When might it be punishable to report a criminal activity? When it takes place inside a poultry warehouse, slaughterhouse, or on a cattle feedlot. That’s the upshot of a new wave of so-called “ag-gag” bills passed in state legislatures around the nation, the latest of which, AB 343, was introduced in California last month.

“Ag gag” laws have been put forth by the meat industry to criminalize the reporting of animal cruelty by anyone — journalists, activists, or whistleblowers. They are intended to prohibit the release of videotapes or photographs that document what happens inside factory farms and meat processing facilities, often with the threat of jail time. The real goal of these laws is to “chill” a person’s resolve to make public any illegal behavior such as beating or torturing captive animals, often using the police to seize their materials. 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 CAFO Reader – a new book featuring essays by farmers Wendell Berry, Becky Weed, and Fred Kirschenmann, Republican speech writer Matthew Scully, journalist Michael Pollan and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., among many others – gives a full picture of the environmental, social, and ethical implications of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, and includes a section of essays on “Putting the CAFO Out to Pasture.” A CAFO is an Environmental Protection Agency designation for a farming facility that keeps numerous animals raised for food in close confinement, with the potential to pollute. These facilities often produce extreme amounts of waste, which ends up in toxic lagoons, sprayed on the land, and eventually in the watershed; require the use of high doses of antibiotics, thereby adding to the growth of drug-resistant bacteria; and are exempt from most animal cruelty laws. I spoke with the editor of The CAFO Reader, Daniel Imhoff, who is also the cofounder, director, and publisher of Watershed Media, about recent legislation and the future of the CAFO.

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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

We get asked frequently at Farm Aid what a family farmer really is, how to spot a factory farm, or if someone can be both a family farmer and run a factory farm. We also receive questions from farmers themselves who want to know if we consider them a family farm or a factory farm. You name it — we’re asked it.

At Farm Aid, we consider these questions seriously. After all, our mission is to keep family farmers on their land. So, what do we mean when we say family farmer? How do we identify a factory farm? Is there any real definition to these terms? Read more

Ever feel like you were playing checkers and the other guy was playing chess?

That’s the sort of feeling I get often when I watch many of the recent spate of food documentaries to be released.  Activists announce that this or that is wrong with the food system, and on the rare occasion when something appears to be getting done about it, the folks who are doing things badly simply change their tactics, but not their strategy.

It happened again while watching the British documentary film Pig Business. Read more

My family operates a grass-fed beef and lamb farm in Meredith, NY. I am on a New York state beef producers email list that shares information on beef news in New York, and when I received an email about a proposed CAFO that would house 72,000 cows, I was alarmed. Not only is the scale extremely big (it would be the largest CAFO east of the Mississippi) but it was being advertised as sustainable. I began to reach out to my personal network of academics and beef farmers and was surprised by the differing reactions. The resulting conversations and viewpoints brought to light the complexity of our current agricultural debate and the dire situation most rural economies find themselves in, especially in upstate New York. Read more

I can’t believe I missed it: the Meat Industry Hall of Fame’s first-ever induction ceremony occurred in Chicago on October 27. And what a night it was: headlined by the illustrious Bill Kurtis—the former CBS anchor who currently narrates criminal justice shows for the A&E Television Network.

Meat industry luminaries including Don Tyson, Jimmy Dean, and the late Frank Perdue were inducted that evening, along with litigious feedlot owner Paul Engler, who you might remember for suing Oprah Winfrey over mad cow disease and getting spanked in court. By all accounts, it was a truly magical evening, what with Kurtis’ gripping keynote address offering up a 30 minute history of the American meat industry.

Despite the glitz, an undercurrent of worry pervaded the event. See, the meat industry was in the midst of its most horrific year on record, being seemingly besieged by all sides. Robert “Bo” Manly, CFO of pork titan Smithfield Foods put it best: “Anything that breathed lost money.” Read more

It sounds like a bad Halloween prank, but unfortunately, feeding cattle chicken litter—the material that accumulates on the floor of chicken growing facilities—is everyday practice in feedlots. Surprisingly, this unhealthy and inhumane practice is legal and poorly monitored, creating unacceptable risks to human and animal health.

Consumers Union and Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), a Chicago-based animal welfare organization, have filed pre-Halloween grassroots petitions signed by more than 37,000 individuals with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking the agency to end the practice of feeding chicken poop to cows. FACT, with the endorsement of Consumers Union and 11 other national organizations, filed a formal citizen petition in August 2009 asking FDA to ban this practice. The petition is part of FACT’s Filthy Feed Campaign. Read more