Farm Animals: Summer 1999

How Our Food is Produced Matters!
animal factories and their impact

by Chris Bedford

Our food supply is undergoing fundamentalchange with serious consequences for animals, our water, our healthand our nation's family farms. Today, a small group of giant agribusinesscorporations control most of our nation's poultry, beef and porkproduction. To maximize profits, these corporations have imposedfactory production processes on animals, family farmers, consumers,and the environment.

The Animal Factory System

Standardization. Animal factoriesseek to produce a uniform product with predictable costs. To thisend, animals are bred to be genetically similar and to produceas much meat, as fast as possible at as low a cost as possible.For instance, most broiler chickens come from only seven differentgenetic lines. This lack of genetic diversity makes virtuallythe entire nation's poultry supply vulnerable to an epidemic.Overbreeding also produces chickens with breasts so large thatsometimes they can't stand up, causing painful blisters and ultimatelydeath through starvation.

Concentration and confinement. Animal factories concentratethousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of animals into multipleindustrial barns. Large animals, like hogs, are kept in tightmetal cages throughout their entire lives. Industrial hog barnsare often windowless and contain as many as 4,000 hogs, confinedin metal pens built over slatted concrete floors. Factory-farmedpoultry are crowded into long industrial houses containing asmany as 25,000 birds. Hundreds of thousands of egg-laying hensspend their lives in tiny battery cages, which give each hen spaceno bigger than the piece of paper this article is printed on,stacked high in giant barns.

Contract system. Under the factory system, most farmersdo not own the animals they raise. Instead, local family farmersraise animals under a contract which requires them to providetheir labor, pay the energy and water costs and borrow the fundsto build the industrial barns and other facilities. The giantagribusiness corporations supply the animals, the feed and additives.A handful of very large corporations control the animal market.These "Big-Ag" corporations squeeze every last bit ofprofit from contract growers and the animals, forcing farmersto raise more animals for less pay under increasingly dangerousworking conditions.

Poisoning Our Water

One hog produces as much feces as four humans. North Carolina's7,000,000 factory raised hogs create four times as much waste– stored in reeking, open cesspools – as the state's6.5 million people. The Delmarva peninsula's 600 million chickensproduce 400,000 tons of manure a year; manure that contains asmuch phosphorus as the waste from a city the size of Los Angeles,and as much nitrogen as the waste from a city the size of NewYork. When this manure is inappropriately applied to land as fertilizer,as it often is, nutrients run off into waterways, poisoning wholewatersheds with excess amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus. Run-offfrom poultry and swine manure has been implicated in the outbreakof Pfiesteria piscicida, a tiny but deadly organism whichhas sickened humans and killed billions of fish along Atlanticcoastal bays.

Animal factory manure may also contain environmental estrogens.These estrogens bio-accumulate and drain into waterways, interferingwith aquatic reproductive cycles. In Israel, this run-off hasbeen implicated in the mass stetilization of fish in the Sea ofGalilee.

Risking Our Health

The animal factory system adds antibiotics and heavy metals,like arsenic and copper, to animal feed to promote rapid growthand prevent epidemic levels of disease among confined animals.Routine use of antibiotics call breed drug-resistant bacteriawhich enter our water and our food chain, threatening human health.

Young children and the elderly are particularly at risk fromthese resistant bacteria. Currently, poultry and hog corporationsfeed their animals sub-therapeutic levels of the latest generationof antibiotics, leaving human populations potentially vulnerableas a result. The US Food and Drug Administration is trying, againststrong industry resistance, to ban much of animal factory antibioticuse. Such use is already restricted in the European Union.

Animal factory production is inherently inhumane. It representsa fundamental violation of nature, with broad consequences forour physical and spiritual health. How our food is raised, matters.When living creatures are brutally transformed into factory unitsof production it desensitizes the human consciousness to the environmentand all of its inhabitants – further alienating us from thenatural processes upon which our lives depend.

We simply must abolish animal factories and pursue more sustainable,humane ways to raise our food.

Chris Bedford is the Chair of the Maryland Chapter of theSierra Club.


Niman Ranch: AWIApproved
good for the pigs, the family farmerand the community

by Diane Halverson

To help end mistreatment of farmanimals, the Animal Welfare Institute is supporting the NimanRanch Company and its network of familyhog farmers who follow humane husbandry criteria developed bythe Animal Welfare Institute. AWI's criteria require that allanimals be allowed to behave naturally. Unlike the crated sowson factory farms, the sows in the Niman Ranch program have freedomof movement, allowing them to fulfill their instinctive desireto build a nest when they are about to give birth. Unlike thefactory farm pigs housed on concrete slats over manure pits, NimanRanch pigs are raised on pasture or in barns with bedding wherethey can live in accord with their natures, rooting for food,playing and socializing. AWI's criteria require that the participantsin the program be independent family farmers, that is, the farmermust own the animals, depend on the farm for a livelihood andbe involved in the day to day physical labor of managing the pigs.This requirement helps to ensure that pigs are raised in modestnumbers, making it easier to know and manage the animals as individuals.

Niman Ranch, which buys the pigs and markets the meat, alsoforbids feeding or otherwise administering hormones or antibioticsand prohibits the feeding of animal by-products. Unlike factoryfarmers, humane farmers in the Niman Ranch program do not relyon antibiotics to mask clinical manifestations of disease or topromote growth; therefore, they do not contribute to the devastatingproblem of antibiotic resistance among humans.

Paul Willis, the farmer who inspiredAWI's involvement in the program, keeps 200 sows and their offspringon pasture or in barns bedded with straw on his Midwest farm.Niman Ranch rewards Willis, and farmers like him, by paying thema premium price. Niman Ranch products are available at 200 finerestaurants in California, at Trader Joe's stores in the West,at Whole Foods stores in northern California, and through theWilliams-Sonoma mail order catalogue. Additional markets are beingdeveloped nationwide. In a 1995 Opinion Research Corporation survey,93% of the adults surveyed believed that animals should be treatedhumanely, even when being raised for human consumption, and three-fourthsopposed confining sows in crates, laying hens in battery cagesand veal calves in crates. The Niman Ranch program gives a growingnumber of such consumers an opportunity to reject meat derivedfrom pigs raised in animal factories and assists in the preservationof humane family farms, thereby helping to set a humane standardin raising of animals for food.


COURT DEFEAT FOR CORPORATE FACTORYFARM

A St. Louis Circuit Court jury recently awarded $5.2 millionin damages to 52 rural citizens subjected to odors, flies andwaste spills from Continental Grain Company's sprawling northernMissouri hog operations. The lawsuit, in which the jury deemedContinental's facilities a "continuing public nuisance,"is one of the first in the nation where farmers and rural residentshave legally and successfully held a corporate hog factory giantaccountable for its degradation of property values and rural qualityof life.


STATE MAKES SWEETHEART DEAL WITHPSF

On July 29, declining to join forces with the DepartmentofJustice/Environmental Protection Agency and a Missouri citizen'sgroup, Missouri's Attorney General filed a consent judgement settlingall of the state's claims against Continental Grain-Premium StandardFarms, including a July 28 spill which dumped over 12,000 gallonsof shog manure into a local stream.

The sweetheart deal allows Continental Grain-Premium StandardFarm to pollute without penalty for the next three to five yearswhile it spends $12.5 to S25 million to research, develop andadopt unspecified "technology" to "reduce or eliminate"its pollution problems. The settlement does not set water or airquality standards to be met by the company.

A federal judge is expected to rule shortly on the July 22Department of Justice motion to intervene on behalf of EnvironmentalProtection Agency in the pending suit by Citizens Legal EnvironmentalAction Network against Premium Standard Farms.


AWI Quarterly Summer 1999, Vol. 38, No. 3