David Kirby / St. Martin's Press / 512 pages
Award-winning journalist David Kirby's gripping new book, Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment, sets out to expose industrial agriculture as a cruel, polluting, disease transmitting, manure-soaked con game. Think that’s too harsh? By the end, one of the everyday heroes that make the book such an absorbing exposé, hardy ex- Marine Rick Dove, ends up with a severe case of antibiotic resistant E. coli after a tumble in a creek flooded with chicken manure from a nearby industrial chicken operation. The infection nearly kills him.
Dove is just one of the ordinary citizens-turned-activists that Kirby follows in Animal Factory, and Kirby wisely lets the power of their stories drive the narrative. For Dove of New Bern, North Carolina, Helen Reddout of Yakima Valley, Washington, and Karen Hudson of Elmwood, Illinois, farming originally meant what we’ve all been taught to believe—happy animals standing in lush grasses with a welcoming red barn in the background. It’s not until Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, known as CAFOs, move nearby, complete with stench and large manure spills, that they begin to realize what today’s industrial agriculture really represents—polluted fields and waterways, cruelly confined and mistreated animals, dreadful working conditions, fish kills, stink, illness.
Kirby is an experienced investigative reporter, Huffington Post contributor, and the author of Evidence of Harm, an investigation into the possible link between mercury in vaccines and autism. For the latter he won the 2005 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award. In Animal Factory, he skillfully weaves the personal and political to uncover a world where profit and efficiency come at a steep price to people, animals and land. In Kirby’s capable hands, Animal Factory reads like a political thriller, but the stakes are hardly imaginary.
Corporate agriculture maintains that you can’t feed the world, much less the United States, without CAFOs to make meat, dairy and eggs plentiful and affordable. While Michael Pollan and others have talked about the "true cost" of food, Animal Factory plainly illuminates the incomprehensibility of industrial animal farming. It’s a system where seemingly no one but the parent company profits, yet all are at risk. CAFOs not only produce an alarming rise in pollution and reciprocal loss of quality of life in areas where they are established, but CAFO systems lead to increased and more deadly risks to humans from diseases such as antibiotic resistant E. coli and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease).
At its core, Animal Factory is a personal story—of individuals coming together to protect their land, the health of their community, the dignity of the farm animals, and the safety of the nation’s food supply. Kirby uses the activists’ stories as the backbone of his book, weaving in science, statistics and politics to enhance but not overwhelm the reader’s experience. No doubt it’s been an unwelcome surprise to industrial agriculture that three such disparate people as Rick, Helen and Karen would rise up to build a movement that is forcing the industry to be more accountable, but they did. Using their compelling stories, Kirby shines a light into the dark corners of industrial agriculture, and what he finds isn’t pretty.
Public Relations Associate, Animal Welfare Approved