28 September 2010

This installment of Ecotopia takes a look at factory farming, particularly production of meat. 

We talk first with Daniel Imhoff, author of an impressive book of essays by major environmentalists with dramatic photographs showing “the tragedy of industrial animal factories.” CAFO: Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.  Earth Aware, 2010.

Then we speak with David Murphy of Food Democracy Now! about his efforts to protect consumers from factory farming, especially the indiscriminate use of antibiotics on animals that are basically healthy.

Some Background on Factory Farming of Animals

From an essay by Wendell Berry, called “Stupidity in Concentration”:

 The principle of confinement in so-called animal science is derived from the industrial version of efficiency. The designers of animal factories appear to have had in mind the example of concentration camps or prisons, the aim of which is to house and feed the greatest numbers in the smallest space at the least expense of money, labor, and attention. To subject innocent creatures to such treatment has long been recognized as heartless. Animal factories make an economic virtue of heartlessness toward domestic animals, to which we humans owe instead a large debt of respect and gratitude.

 From Edward Abbey in “Down the River:

We are slaves in the sense that we depend for our daily survival upon an expand-or-expire agro-industrial empire—a crackpot machine—that specialists cannot comprehend and the managers cannot manage.  Which is, furthermore, devouring world resources at an exponential rate.

 Daniel Imhoff  writes of “The Loss of Individual Farms”:

In the United States, and increasingly in other parts of the world, livestock production has changed dramatically from family-based, small-scale, relatively independent farms to larger industrial operations more tightly aligned across the production and distribution chains.

 The problem with applying the industrial economic model to agriculture is the nature of farming itself.  Farms are not factories.  Farms are embedded within biological systems.  A healthy farm has natural diversity rather than factory-like precision and specialization. A healthy farm exhibits complex communities of plant and animal species instead of oversimplified monocultures.  And finally, a healthy farm is scaled according to what the land can resiliently sustain, not drawing too excessively from local water supplies, or overwhelming the surrounding area with wastes that can’t be safely applied as fertilizers or tolerated by neighbors.

And Daniel Imhoff cites the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has identified seven factors that have contributed to the rapid expansion of the factory food industry.

  1. subsidy programs that have allowed large producers to lower operating costs by buying discounted grains;
  2. innovations in breeding that produce animals tailored to harsh confinement conditions;
  3. increasing use of antibiotics to thwart disease;
  4. avoiding the costs of safe manure handling and treatment;
  5. lack of enforcement of existing anti-trust and environmental regulations;
  6. the domination of markets through contracts and ownership; and disregard of the negative effects of concentrated production on people living near the facilities. (109)

Our Questions for Daniel Imhoff.   Daniel Imhoff  is both editor of and a contributor to a new book titled CAFO The Tragedy of Industrial Animal.  Factories. The book has a distinguished list of contributors that includes Michael Pollan, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Anna Lapé, and Joel Salatin.

  • Your title, CAFO,  is an acronym.  It sounds industrial or corporate.  What does it stand for and why did you choose it for the title of your book?
  • This is a large book, coffee table size, lavishly  designed and illustrated with hundreds of disturbing color photos of factory farming operations and abuses.  Why did you choose to do the book this way?
  • Could you give us a rough indication of the size and scope of CAFOs—in the U.S. and/or globally?  How much of the world’s food comes from these operations?  (What is “vertical integration”?)
  • You and your authors expose a number of myths about Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.  Perhaps we could explore a few of these:
    • CAFOs are necessary to feed the world’s population.
    • They are “farms.”
    • The food they produce is healthy, good for us.
    • They are not harmful to the environment.
    • In your introduction, you note: “How a society functions can best be understood by studying  its food system.”  What’s the basis for that claim?  What do you conclude about how our society is functioning?
    • You also raise the question, “What are our ethical responsibilities as eaters, citizens, and producers in reforming a system that is so clearly in need of change?”  What’s your personal response to that question?
      • You suggest that consumers “vote with your fork.”  Can that realistically have an effect on the food industry?
      • What (if anything) are the CAFO producers doing to clean their own nest?
      • What do you recommend that policy makers do? which policy makers? Can we expect to dent the farm lobby?
      • Can we expect or hope that CAFOs will—as you and your writers propse—be dismantled or “put out to pasture”?

What else can concerned listeners do?  Your book is an incredible resource, but are there also other organizations that people should know about or join?

The book is CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories.  As we’ve said, it’s a work of art as a book, and it’s published by Earth Aware.  We have a pledge drive coming up in a couple of weeks, and we will offer our copy of the book as a special premium in exchange for a good pledge.  If you’d like to get your copy now, send us an e-mail, make an early pledge, and we’ll get this important book to you. 

Our Discussion with David Murphy

David Murphy is founder and director of Food Democracy Now!, an activist group that is campaigning for a number of reforms in the food industry. He has worked as a food policy lobbyist, media strategist, and was successful in 2007 in getting presidential candidates to pledge support for sustainable family farms. 

  • Please tell us about Food Democracy Now!  When and why did you create it? (Who provides your funding?)
  • You have written, “Our food system is fundamentally broken”  What does that mean?  What are the symptoms and consequences of this breakdown?
  • We talked earlier in the program with Dan Imhoff about Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.  One of the big objections to CAFOs is indiscriminate use of antibiotics to (over)compensate for unhealthy living conditions for animals.  What is Food Democracy Now! doing about this issue?
    • We’ve read one of your documents on “Legislation on Antibiotic Use,” and found it the issue to be extraordinarily complex. We seem to have a patchwork of laws and regulations issued by various agencies  (e.g., HR 1549, Minor Species Act, FDA, CDC, the farm bill). Is there any hope for comprehensive or systematic reform of antibiotics regulation? Or more broadly, systematic reform of factory farming?
  • You’ve also been active investigating the recent salmonella infestation of eggs from Wright County and Hillendale Farms.  Please tell us what you’ve learned and what you advocate.  And tell us about your success in getting some food chains not to buy from those sources.
  • As time permits, please tell us about some of your other campaigns and interests:
    • GMO salmon
    • GMO alfalfa
    • The Russian Seed bank
  • Please tell listeners how they can get involved in the work of Food Democracy Now!.  Are there other organizations that we should know about as well?

 Food Democracy Now has an excellent web site and makes it easy for people to sign petitions and otherwise weigh in of food issues. Be sure to visit them at fooddemocracynow.org.

Playlist for Ecotopia #105: Factory Animal Farming

  1. Factory Farms        3:40        Trouser        Factory Farm Songs       
  2. Industrial Disease        5:50        Dire Straits        Love Over Gold                               
  3. Rain On The Scarecrow        3:46        John Mellencamp        Scarecrow       
  4. Farm        2:57        Imagination Movers        Juice Box Heroes       
  5. Weave Me the Sunshine        4:28        Peter, Paul And Mary        The Very Best of  Peter, Paul and Mary       
  6. Farm Animals        3:20        Spook Less        Trail Riding Edition       
  7. Cows        2:51        The Seldom Herd        Philadelphia Chickens