Here’s the story: Hogs were moved from being raised outdoors to being housed in temperature-controlled modern hog barns with about a thousand other hogs confined in pens for the welfare of the animal and safety of the product. No more harsh weather. No more parasites. So we’re told. Are parasites such a problem that we can’t safely raise hogs outdoors? Let’s find out.
One of the main concerns in pork is Trichinella spiralis which can cause disease in humans. I should note that currently only 0.013% of the U.S. swine herd is thought to be infected according to the CDC.
From the Pork Checkoff (pork.org):
“The factors that have made U.S. pork safe with respect to Trichinella infection are all related to changes in production practices which eliminate these risks, including banning of uncooked waste feeding in all states and movement to confinement housing systems. Pork production in bio-secure housing systems with hygienic requirements for feed and feed storage and adequate rodent control drastically reduces the risk for exposure of pigs to Trichinella.”
From a 2001 report by the CDC: “The decrease in cases has mirrored the decline in prevalence of Trichinella in commercial pork products. In 1900, the trichinellosis prevalence in U.S. swine was estimated to be 1.41%. The estimated prevalence decreased to 0.125% during 1966–1970 and to 0.013% in 1995…Historically, the major sources of Trichinella-infected pork were swine fed garbage containing animal waste products…Other risk factors for Trichinella-infected pork include consumption by swine of small mammals infected with Trichinella, including rodents, raccoons, skunks, and opossums, and cannibalism among swine within an infected herd.”
So the mainstream story is that raising pigs outdoors means a greater likelihood of parasite infection and we need to continue the intensive barn confinement system to control the risk. But couldn’t this same decrease in likelihood of infection be achieved by knowledgeable pasture-based pig farmers? If we’re not feeding animal waste products to pastured pigs, then isn’t the only concern rodent & small mammal control? Do we really need confinement barns just to keep a few mice out? How many skunks are pigs eating out on the pasture? What if one single rodent gets into the confinement hog barn? It’s certainly possible. Mice manage to squeeze into households all the time. Let me propose that the primary reason for bringing hogs off the pasture and into the confinement barns has little to do with the safety of the pork products. Rather, confinement is only a tool to maximize production and minimize cost while reducing animal welfare and increasing environmental risk.
If you read this report by Intervet, Inc. (manufacturer of worming medication, apparently a division of Merck Pharmaceuticals) you’ll find out that parasites are a BIG problem in confinement operations. So much so that the reason for the report is to urge you to purchase their worming medications.
I’d like to share some quotes from a pastured pig farmer named Walter Jeffries who operates Sugar Mountain Farm in Vermont with his wife Holly and the rest of the Jeffries family.
From Walter Jeffries:
“Reality Check #1: Factory farms routinely use heavy doses of medications to kill off parasites. Simply ask them what wormers and other medications they use injected or in their feeds. It will scare you.
Reality Check #2: We pasture and do not need to routinely use medications, antibiotics or chemical wormers to kill of parasites or such in our pigs or other livestock. Instead we use managed rotational grazing and natural feeds to produce healthy animals. We have never had any problems with parasites in our meat. Our meat is a higher quality and healthier product because it is raised naturally and humanely on pasture. Consumers who care about the animals, quality and their own health buy from pastured farmers and avoid the factory farms.”
Conclusion: Is keeping pigs in indoor confinement one way to reduce exposure to Trichinella? It would appear so and the industry would certainly push this point. They’re obviously depending on the use of worming medications though. But is it the only way? Certainly not. Pastured pork can be very tasty and parasite-free. There is no need for intensive confinement pork. Pasture-based farmers like Walter & Holly Jeffries are proving that they can get the same results as the “biosecure” conventional hog barns but with a much more sustainable, humane and environmentally friendly operation. Why are conventional farmers giving worm medications to the “safer” confined hogs? Sure, there are other worms than Trichinella. But why do farmers need to give worm medications to a “biosecure” pig that is “safer” because of “confinement.” That’s a good question. I think it’s one the conventional industry does not want to answer. And remember, just cook your pork to at least 145° to kill trichinella!
Bonus Link: Here’s an interesting NY Times Op Ed piece from 2009 about Trichinella and pork.
Bonus Observation: There’s a lot of talk about “biosecurity” by factory farmers when referring to keeping hogs safe from disease. Yet, every time I watch a tour of a modern hog barn on YouTube (for example) I always see a farmer in plain clothes walk up to the feeder and sift their bare hands pretty deep into the actual feed. How is that “biosecure?”
Some people speak as if corporations exist in a higher dimension where they don’t have any social responsibility other than selling products and making money. May I politely disagree? Thank you.
PepsiCo Global Beverages Chief Massimo D’Amore recently said the following while interviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek: “We have lost perspective here on the primary reason we are in business, which is to make money.”
I posit that corporations have lost perspective and now focus entirely on increasing profits at any cost to workers, the environment, and whatever/whoever else stands in their way. Do corporations have a social and moral responsibility? The answer is unequivocally and enthusiastically YES!
Critics of food activists are quick to point out that individual people have the responsibility to act for their own good and it shouldn’t be up to corporations to police consumer behavior. I agree! Shocked? You shouldn’t be. Individual people do have a responsibility to act in their own interest. Especially if that means purposely not choosing to eat at a fast food restaurant even though the desire exists. Should corporations scan your ID tag and check to see if you’ve already met your Big Mac quote for the month? I don’t think so. So how should people and corporations share “responsibility?”
Right now the responsibility is not shared equally. Not by a long shot. Big agribusiness falls short of their responsibility and tries to pawn it off on the consumer.
Does the average Joe or Jane in America have a personal multi-million dollar budget to help them figure out what is healthy food a midst the constant bombardment of food advertising? Of course not, that’s silliness. But the food corporations certainly do have the multi-million dollar budget to mold your eating desires. McDonald’s alone spent close to $1 BILLION on advertising last year. It’s easy for a corporation to demand that all individuals act similarly in their ability to resist advertisements. If advertisements weren’t hard to resist, why would they continue to be in use? Right now, the consumer is the David to Big Ag’s Goliath. But remember how that story ends?
Not all people have high school or college educations and read about food policy every day. Not all Americans can make truly informed decisions on a daily basis. Not many Americans feel they can afford to eat healthy food. A lot of Americans are, quite frankly, addicted to fast and processed food. It’s easy for a corporation to hide behind the motto “everything is fine in moderation, there are no forbidden foods.” This is known as a “smoke and mirrors” statement. Corporations are hiding behind slick phrases and conjured up images of responsibility as they retreat further into the shadows of pushing unhealthy food on the public. Corporations want to use the “I’m only the dealer” defense. It doesn’t work in a court of law and it shouldn’t work in the courtroom of the American public.
I challenge you to ask yourself “Are corporations really going to change?” I don’t know the answer. I can keep asking for change, but I’m not going to continue supporting the current system. I’m going to subvert the system and support local farmers and producers. I’m going to share responsibility and grow more and more of my own food.
Here is a conventional Ohio turkey farmer speaking about his operation. I should note that he does not sell directly to consumers, rather he’s a contract grower for a meat processor:
Here is the Lindenhof Farm, an 85-acre farm in Pennsylvania. I should note that hormones are not allowed in poultry farming, but antibiotics can be used.
Questions to ask after viewing:
1. What are the important differences between the two operations?
2. What are my first reactions to the two different operations?
3. What kind of turkey operation do I want?
You’ve heard it before, 98% of all farms are family owned in America. Big agribusiness wants to emphasize this because it implies less corporate influence on the farm. Family farmers want to emphasize this because they want us to know they’re still around and working on the farm! A true in-depth analysis of the individual aspects of family farms in America would require a book to be written. For the purposes of short attention spans, I’ll keep it much shorter.
A Brief History of Farms
“After peaking at 6.8 million farms in 1935, the number of U.S. farms fell sharply until the early 1970s (fig. 2). Falling farm numbers during this period reflect growing productivity in agriculture and increased nonfarm employment opportunities (Hoppe, et al., 2007, p. 4). Growing productivity led to excess capacity in agriculture, farm consolidation, and farm operators leaving farming to work in the nonfarm economy. The decline in farm numbers slowed in the 1980s and essentially stopped in the 1990s.” ~ USDA 2010 Family Farm Report
From the 2010 Family Farm Report (USDA):
“Three features of U.S. farm structure stand out (fig. 4). First, small family farms make up 88 percent of all U.S. farms. Second, large-scale family farms—only 9 percent of all farms—account for a disproportionately large, 66-percent share of the value of production. Third, farming is still an industry of family businesses. Ninety-eight percent of farms are family farms, and they account for 82 percent of production. Only 2 percent of U.S farms are nonfamily farms, accounting for the remaining 18 percent of production.”
“Small family farms—annual sales less than $250,000—made up 88 percent of U.S. farms in 2007. They also held about 64 percent of all farm assets, including 63 percent of the land owned by farms. As custodians of the bulk of farm assets—including land—small farms have a large role in natural resource and environmental policy. Small farms accounted for 76 percent of the land enrolled by farmers in USDA land-retirement programs, largely in the Conservation Reserve Program.”
“Nevertheless, very large family farms and nonfamily farms produce the largest share of agricultural output. Large-scale family farms (annual sales of $250,000 or more), plus nonfamily farms, made up only 12 percent of U.S. farms in 2007 but accounted for 84 percent of the value of U.S. production. Although small family farms produced only 16 percent of agricultural output, they made more significant contributions to the production of specific commodities: hay, tobacco, cash grains and soybeans, and beef cattle.”
“For the most part, large-scale farms are more viable businesses than small family farms.”
“Small-farm households rely on off-farm income. Given small farms’ poor financial performance, why do so many continue to exist? Small-farm households typically receive substantial off-farm income and do not rely primarily on their farms for their livelihood. Most of their off-farm income is from wage-and-salary jobs or self-employment. Households operating retirement farms, however, receive most of their off-farm income from such sources as Social Security, pensions, dividends, interest, and rent.”
One more brief set of numbers:
Dairy Farmers: “…the number of American families remaining in milk farming has plummeted from roughly 165,000 20 years ago, to less than 50,000 today.” @civileats
Hog Farmers: In 1980, there were about 660,000 hog farms. In 2010, there were 69,100 hog farms in America.”
Do you think the consolidation of agriculture into bigger and more intensive operations has been kind to the family farmer?
I’ve always said that I don’t like when perfect becomes the enemy of good. But what happens when the flaws of humanity become the enemy of good?
Most people like fast food and other convenience food items. I know some people who think that McDonald’s is gross and would never eat there, but the majority of Americans do eat there. It must taste good. It must offer some value for the cost or convenience of the food or else people wouldn’t keep going there. Is that the end of the story? People like it and want to eat there so who are these food elitists to claim it’s unhealthy and shouldn’t be consumed?
That’s the crux of the problem. Humanity desires things that are not beneficial to us no matter how obvious that might be. This is obviously most prevalent in affluent developed countries and that’s to whom I’m referring in this post.
Americans are never going to stop going to McDonald’s on their own…because the draw of cheap and viscerally tasty fatty/sugary food is awfully hard to resist. My own personal struggle is to resist McDonald’s breakfast items. I grew up eating them and now I have to muster every last ounce of strength not to get breakfast burritos every now and then. Once or twice a year I fail. I admit it, I drive up to the window and I pick up my breakfast burritos. My inherent flaws express themselves in my eating habits from time to time.
One solution to the problem of overindulgence is “moderation.” I don’t think that’s a bad idea, if we only knew what it meant and how to apply it to the toxic food environment we live in. The food companies selling us their products certainly don’t want to give us any quantification of what moderation might mean. It would hurt their sales and potentially put them out of business. I’d say a good rule of thumb for “moderation” when it comes to eating at fast food restaurants (Applebee’s counts!) would be no more than 12 meals per year. That works out to one meal a month or 0.01% of all the meals you’ll eat in a year. So you wouldn’t eat fast food 99.9% of the time. Do you think McDonald’s or Burger King is going to put that on their billboards.
“Come on in and enjoy a delicious Whopper! But only 0.01% of the time!”
Americans are going to inherently want to consume unhealthy food because it’s both “cheap” and tastes good in some visceral way. Food companies step in and provide the food that Americans are “demanding” and make a hefty profit doing so. Demand is not simply a function of the customer asking for something. It’s much more complicated. Advertising is about creating demand. Food companies have multi-million dollar advertising campaigns — and we get stuck in a vicious cycle:
Homo Economicus is not a rational being when it comes to food (or lots of other things in my opinion). So to say that whatever Americans “demand” is always justified and good for everyone is wrongheaded. We humans are flawed and so our desires are going to be inherently flawed. This is evident in the rise of the fast food nation. You can’t look yourself in the mirror and say that fast food is good for America or anyone else in the world.
While humanity will never reach some Utopia of eating perfection, good is certainly a worthy goal. And strong “demand” for unhealthy convenience food is not good. Modern economics will tell us that it is a good thing. I’m not convinced. I think the purely economic approach to doing things is not the end-all-be-all.
The Point: Are we going to just give in to our flaws as people? Are we going to continue living and promoting sedentary lifestyles while eating fast food and getting fatter and fatter and sicker and sicker just because that’s what Americans are demanding? There is an ideal. And then there is getting as reasonably close to the ideal as we can. Due to the inherent flaws of humanity we will never reach the ideal. But we must commit ourselves to striving towards the ideal. What do you think?
Dan raises hogs in Paullina, IA.
But he does things differently than the large CAFOs. Watch the video to meet a farmer who raises hogs unlike the majority of the industry.
Why Does the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assocation Care About the Humane Society-United Egg Producers Agreement?Posted: March 1, 2012
Just finished reading a post over at Beltway Beef about how NCBA thinks the agreement reached by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and United Egg Producers (UEP) is a “dangerous precedent”. Here’s a pdf fact sheet about the agreement from HSUS. In short, the two organizations have agreed to mutually pursue legislation that will mandate enriched cages instead of barren battery cages phased in over 15-18 years. It would also mandate labeling on egg cartons such as “eggs from caged hens”. Forced molting through starvation would be banned as well as some other issues that are addressed in the fact sheet. To be clear, there is no legislation currently on the table. The agreement only specifies that the two groups will work together to get legislation passed. And we’re talking federal law too which would trump any existing state laws.
So two groups who are generally in disagreement get along and agree on some legislation that improves the lives of laying hens – and this is a bad thing?
I think enriched cages are certainly an improvement for laying hens, so I support this legislation. But, I don’t think it’s the best solution. I’ll continue to buy my eggs from local farmers or raise backyard chickens before I’ll buy eggs at the grocery store from battery caged hens or even enriched caged hens.
But why is NCBA up in arms about this?
From the Beltway Beef post: “If the legislation were to become law, Butts said for the first time ever, the federal government would be in charge of mandating how farmers and ranchers raise and care for their animals. ”
Ah, the ol’ slippery slope argument! Here’s why I believe this alarmist position is not justified. They say that if the legislation would pass, then the government would, for the first time ever, be in charge of mandating how farmers and ranchers raise and care for their animals. For starters, ranchers raise cattle…not chickens. So this legislation will not be a precedent for any mandates for ranchers. Second, the legislation would only mandate one specific aspect of the egg industry — and for the better! It would not give the government any more power than the legislation addresses — which is a 15-18 year phase-in of enriched cages and some labeling standards.
NCBA wants to pretend that the government has no business meddling in the affairs of farmers and ranchers. But the NCBA certainly wants to have their say in politics: Influence Explorer. The government has the right to enact legislation regarding the livestock/agriculture industry and this is not some Draconian legislation — it’s just about improving the welfare of laying hens!