The arguments against regulating CAFOs have always been that meat would be more expensive if we did. But if the price of meat were slightly higher, we’d eat less of it, simultaneously helping our bodies and the planet.
What we currently pay for food is the lowest of anytime in history, which is a feat to say the least. But there are hidden costs in our food system, leaving out factors like environmental harm, farm worker, slaughterhouse worker and animal treatment issues, and our health from the equation. Right now, instead of paying the real costs of cheap meat up front, we are socializing the costs on society through higher healthcare costs, poisoned air and waterways, and in food safety, as evidence points to these facilities as incubators of both MRSA and resistant new flus, but also as using larger facilities means a greater potential for harm from contamination.
The bottom line is that we are not entitled to eat meat. It is not absolutely necessary to survive. I’m not writing this to promote a meat-free diet, but to show that our gluttony has a price. This doesn’t mean that only the rich should be able to afford meat, as it is in many other countries, but that we should somehow regain the respect we once had for the animal we are eating.
So first, we hold our president accountable for his campaign promises and then what? Once CAFOs have been regulated for the health, environmental and social ills that they are, we can begin to develop a better model, and transition farmers to appropriate-scale animal husbandry. What we are doing now is not a part of that old tradition, but in effect, a factory — an efficiency-based system bound with a lot of risk.
Luckily this is not just a fringe issue. People are waking up to the fact that our experiment in industrial agriculture is not working. Even a European group, Avazz.org, presented a petition to call on the United Nations World Health Organization in Geneva to investigate and regulate CAFOs. Their petition garnered 200,000 signatures in 6 days, which proves that people are concerned about this issue in the wake of the swine flu outbreak.