Monday, March 8, 2010

Animal Factory

Have you heard about David Kirby’s new book, Animal Factory?



Animal Factory exposes the shocking and ugly ways large scale animal processors are impacting our environment. Before reading this eye opening book, I had no idea of the pollution coming out of today’s large scale pork farms, dairies, and cattle operations. I always thought of farming as a fairly benign activity. Cows poop in the fields, and farmers plow the manure in for fertilizer. Seems harmless and natural, right? It is, in a traditional farm.

But today’s mega-farms concentrate thousands of animals in a fraction of the space. Cows in these lots don’t graze in meadows – they are fed concentrated food from troughs. They are packed so tight there’s no room to graze, and there are so many hungry beasts that there’s nothing growing to eat, anyway. A field that thrived on the manure of fifty cows collapses with the waste stream of five hundred, and it becomes an environmental disaster when trampled by a thousand cattle.

David showed me a new perspective on animal waste, and frankly, it’s shocking. It’s no surprise that cows and pigs generate more waste than humans. What happens to it? In many places, the waste is pumped into lagoons – open cesspools – before being sprayed on surrounding fields. Some of these animal operations generate as much waste as a city of 10,000 people. Can you imagine the public outrage if we stored that much human waste in open cesspools before spraying it over community meadows? That’s a pretty disgusting thought.

Yet that’s exactly what we do with pig, chicken, and cattle wastes. We’ve brought human waste under tight control in recent decades. David shows us that it’s time to do the same for animals in these factory environments.

There have been a number of books in recent years detailing the animal cruelty and purported evils of large scale animal operations. That’s not the message of this book. Rather, David takes us into communities in North Carolina, the Midwest, and Washington State where we see the impact this kind of agriculture has on communities and the environment. And it’s not pretty.

Now that I’ve read Animal Factory, my view of these factory farms is forever changed. Millions of people appreciate cheap meats in the supermarket, and places like these make that possible. But at what price? Humanity evolved on a much lower level of meat consumption. Perhaps it’s time to take a step back, and reconsider our priorities. I know I will. I already knew the risks of heart disease from eating too much meat. Now, adding the environmental risks, I think the answer for me is less meat, sustainably raised.

David makes a strong case for monitoring and regulating these mega-animal processors the same way we oversee chemical plants and other large industrial operations. Operators will surely cry foul, and complain that the cost of sewage treatment will make our food more expensive. But they are wrong. Every time a meat processor saves a few million dollars on waste management we all suffer as our rivers are polluted, fish die, and people get sick.

The owners of the food factories get rich by cutting corners, and we live with the consequences. Communities around these plants endure horrible and unhealthy stenches, and a toxic rain of manure and other effluents. And when the waste lagoons burst the effects are even worse.

David’s book doesn’t contain any nutrition or eating advice, but I sure am glad I eat organic locally grown foods whenever I can. There may not be much I can do about pollution from a hog factory in North Carolina, but I can at least support sustainable and environmentally responsible alternatives, so that’s what I do. And I can eat less meat. You can too.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma showed us alternatives to factory foods.
Slaughterhouse showed what it’s like for workers and animals inside these places.

Now, Animal Factory shows us the place these operations have in our human community.

And it’s not for me. This is an eye opening book, for sure. Read it.

4 comments:

Gina said...

Oh, goodness. I am afraid to read this because I am pregnant and already having a hard time finding food that I am willing/able to eat...but as soon as I give birth, I'll buy this. I was a vegeterian until I got pregnant and plan on going back to it when I don't have to worry so much about my iron! Thanks for the suggestion.

Ghost said...

I'm so glad I already have a source for pasture-raised beef and chicken. What's really shameful, though, is the the farm co-op that I buy it from is basically illegal, because in my state, it is nearly impossible for a small grower to sell meat to regular customers-- the required licensing and inspection and other regulations are just too expensive/onerous. So to avoid factory-farmed meat without going vegetarian, I have to buy it from good people who skirt the law to import it from another state. So not only are factory farms destroying the communities around them, our laws are squeezing out the alternatives.

Diane T said...

thanks for calling attention to this book. I look forward to each addition to your blog. I wonder if ear wiggling can be an aquired trait or if one must be born with it. xox hugs

Richard Levangie said...

Terrific post! The way we raise animals for food is immoral, and by cutting back on meat, we're doing the planet — and ourselves — a favor.

Our obsession with meat is also creating hunger and poverty in many parts of the world. Think of it this way. An acre of land can produce 60,000 pounds of onions, or 50,000 pounds of tomatoes.

Or it can produce 250 pounds of beef.