Talks by writers, scientists, and food experts
In part 2, Dan Imhoff continues his talk about CAFO’s to a Friends of Family Farmers audience concerned about the health and wellbeing of their communities, and who support the creation of more sustainable, and environmentally healthy alternatives from that of our heavily industrialized, food system.
Much of Imhoff’s talk centers around ideas that are found in his newly published book, CAFO— a collection of thought provoking essays and gut wrenching images that depict the world of factory farm livestock: cattle, dairy cows, hogs, chickens, and turkeys.
Per the federal EPA designation of a large CAFO operation (from the CAFO book), their individual confinement numbers alone are shocking—defined as being more than any one of the following: 1000 head of cattle; 2500 swine (weighing over 55 lbs); 10,000 swine (under 55 lbs); 55,000 turkeys; 82,000 chickens (laying hens); or 20,000-30,000 meat chickens (broilers), housed under one roof.
As the book explains, the primary purpose of a CAFO is to feed livestock, and prepare them as quickly, and inexpensively as possible for slaughter. Maximum efficiency and minimizing costs are the basis for how the animals are fed, housed, and cared-for in these types of operations. The images contained in this coffee-table size book may only begin to convey the true horror of their living conditions. Pigs crammed so tightly together, their fecal waste falls through metal grates upon which they stand throughout the day and night; chickens housed together in a sea of other chickens, warehoused together under one roof, their bodies caked with feces. Nothing about these images suggest a “farm”, there is also nothing in these images that suggests the faintest hints of compassion, respect for living things, or even a basic display of humanity toward livestock that have served the interests of man since the dawn of civilization. Indeed, these are not true factories either—they are livestock prisons designed ultimately to preserve and engorge the economic coffers of large corporate behemoths increasingly at the expense of smaller producers, local communities, and arguably the eater.
Recently, some individual states have enacted legislation to protect these facilities by making it a felony to photograph (even from a public road) a CAFO Farm operation. In Missouri, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that legislation, overwhelmingly passed by their lawmakers, is before the governor for his signature. If approved, the Missouri law would largely exempt CAFO operators from liability from individual lawsuits resulting from steep losses of neighborhood property values; environmental damage from runoff onto neighboring properties, or waterways; and continual foul odors that may permeate the surrounding community, among other impacts.
Large corporate interests have (presumably) pressured the state to make legal what clearly violates basic constitutional rights of its citizens—in the words of the Saint Louis paper: “HB 209 would limit the liability for CAFO operators. In effect, it grants factory farms the right, for a one-time payment, to devastate property values and take away in perpetuity their neighbors’ use and enjoyment of their property.”
If the federal government ever decides to strengthen (as opposed to, weaken) environmental laws as they apply to agriculture; staunchly defend the rights of individuals, and their local communities to hold fully liable large agriculture interests that cause them harm; protect to the utmost public health concerns—at a minimum— by limiting prophylactic use of antibiotics in livestock, and not allowing the storage of massive manure lagoons to exist; strengthen (not weaken) whistleblower laws to inform the public about what is really going on behind closed doors with the food they are eating; and eliminate all government subsidies to large CAFO’s—these measures would likely restore at least some balance to a livestock industry gone terribly awry…
From the CAFO book, a few of the historical changes in the U.S. livestock industry since 1950:
- Today, 330 million cattle and 100 million hogs are slaughtered each year. Two states, Iowa and North Carolina represent about 80% of the hogs raised on factory farms; they contain 5000 hogs, or more.
- The New York Times reported in 2008. Iowa’s 5000 confinement hog facilities generate over 50 million tons of raw waste, equivalent to 16.7 tons of animal manure for every resident. (Source: Dave Murphy, The Great Pig Debate: How CAFO’s Stalk The Next President, Animal Welfare Institute Quarterly, Winter 2008)
- A recent World Watch report estimates that the livestock sector may be responsible for up to 50% of all greenhouse gas emissions. (source: Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, Livestock and Climate Change: What If The Key Players in Climate Change are…Cows, Pigs, and Chickens?” Worldwatch November/December 2009, pages 10-19)
- It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef. As more of the world’s population shifts to the western diet of meat, eggs, and dairy, this creates an unsustainable impact on the environment.
- Between 1997 and 2005, factory farms saved an estimated 31 billion dollars (over this 8 year period), thanks to U.S. taxpayer subsidies to purchase corn and soybeans below production costs. (source: Elanor Starmer and Timothy A. Wise, Feeding At The Trough: Industrial Livestock Firms Saved $35 Billion From Low Feed Prices, Policy Brief No. 07-03; December 2007)
- In 1950: there were more than 3 million hog operations, by 2007, that number dwindled to just over 17,000 due largely to industry consolidation.
- In 1950 (before factory farms): there were 21 million cows producing 116 billion pounds; in 2000, there were only 9 million cows producing (even more milk), 167 billion pounds.
- In 1960: US Beef Cattle Operations totaled 2.7 million, by the year 2000, that number was reduced to 1.1 million, more than a 50% reduction over 40 years. (Source: U.S. Per Capita Dairy and Egg Consumption, 1950-2007; Humane Society of the United States)
- Per capita beef consumption from 1960 to 2000 climbed from 44 pounds per year, per person to 67 pounds per year, per person. Even as beef consumption has exponentially risen (combined with population growth over this 40 year period) industry consolidation has significantly reduced the number of cattle operations. (Source: U.S. Per Capita Dairy and Egg Consumption, 1950-2007; Humane Society of the United States)
Disclosure: CUPS received a complimentary copy of CAFO for review purposes.