How Our Food Is Produced
HOW OUR FOOD IS PRODUCED
MATTERS! – animal factories and their impact – by Chris Bedford
Our food supply is undergoing
fundamental change with serious consequences for animals, our water, our
health and our nation’s family farms.
Today, a small group of giant agribusiness corporations control
most of our nation’s poultry, beef and pork production.
To maximize profits, these corporations have imposed factory
production processes on animals, family farmers, consumers, and the
The Animal Factory System
Standardization. Animal factories seek to produce a uniform product with
predictable costs. To this
end, animals are bred to be genetically similar and to produce as much
meat as fast as possible at as low a cost as possible.
For instance, most broiler chickens come from only seven different
genetic lines. This lack of
genetic diversity makes virtually the entire nation’s poultry supply
vulnerable to an epidemic. Over-breeding
also produces chickens with breasts so large that sometimes they can’t
stand up, causing painful blisters and ultimately death through
Concentration and Confinement.
Animal factories concentrate
thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of animals into multiple industrial
barns. Large animals, like
hogs, are kept in tight metal cages throughout their entire lives.
Industrial hog barns are often windowless and contain as many as
4,000 hogs, confined in metal pens built over slatted concrete floors.
Factory-farmed poultry are crowded into long industrial houses
containing as many as 25,000 birds. Hundreds of thousands of egg-laying hens spend their lives in
tiny battery cages, which give each hen space no bigger than the piece of
paper this article is printed on, stacked high in giant barns.
Under the factory system, most
farmers do not own the animals they raise.
Instead, local family farmers raise animals under a contract which
requires them to provide their labor, pay the energy and water costs and
borrow the funds to build the industrial barns and other facilities.
The giant agribusiness corporations supply the animals, the feed
and additives. A handful of
very large corpo0rations control the animal market.
These “Big-Ag” corporations squeeze every last bit of profit
from contract growers and the animals, forcing farmers to raise more
animals for less pay under increasingly dangerous working conditions.
Poisoning Our Water.
One hog produces as much feces as
four humans. North
Carolina’s 7,000,000 factory-raised hogs create four times as much waste
– stored in reeking, open cesspools – as the state’s 6.5 million
people. The Delmarva
peninsula’s 600 million chickens produce 400,000 tons of manure a year;
manure that contains as much 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
New York. When this manure is
inappropriately applied to land as fertilizer, as it often is, nutrients
run off into waterways, poisoning whole watersheds with excess amounts of
nitrogen and phosphorus. Run-off
from poultry and swine manure has been implicated in the outbreak of Pfiesteria piscicida, a
tiny but deadly organism which has sickened humans and killed billions of
fish along Atlantic coastal bays.
factory manure may also contain environmental estrogens.
These estrogens bio-accumulate and drain into waterways,
interfering with aquatic reproductive cycles.
In Israel, this run-off has been implicated in the mass
sterilization of fish in the Sea of Galilee.
animal factory system adds antibiotics and heavy metals, like arsenic and
copper, to animal feed to promote rapid growth and prevent epidemic levels
of disease among confined animals. Routine use of antibiotics can breed
drug-resistant bacteria which enter our water and our food chain,
threatening human health.
children and the elderly are particularly at risk from these resistant
bacteria. Currently, poultry
and hog corporations feed their animals sub-therapeutic levels of the
latest generation of antibiotics, leaving human populations potentially
vulnerable as a result. The
US Food and Drug Administration is trying, against strong industry
resistance, to ban much of animal factory antibiotic use.
Such use is already restricted in the European Union.
factory production is inherently inhumane.
It represents a fundamental violation of nature, with broad
consequences for our physical and spiritual health.
How our food is raised, matters.
When living creatures are brutally transformed into factory units
of production, it desensitizes the human consciousness to the environment
and all of its inhabitants – further alienating us from the natural
processes upon which our lives depend.
simply must abolish animal factories and pursue more sustainable, humane
ways to raise our food.
Bedford is the Chair of the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club.