  • Þ   Anywhere from 50% - 80% of all antibiotics made and sold in the US are used in food production. (Real numbers are hard to come by as there is little to no regulation of antibiotic use in agriculture. No prescriptions are necessary.) A nifty little side-effect of antibiotics used in treating animals was discovered in the 1940s – treated animals grew bigger, faster. So, now animals are continuously fed low doses of antibiotics in all of their feed in order to artificially expedite growth (and increase profits). The problem with this use is that it is completely unregulated and it diminishes the effectiveness of antibiotics in their intended use – to treat illness in humans. Microbes are resilient and when exposed to the low-dose levels of antibiotics in animal feed, they become resistant, requiring stronger and stronger antibiotics to fight disease and illness. The CDC recommends the discontinuation of antibiotic use in feed, but the FDA refuses to enforce that recommendation. In fact, the FDA is set to approve the use of the most potent antibiotics currently available (our last lines of defense against microbes) for use in animal feed.

Side note: I would like to encourage you to NOT take my word as fact when reading this blog. Not that I am lying or trying to mislead you in any way, but this is an issue that is worth being concerned about. Whether you care about animal welfare, the environment, the conditions of low-wage workers, public health concerns, personal health and nutrition, rural communities, world hunger, or any of a multitude of other issues; factory farming is relevant to you and your daily life. The more that I learn about food production in this country, the more shocked I am that I lived in ignorance of the facts for so long. If it is this important, why doesn’t the news media, or our government, or someone tell us about what is going on? I’m not entirely sure, but I do know one thing – it’s not a coincidence.

Generally speaking, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I don’t see conspiracies, government or otherwise, everywhere I look. But the deeper that I dig into this subject, the more secrecy, deception, and greed I find. It’s disturbing. Like the Ag Gag laws (as they are referred to). Their only purpose is to make it illegal to spy on the agribusinesses. Literally. These laws attempt to outlaw taking photos on a farm, shooting video, or in anyway reporting what takes place at these facilities. And the frightening thing is, these laws get passed! You should be concerned that the people who produce your food are ashamed for you to ever see the process. You should be concerned that the people who produce your food want to outlaw whistle-blowing by their employees. You should be concerned that the people who produce your food do not want the CDC to be able to send in undercover investigators. What, exactly, are they trying so desperately to hide?