Factory farmed chickens have it bad, but in Christopher Leonard’s new meat industry exposé The Meat Racket, it’s the farmers who get plucked. Leonard, a former agribusiness reporter for the Associated Press and now a fellow at the New American Foundation, subtitled his book The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business, and he’s not kidding about the “secret” part. When Leonard set out to investigate how four huge companies came to more or less dictate the state of our meat supply, he ran into balky bureaucrats and fearful farmers. Read more
This article was originally published by OnEarth magazine.
Before I even stepped from my truck onto the gravel outside the New Fashion Pork hog confinement facility, Emily Erickson, the company’s animal well-being and quality assurance manager, handed me a pair of stretchy white plastic footies to put over my shoes. It was a blustery day in September, the sky threatening snow—the first hint of winter, when cold, dry air stabilizes viruses and biosecurity becomes a topmost concern. Read more
In the livestock industry, heroes don’t always get their due. Perhaps that’s because the story of our modern animal agriculture system is so often so bleak—for farmers, animals, our health and the health of our environment.
In the U.S. pork sector, two-thirds of hog production comes from producers working under contract with mega-processors like Smithfield and Cargill. Processing is increasingly automated and farmers feel the pressures of high volume, low cost meat production. In confined animal feeding operations or “CAFOs”, pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in superbug-breeding warehouses, crowded with pens and gestation crates as far as the eye can see. Hogs are raised for maximum weight gain and routinely given antibiotics to speed up growth and prevent the very kinds of diseases that spread when so many animals live in such close, unsanitary and stressful quarters. Read more
Anyone who has struggled to protect a community from the damage caused by an industrial livestock operation can attest that the task is exceptionally difficult, requiring courage, fortitude, and substantial investment of time, money, energy and effort. It’s an uphill battle, a lopsided fight in which all odds are stacked in favor of industrial livestock proponents who enjoy the tremendous financial backing of agribusiness, political support from legislators bought by industry campaign contributions, lax oversight from industry-friendly regulatory agencies and in some cases, public support from individuals swayed by false promises of economic development. Read more
By now, you know that not all meat is created equal. That familiar fable about Old MacDonald and his happy barnyard menagerie is a far cry from the cruel reality of factory farms, where cows, pigs, and chickens are crammed together in giant warehouses, fattened on grain, and pumped full of antibiotics, then rolled out to the slaughterhouse to become the next Big Mac or box of McNuggets.
In regulatory lingo, these meat factories are called “concentrated animal feeding operations,” or CAFOs. (Pronounced “cay-fo.”) Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about them—and a few things you’d probably rather not know. Read more
The name Paul Willis is pretty much synonymous with sustainable pork production. In the mid-1990s, Willis teamed up with Bill Niman to develop the Niman Ranch Pork Program and bring flavorful, antibiotic-free pork to market. If you aren’t familiar with it, the program is actually quite different from the way most hogs are raised and sold in this country in that it sources from family farms, raising hogs on pasture or in deep-bedded systems. I was fortunate enough to meet up with Paul for a pleasant conversation at the lovely 18 Reasons space in San Francisco’s Mission District to learn more about his farm, the Niman Ranch Pork Program and his recent trip to Capitol Hill. Read more
If Iowa is considered the belly of the beast of industrial agriculture, then the Iowa state capitol is the part of the animal that drains the swamp. After all, Iowa is the place where Iowa legislators have made it possible to produce 11.3 hogs per person annually and created some of the most polluted rivers and streams contributing to the Dead Zone due to continued poor legislation and failed regulatory oversight.
Last year Iowa’s modern agricultural practices were made famous by legendary food safety violator Jack DeCoster, who is still in business after a 500-million egg recall due to salmonella that sickened more than 1,500 people in 23 states. This year Iowa’s state legislators are about to pass a bill that would make it illegal for anyone to take a photo of his “farms” or any other farm or field in Iowa. Even though some of the worst animal welfare abuses in U.S. history have taken place under the roofs of Jack DeCoster’s hundreds of industrial animal confinements, Iowa lawmakers are willing to offer immunity to offenders like him and penalize those who blow the whistle on those who would abuse animal livestock, i.e., our food. Read more
On the National Park Service website, under the heading, “Things To Do at Minidoka National Historic Site,” you will find this:
Walk through the remains of the entry station, waiting room, and rock garden. Read the names on the plaques. Try to imagine what it must have been like to be brought to this remote area. Look around and compare what you see to your own more comfortable surroundings.
Soon, this contemplative visit to the Minidoka War Relocation Center will have a much different feel–and smell. After decades of activism to get the former incarceration camp named a national historic monument, an Idaho dairy wants to build a Confined Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO, just 1.2 miles away. Read more
The FDA took a significant step yesterday toward restricting the routine feeding of subtherapeutic (medically unnecessary) doses of antibiotics to livestock. As Grist has detailed in previous coverage, this practice — which by some estimates consumes nearly 70% of all antibiotics administered in the U.S. – has been linked to the rise of antibiotic resistance, both in common pathogens such as salmonella and in previously rare ones such as MRSA. Read more
Here in Iowa we have an event called RAGBRAI – The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa – the oldest, largest and longest non-competitive ride in the world. Simply put, roughly 15,000 of us dip our back tires in the Missouri River one July Sunday Morning, then pedaling past the cities, fields and farms we dip our front tires in the Mississippi River 6 days later, having ridden an average of 465 miles.
When the ride started 38 years ago, riders rolled past countless fields dotted with little lean-to style huts – shelters for the hogs that have been raised here since the European settlers came in the early 1800s. Since then, though, the huts have all but disappeared, replaced by long, narrow steel buildings with pairs of 6-foot exhaust fans on each end and large lagoons outside. Read more