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At the heart of the animal advocacy movement is an uncompromising commitment to compassion for all sentient beings, human and nonhuman alike. Any action that claims to be in the name of furthering animal protection but which results, directly or indirectly, in real or threatened suffering, pain, and/or taking of human or animal life is totally antithetical to this ethic of compassion that guides our actions for a more humane world.
Sustainable Farming: Inside a Factory Farm
What is a Factory Farm?
Many of today's farms are not what you'd probably think. Far from the idyllic family farm, many farms today are more like industrial facilities, pumping out huge volumes of 'product' at even larger profit.
These kinds of farms are what we call 'Factory Farms'. And although the exact definition of a Factory farm may vary from state to state, they all share some common characteristics.
First of all, a Factory Farm confines hundreds to thousands of animals (such as cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys) in extremely tight spaces, and provides them with little or no access to sunlight, fresh air, room, or any semblance of a natural environment. Some of these facilities produce millions of animals yearly.
Secondly, and as a direct result of these conditions, Factory Farms have many public health problems among their population. This causes them to pump the animals full of antibiotics and hormones to fight disease and food borne illnesses.
Thirdly, Factory Farms employ liquid waste systems and 'lagoons' to store the raw manure produced by their animals.
Factory Farms also routinely mutilate the animals they confine. They employ such methods as debeaking poultry, clipping pigs' tails, pulling teeth, and docking cows' tails.
Factory Farms are vertically integrated. This means that a single corporation owns or controls the Factory Farm, the feed company, the slaughterhouse, and the final stages of production.
Lastly, Factory Farms are among the worst polluters, as the animal waste and their carcasses are allowed to sit and rot, thus decreasing neighboring property values (odor and water pollution).
Obviously, these types of farms pose serious health risks to the animals which they 'produce'. However, some people argue that this fact is inconsequential to the consumer. Should you care about the conditions the animal whose meat you're eating grew in? If you care about your own health, they answer is a resounding "YES"!
Health risks with Factory Farms
Factory Farms pose a greater health risk than what you may think. The food that you eat is the raw material your body uses to regenerate itself. If you put in bad fuel, you get bad performance. And the truth is, any meat consumed from a factory farm is laden with potential health problems.
According to a Iowa State University study, exposure to airborne factory farm emissions can lead to tension, depression, reduced vigor, fatigue, confusion, nausea, dizziness, weakness, fainting, headaches, plugged ears, runny nose, scratchy throat, and burning eyes. If the very air is toxic, then how can we even think about consuming meat from an animal that was raised in these conditions?
Maybe this is why of the 76 million cases (and 5000 resultant deaths) that occur due to food borne illnesses each year, the USDA estimates 70% of them can be traced back to contaminated meat!
Moreover, an estimated 70% of all antibiotics in the U.S. are fed to pigs, poultry, and cattle merely to promote growth and to compensate for the unsanitary and confined conditions of factory farms! This medically unnecessary use of antibiotics only serves to foster the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can spread to other animals and humans.
And then to combat the pathogens that the very methods of factory farming promote, the meat industry is increasingly turning to food irradiation! So, they are exposing your meat to high levels of ionizing radiation to make your food "safe". But they don't tell you how this radiation exposure depletes vitamins and creates potentially hazardous chemicals and nuclear waste in the meat you eat! And what's more is that none of this does anything to combat the root of the problem!
The truth is, these factory farms care as much about your health as they do about the animals which they 'produce'. Their true allegiance is to their bottom line.
Unfortunately, factory farms have a horrible track record when it comes to the treatment of their animals. By its very definition, a factory farm keeps these animals in highly stressed, crowded, and malnourished conditions. Many animals in factory farms never even see sunlight, touch their feet on the earth, or have any semblance of a natural life.
Each full-grown chicken in a factory farm has as little as six-tenths of a square foot of space in which to live! Because of these crowded living conditions, chickens often become aggressive and can injure each other. It is for this reason that factory farms routinely mutilate the birds by debeaking them.
Pigs live on concrete or slatted floors because it allows the factory farm to remove the manure more easily. However, the pigs often develop with severe skeletal deformities since they are so far removed from their natural habitat.
Moreover, it is estimated that as many as 20% of all breeding cows die prematurely from exhaustion and stress due to confinement and accelerated breeding schedules.
And yet, we continue to turn a blind eye to these conditions. They affect our health in more ways than anyone wants to admit, and yet we still allow factory farms to continue these practices. It is well known that stress causes the body to respond by producing many damaging chemicals and hormones; cortisol being only one of them. When we eat the meat of animals that have been essentially tortured their entire lives, we inherit the effects- plain and simple.
What about family farms?
Family farms were at one time the backbone of America. Our country was fed by the family farmer for hundreds of years, and now they are in danger.
Family farms are increasingly being forced out of business by large factory farms. With the way that factory farms force prices down, the family farmer finds himself having to sell for 5 cents what cost 6 cents to grow. Obviously, this is not a sustainable situation.
In fact, factory farms are quickly taking the livestock industry over. As of today, factory farms produce 98% of all the poultry in the U.S.; showing the rate at which family farms are being forced out of business.
And the federal government is doing nothing to help the family farmer in the face of this threat. Instead of supporting the family farm, the federal government gives nearly twice as much in subsidies to factory farms. As a further sign of the impact, the number of independent hog operations has declined by 72% since 1986. This amounts to a loss of over 247,500 farms!
What can I do?
The best way to take action and change the situation is to use your dollar wisely. The factory farms thrive in the darkness of secrecy. They know that if you understood what they did to the animals whose meat you consume, you would not buy their product. DO NOT BUY MEAT PRODUCED BY FACTORY FARMS! This will force them to address our concerns.
More aware, savvy customers will force factory farms into accountability. It will also provide the economic impetus for independent family farms. The fact is that organically fed, humanely raised meat requires smaller operations. It takes more care by the farmer, and this translates to healthier animals. Healthier animals means healthier meat.
Support antibiotic-free organic meat at local restaurants and grocery stores near you. You can find which stores support these farmers by visiting www.eatwellguide.org.
Lastly, you can organize your local community. Educate the people and push for strong, local legislation regarding factory farms. The more people know about the situation, the more likely they are to speak out about these abhorrent conditions. Support sustainable farming techniques that care as much about the environment and the animals as they do you- the consumer. Together, we can make a change; positively affecting millions of lives- both animal and human!
- All data derived from "Is your meat fit to eat?"- a n introductory guide to the problems of factory farming