Factory farming or concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs) is a relatively new method of farming that started in the 1920s with poultry, and soon expanded to a multitude of other farming industries. Since then, it has become the most accessible way Americans feed themselves. Most people don’t realize where their burgers, eggs, chicken, milk and bacon come from because it’s not advertised.
People don’t want to know their eggs came from chickens with their beaks sheared off to prevent stress-pecking. Why are they so stressed? Because they’re confined to a space the size of a sheet of paper, shared with other hens no less. They don’t get to move around, spread their wings, take a dust bath or do any activity besides exist and lay eggs. Male chicks aren’t needed in egg production so upon hatching they’re tossed, alive, in a grinder and frequently become the chicken meal listed on the back of your pet’s kibble bag.
With the increase in animals, there is an increase in manure, which is detrimental to the environment. An EPA document stated in 2007 2.2 billion livestock generated 1.1 billion tons of manure. What happens to all that waste? In small-scale farming it’s typically recycled and used as fertilizer, but in factory farms it’s mixed with water and stored in “manure lagoons” or the manure is spread over nearby lands. Since animal waste isn’t treated the same as human waste, everything the animal is forced to consume, including antibiotics and hormones, is introduced into the environment. Hand sanitizer isn’t the only thing contributing to drug-resistant bacteria around here.
Air pollution is another issue that doesn’t get enough attention. Cows are fed low-quality feed, something they were not meant to digest which causes chronic digestive issues and in turn contributes to higher methane emissions. According to the EPA, methane is a more potent greenhouse gas because it traps radiation (heat) more effectively than carbon dioxide. Therefore the comparative impact of methane on climate change is over 20 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100 year period.
If the environment and animal welfare aren’t big concerns to you, I’d like to remind you of the great egg recall of 2010 where half a billion eggs were pulled from the shelves due a nationwide salmonella outbreak. More recently, in February 2014, nearly 9 million pounds of meat were recalled. Allegedly, Rancho Feeding Corp. was buying diseased and cancerous dairy cows and processing them when government inspectors weren’t there. CNN/Eatocracy has a more in-depth article about the recall, including the discovery of a romantic relationship between the government inspector responsible for oversight at Rancho Feeding Corp. and a plant foreman.
What grazing looks like on a CAFO.
Factory farming is a cycle that will never end unless we put a stop to it. How are we supposed to do that? We – and I’m speaking to all Earthlings – have to be more conscious about what we buy and what we eat. We can’t keep our collective heads in the sand if we want to change the landscape of our food supply; a broken system harming everyone and everything around it.
An informed consumer is a dangerous one. FactoryFarmMap.org has a great interface to help find factory farms in your area and also provides a Violation Tracker, which posts the names and locations of plants that have had antibiotic, heavy metal, pesticides and other chemical residues found in their meat.
As previously mentioned, laying hens are among the worst-treated animals in the industry and in response to the small amount public outrage there has been a surge of innocuous terms added to our egg cartons. While we may think we’re doing good and contributing to kindness there are hidden stipulations behind the buzzwords cage-free and free-range. For example, cage-free means the birds are not housed in cages but instead are in warehouses or barns and generally do not have access to the outside. Free-range hens have some degree of outdoor access, but there are no requirements for the amount, duration or quality of said access. In both cases there is no third-party auditing system in place, so producers can essentially put a sticker on a package to tug at our heartstrings.
Humane Society’s “How to Read Egg Carton Labels” is a great resource for checking out the terms found on your packaging. The HSUS also founded the Humane Farm Association in 1985–its focus is to protect farm animals from abuse, the public from misuse of chemicals and antibiotics, and the environment from the impact of industrialized farming.
Certified Humane is another important organization in which farmers apply and go through an application and inspection process and certification requires annual renewals. Certified Humane also posts their standards that are to be met in order to obtain their seal of approval.
Speak with your Wallet
Quite possibly the best way to put an end to practices you don’t like across any industry is to stop giving them your money. Here are some links to visit to see what’s available to you locally.
Eat Well Guide – Eat Sustainably
Local Harvest – Eat Locally
American Grassfed Association (AGA) defines grassfed animals as those that have eaten nothing but grass and forage from weaning to harvest, have not been raised in confinement, and have never been fed antibiotics or growth hormones. In addition, all AGA-Certified Producers are American family farms and their livestock is born and raised in the U.S. Here is a list of their producers by state.
Organic has become much more mainstream and easier to find, and while the term doesn’t translate to humane animal practices, it sends a message that a more natural way of farming is important to us.
Use Your Voice
Switching up how you feed yourself and your family, whether it be organic or humane, is an expensive undertaking and I understand that not everyone has the option to make that change. If you can’t “speak with your wallet” you can use your voice and start lending support to the cause. We need to make it known these issues are important.
Animal Legal Defense Fund has a form letter you can send to your lawmakers.
FoodAndWaterWatch.org has a letter to send to Congress.
The ASPCA provides the easiest way to find your elected officials and also updates to relevant animal issues in your districts.
FarmSanctuary.org provides information on Federal Legislation and Regulations and ways to get involved. Since 1986 they’ve been active with the care and rescue of farm animals and if you’re local to Watkins Glen, NY, Orlan, CA, or Los Angeles, you can book a tour and support their cause.
Lastly, Ag-Gag Laws or Anti-Whistleblower Laws, are being enacted to prosecute those who want to expose the mistreatment of animals and the environment. In February 2014, Idaho’s Governor signed Idaho’s “Ag-Gag” bill into law which will impose fines and jail time on activists who secretly film abuse on Idaho’s commercial farms. This comes after the group Mercy For Animals filmed animal abuse at a dairy farm which included the sexual abuse of cows.
Idaho’s new law means the people filming and documenting the abhorrent abuse will see jail time before the abusers would. The employees caught on tape at Bettencourt Dairy have been fired but criminally, are only facing misdemeanor animal abuse charges and up to $5,000 in fines each. That alone should tell us where Idaho’s lawmakers stand — directly in the corner of Big Ag and CAFOs. Speaking up and taking a stand against the egregious business practices of industrialized farming is more important than ever.