Why Modern Conventional Farms Are FactoriesPosted: February 16, 2012
After the “Back to the Start” commercial Chipotle aired during the Grammy Awards there has been quite the response.
My response has been very positive because it highlights what industrialization of the food supply has done to the livestock industry in the last century. However, other people have had quite negative responses.
“I can’t even begin to explain everything that is wrong with this commercial” ~ Buzzard’s Beat
“Ah yes, factory farming, that mythical entity that exists in the minds of food elitists.” ~ Beltway Beef
There’s even a video out there that purports to tell the “real story” about modern farming and its virtues.
The one criticism that keeps haunting me is that advocates of conventional farming don’t like the term “factory farming” and vehemently oppose its use because they feel like it’s a mischaracterization of how they raise their animals.
My goal is to show you otherwise. Modern CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) are indeed factories.
Factory, when applied to farming, has a negative connotation. That’s why those accused of participating in a factory farm system feel attacked by the term. That’s one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is the persistent theme of “mischaracterization.” Most proponents of factory farming don’t see it as factory farming – it just doesn’t strike them that they’re a factory or they’re doing anything in a way that might upset sustainable farmers and members of the public.
Conventional = Modern = Factory Farming
Conventional describes the vast majority of farms in the USA. A lot of good people work on these farms. That’s really not the issue here. Sure, there are some bad apples that show up in the news for overt animal abuse and other poor practices. But the majority of farmers in America are hardworking good people. So when conventional farming is attacked, even questioned, people get nervous and feel defensive. It’s their way of life. It’s how they provide for their family. It’s part of their lives and they’ve most likely grown up around conventional farming.
It’s not my goal to demonize farmers or their families.
The problem with conventional farming is the system. Farmers are forced to do things a certain way. It’s a system of mechanization and profits over people controlled by the industrial food complex. If you don’t think there is such a thing as the industrial food complex…try and save your seeds you bought from Monsanto. Hint: they will blacklist you and you will meet their lawyers.
This idea needs to be refuted. Factory farming is quite an accurate term to describe the vast majority of how livestock is raised in America. Let me show you in brief why this is true.
High Density, Low Cost: Bigger, better, faster, cheaper. That’s the mantra of conventional farming. It’s also the reasoning behind non-animal factories. If you hand-made a shoe it would take time, lots of skill and you can only make a limited number of them. If you want bigger, better, faster, cheaper…you make a shoe factory in China. The only way to make bigger, better, faster, cheaper meat, eggs and dairy is to make an animal factory. That’s why we have metal barns holding thousands (or even tens of thousands) of the same exact animal under one roof. Here’s an example of a broiler chicken house compared to a pasture based poultry farm…guess which one is the factory.
Automation: Automatic feeding and watering. Automatic lighting and temperature control. Automatic waste removal. Automatic everything. The factory farm is controlled by electronic circuits. The conventional farm has as much automation as any factory you’d see on an episode of How It’s Made.
Consolidation & Control: “During the past 30 years the number of hog farms in the United States dropped from 650,000 to 71,000, yet the number of hogs remains almost the same.” via NRDC. Four enormous corporations produce 80% of the beef in America. Consolidation is the name of the livestock game nowadays. Chipotle’s commercial showed a small family farm being transformed into a large CAFO. This is very historically accurate. Consolidation under centralized control certainly sounds like factory farming to me.
Factory Waste: A lot of non-animal factories produce hazardous waste. So, you’d expect a farm described as a factory to produce hazardous waste too, right? YEP! Hog farms keep this waste in enormous lagoons next to the hog buildings. Waste produced from hog CAFOs is quite toxic…but the factory farms will dispute this. Here’s a lovely rebuttal, “Large hog farms emit hydrogen sulfide, a gas that most often causes flu-like symptoms in humans, but at high concentrations can lead to brain damage. In 1998, the National Institute of Health reported that 19 people died as a result of hydrogen sulfide emissions from manure pits.” via NRDC. Sometimes this hazardous waste gets out of the lagoons and contaminates the environment in a dramatic way…exhibit A is Hurricane Floyd in North Carolina. You can learn all about factory farm waste here.
Lack of Individuality: Dictionary.com says a factory is “any place producing a uniform product, without concern for individuality.” This doesn’t mean that animals are not cared for medically on an individual basis as needed. Far from it. Where I see “without concern for individuality” at work is how we respect the nature of the animals we’re raising. Factory farms put chickens in battery cages about the size of a piece of paper for their entire life. Hogs are raised on concrete or plastic slatted floors inside metal barns. You get the picture. Factory farms don’t allow a chicken to express its chicken-ness as Joel Salatin would say. Factory farms don’t allow the hog to express its pig-ness. This is an insult to the individuality of the animals you are raising. At a non-factory pasture based farm like Polyface Farms in Virginia the animals can express their “ness” in every sense of the word.
Conclusion: I could continue writing ad nauseum…but I’ll spare you. I haven’t even begun to address the remaining reasons why factory farming is unsustainable and not good for animals, consumers, the environment and workers all across the food chain. With today’s farm you have to ask yourself one question: what is the principle concern? Today, it is unequivocally how can we produce the most for the cheapest price. That, ladies and gentleman, is called a factory mindset. That’s why factory farming is an apt name. A CAFO is not a factory in the sense of a Ford or Toyota auto plant. But it is very factory-esque because the priorities are density of production, low cost, consolidation and automation. So, once again, is factory farming an appropriate name? Absolutely.