AWI Quarterly Fall/Winter1998-1999: Farm Animals
VotersReject Factory FarmsAnti-Factory FarmCandidates Win, Struggle Against Factory Farms Continues
by Tom Garrett
In 1998, the proliferation of hog factories, which has embroiledstate legislatures and county commissions for much of the decade,reached center stage as a national issue. On November 3, in thewords of the Wall Street Journal's Bruce Ingersoll, "Pigpolitics became big politics."
In the two states where the hog factory came directly beforethe people, the verdict was unequivocal. In Colorado, Initiative14, which places hog factories under moderately severe regulation,was approved by over 60% of the electorate. South Dakota AmendmentE, which bans corporate farming in the state altogether, gained59% of the popular vote despite a massive infusion of corporatecash and opposition from the state's Republican governor.
Lauch Faircloth was defeated by JohnEdwards (D, NC). Faircloth, according to CounterPunch (November1-15, 1998) "was part owner of Coharie Farms, the 30th largesthog producer in the country. Faircloth owned more than $1 millionworth of stock in two slaughterhouses. In Congress he attendedto the interests of the pig men as chairman of the Senate Subcommitteeon Clean Water, Wetlands, Private Property and Nuclear Safety."Environmentalists and small farmers across the state worked hardto defeat Faircloth. The Sierra Club flooded the airwaves withads linking Faircloth to water pollution and pfiesteria.
| || |
| Progress or Retrogression? Above Left: A relaxed group of pigs photographed on a family farm, almost a hundred years ago. Above right: Sows in a present-day factory farm. They can't even turn around in their 22-inch-wide gestation stalls. They express their desperation by attacking the bars that imprison them. |
In Iowa, where hog factories haveblighted northern counties and driven most of Iowa's traditionalhog farmers out of business, the hog issue played heavily in DemocratTom Vilsack's crushing upset of Republican gubernatorial candidateJim Lightfoot. In neighboring Minnesota, Reform Party candidate,Jessie "The Mind" Ventura's victory sent a seismic shockthrough the American political establishment. The governor-electsupports a temporary moratorium on new hog factories.
Factory farming was also a factorin the unexpectedly severe defeat of anti-environmentalist Republicancandidate Ellen Sauerbrey by Maryland's incumbent governor, ParrisGlendening. Glendening received high marks for his crackdown onMaryland's huge chicken farms following the 1997 pfiesteria outbreakin the Chesapeake Bay area. Environmental protection was a definingissue in the campaign.
Despite political setbacks, the industryblitzkrieg shows no sign of abating. With the producer price ofhogs as Iowa as 9 cents a pound – the same price it was inthe Depression Era – the last of America's family hog farmersare being driven from the business, while corporations are engagedin a brutal battle for control of the hog market. In the meantime,thousands of citizens, from the New Melloray Monastery in Iowato Owyhee County, Idaho, are threatened by the insensate drivefor more, and still more, hog factories.
| FIGHTING THE 'NEW FEUDAL RULERS' Excerpts from the January 3, 1999 |
Washington Post article by William Clairborne
"It's ironic when you think about our heritage in South Dakota, "said Johnson, 41, who took over the family farm when his father had a stroke in 1981. "'Our ancestors left the landlords and kings in Europe to come here for their economic freedom, and now we're making the big corporations the new feudal rulers ... Sometimes I think nobody is paying attention while the big corporations are just taking over the whole farm economy and destroying an American way of life. " [Charlie Johnson a farmer from Madison, South Dakota]
The article quotes another farmer:
"The feed comes from out of state, the hogs come from out of state and the hogs are shipped out of state for slaughter, " said Don Hoogestraat, who turned his third-generation family farm over to his son eight years ago. "That leaves us with nothing but the manure, and the farmer becomes a hired hand on his own farm. "
Hoogestmat, a former president of the South Dakota Pork Producers Council who is now critical of the council support of corporate-backed farming, accused big hog-producers of engaging in "planned overproduction" to temporarily drive pork prices down and force more family farms into contract feeding agreements. Earlier this month the price of hogs dropped to a 27-year low of 15 cents a pound in Sioux Falls – half of what it costs to produce – and in some parts of the country prices have dropped to less than 10 cents a pound. US Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman has announced a series of crisis measures, including a moratorium on government loans for new pork production plants.
Animalsas Units of Production:
Industrial Agribusinessand Sentient BeingsBy Ken Midkiff
Traditional farming operationstreated animals as individuals. A farmer knew the personalitiesof his milk cows as well as he did those of neighboring farmers.I knew which of my sows liked to have her back and ears scratched– and which one would try to viciously bite if I approached.When ewes rejected their lambs, we brought them into the houseand fed them from a bottle. As a small child, I knew which ofthe old roosters would attack me (some roosters are just damnedmean) and which could be carried around in my red wagon.
Somewhere between my childhood inthe 1940s and the 1970s, something went terribly wrong in foodproduction. Schools of agriculture and the USDA, taking theirmarching orders from agribusiness implement and chemical companiesstarted preaching the adoption of the Industrial Model. Get bigor get out. Volume of production is more important than quality.
A diversified, sustainable systemof integrated crops and animal production was abandoned in favorof monocultures. Farmers became specialists. Some grew only cornand soy beans. Others developed huge dairy or beef feedlot operations.This move had nothing at all to do with needing to feed the world,and everything to do with concentration of food production, andprofits, into the hands of a few large corporations. Market controlwas the goal. Not many more hogs or chickens are being grown todaythan in the past – only the methods have changed.
Poultry was the first to totallyconvert to the industrial model. Today there are almost no independentpoultry growers, all are either owned by or under contract withlarge corporations. The hog industry is going the same direction.
So what? Well, animals are now raisedin huge confinement structures, crammed in small pens or cages,given antibiotics to combat diseases (that can run rampant insuch stressful conditions). One conveyor brings in food, anothersystem transports out excrement. From a rather idyllic existenceon the family farm to a unit of production, packed in with thousandsof other units of production, animals are now treated as onlya product – much as any other industrial product. Just widgets.
Chickens raised for broilers for massconsumption are now grown in confinement structures that containup to 22,000 birds. Hatching to slaughter is only eight weeks.Those drumsticks at Kentucky Fried Chicken are from a two-monthold chicken. The methods of production are nasty, brutish, andshort.
Hogs are raised in arguably worseconditions. Mortality rates are very high. Sows in gestation stallsand farrowing crates cannot turn around. In the "finishinghouses" where pigs are fed from around 55 pounds to slaughtersize, there are from 1,200 to 2,500 hogs in a building. Emissionsof hydrogen sulfide and ammonia from excrement and urine are sostrong that large exhaust fans must run constantly to remove thetoxic gases from the houses. If the fans shut off for more than15 minutes, hogs begin succumbing to the gases.
In the heat of summer, the overcrowdedconditions in poultry operations lead to massive die-offs. Duringthe record breaking heat-wave last year in Texas, Oklahoma andArkansas, millions and millions of hens and broilers suffocatedin their packed cages. All the media focused on was the monetarylosses were to the owners and growers, not to the miserable deathsof millions of living creatures.
Chickens also suffer from the misfortunesof their owners or growers. In southwest Missouri, a bankruptpoultry house owner simply walked away and left 12,000 hens tostarve and die. Two years later, the skeletons of thousands ofhens remain packed in their little cages in a crumbling poultryhouse overgrown with weeds. A horror story in the best StephenKing tradition – and one that pretty much sums up industrial-strengthhog, chicken and egg production.
Ken Midkiff, formerly a hog farmer,now is the Director of the Missouri Sierra Club
ACall for Strong Enforcement of the Federal HumaneSlaughter Act
In 1958, following overwhelming publicsupport, the Humane Slaughter Act was adopted. In 1978, the FederalMeat Inspection Act was amended to empower USDA inspectors tostop the slaughter line on the spot if any cruelty is observed.Once the line has stopped, slaughter may not legally recommenceuntil deficiencies, whether of equipment, or of abuses by personnel,are corrected. Since that time the public has assumed that thelaw has been enforced. Gail Eisnitz' s 1997 book, Slaughterhouse(see AWI Quarterly Fall 1997), was a rude awakeningto the fact that deregulation had caused enormous speed-ups inthe slaughter line so that animals were no longer being slaughteredin conformity with the law. On the contrary, the book revealedthat fully conscious pigs and cows were being beaten, strangled,scalded, skinned and dismembered in the nation's slaughterhouses.
Two government reports, "Surveyof Stunning and Handling in Federally Inspected Beef, Veal, Pork,and Sheep Slaughter, Plants" January 7, 1997) and "SpecialSurvey on Humane Slaughter and Ante-Mortem Inspection" (March1998) provide further documentation of the failure of slaughterplants to handle and kill animals humanely. Many apparent violationsof federal law were found despite the fact that the these inspectionsof slaughter plants were announced in advance, providing ampleopportunity for plant managers to cover-up.
The 1997 report documented excessiveuse of electric prods, slippery floors and hazardous ramps, citing64% of the slaughter plants visited for ineffective use of captivebolt stunners to render animals unconscious and insensible. The1998 report noted that "it is considered inhumane to allowan animal to regain consciousness after the stunning procedure,so the bleeding should be done as quickly as possible after stunning."Yet, 57.6% of the plants permitted a lengthy period of time betweenstunning and bleeding. The report concludes that 28% of the plantsvisited have "serious problems." A detailed resolutioncalling for strong enforcement of the Humane Slaughter Act waspresented to the United States Animal Health Association's AnimalWelfare Committee by AWI's Director Cathy Liss. The USAHA representsfederal and state regulatory veterinarians throughout the nationand has done so since its founding in 1897. Seeking to quash attentionto this issue, a representative of the Livestock Marketing Associationobjected to virtually all of the text claiming it could not besubstantiated. The industry representative even objected to textcited from the two government studies, claiming that these studies,too, could not be substantiated. In the interest of obtainingthe necessary votes to adopt a resolution in support of the HumaneSlaughter Act, a compromise version was agreed. The final resolution,which appears in the box, was adopted by the Animal Welfare Committeeof the USAHA. On the following day it was adopted by the fullboard of the Association.
| || |
RESOLUTION ADOPTED AT THE OCTOBER 1998 USAHA MEETING
THE UNITED STATES ANIMAL HEALTH ASSOCIATION ENCOURAGES STRONG EN-
FORCEMENT OF THE FEDERAL HUMANE SLAUGHTER ACT BY USDA's FOOD SAFETY AND
INSPECTION SERVICE TO PREVENT ABUSES TO ANIMALS PROTECTED UNDER THE ACT.
(The mission of USAHA is to be a forum for communication and coordination among state and federal
governments, universities, industry and other groups on issues of animal health and disease control, animal welfare, food safety and public health.)
EUBans Sub-therapeutic Use of Drugs
As of January, four widely used growth-enhancingantibiotic drugs will be banned for use in the European Union.
Unlike therapeutic or medicinal drugs,sub-therapeutic drugs are not used to help a sick animal recover,but rather to induce rapid and unnatural growth or keep a stressedanimal from dying while in cruel factory farms. Up to 80 percentof all Europe's cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry are given sub-therapeuticantibiotics.
Britain, Sweden, Germany, and Franceled the campaign to exclude the use of the drugs as growth-enhancers.Three nations, Spain, Portugal, and Belgium abstained from thevote, arguing that the ban will push up the price of meat. Denmarkand Sweden already enforce a unilateral ban on sub-therapeuticdrugs.
Several large agencies, includingthe World Health Organization, The British House of Lords, andthe British National Consumer Council have spoken out againstsub-therapeutic drugs. The Soil Association, representing Britain'sorganic farmers, reports that the use of antibiotics had increasedby up to 150 times in the past 30 years. Their press release reads,"We must create a new climate in which animals are kept inmore natural, less stressful conditions and are routinely treatedwith respect, rather than antibiotics."
FACTORY FARMSDEEMED NOT ORGANIC
Controversy over the labelling of organicanimal products was resolved by a January 14, 1999 decision ofthe US Department of Agriculture. By early spring, stores willhave USDA certified products. The organic label means that animalshave not been confined to the dreadful factory farms wherethey are virtually immobilizedin tiny cages andstalls during their entire lives of painful imprisonment.Instead, the animals must have access to pasture, fresh air andsunshine and not be given growth hormones or sub-therapeutic antibiotics.
AWI Quarterly Fall/Winter1998-1999, Vol. 47/48, No. 4/1