October 21, 2010
from Alternet Website
With over 400 photos and 30 essays, the book includes contributions from,
CAFO pulls back the curtain on what goes on inside so-called "factory farms" and what the effects of industrial meat production are on the animals, our environment, our communities, our agricultural system and our health.
Below is a brief excerpt from the book.
You can learn more about CAFO and what to do to end industrial meat
production at the book's Web site.
These costs, known among economists as
"externalities," include massive waste emissions with the potential
to heat up the atmosphere, foul fisheries, pollute drinking water,
spread disease, contaminate soils, and damage recreational areas.
Citizens ultimately foot the bill with hundreds of billions of
dollars in taxpayer subsidies, medical expenses, insurance premiums,
declining property values, and mounting cleanup costs.
For families struggling to make ends meet, a cheap meal may seem too tough to pass up. Indeed, animal factory farm promoters often point to America's bargain fast-food prices as proof that the system is working.
The CAFO system, they argue, supplies affordable food to the masses.
But this myth of cheap meat, dairy, and
egg products revolves around mounting externalized social and
ecological costs that never appear on restaurant receipts or grocery
Soil and water have been poisoned through decades of applying synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to grow billions of tons of livestock feed. Water bodies have been contaminated with animal wastes. The atmosphere is filled with potent greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The mitigation costs for these problems are enormous.
But what is worse, this essential cleanup
work of contaminated resources is, for the most part, not being
over 400 such dead zones throughout the world.
Medical researchers have linked the country's intensive meat consumption to such serious human health maladies as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Annual costs for just these diseases in the United States alone exceed $33 billion. Antibiotic-resistant organisms ("superbugs") created by overuse of antibiotics in industrial meat and dairy production can increase human vulnerability to infection.
One widely cited U.S.
study estimated the total annual costs of antibiotic resistance at
$30 billion. Estimated U.S. annual costs associated with E. coli
O157:H7, a bacteria derived primarily from animal manure, reach $405
million: $370 million for deaths, $30 million for medical care, and
$5 million for lost productivity.
They can also result in premature
deaths, with incalculable costs for families and communities.
According to Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the average industrial hog factory puts ten family farmers out of business, replacing high quality agricultural jobs with three to four hourly wage workers in relatively low-paying and potentially dangerous jobs.
farmers fall on hard times, many local employers close their doors
and, at worst, entire communities, towns, and regional food
production and distribution webs disappear from the landscape.
Tufts University researchers estimate that in the
United States alone, between 1997 and 2005 the industrial animal
sector saved over $35 billion as a result of federal farm subsidies
that lowered the price of the feed they purchased.
European Union agricultural
subsidies also bolster industrial animal producers, providing $2.25
per dairy cow per day - 25 cents more than what half the world's
human population survives on.
They produce less waste and forgo dangerous chemicals and other additives. Grass-pastured meat and dairy products have been shown to be high in omega-3 and other fatty acids that have cancer-fighting properties. Smaller farms also receive fewer and smaller federal subsidies.
While sustainably produced foods may cost
a bit more, many of their potential beneficial environmental and
social impacts are already included in the price.
CAFO operations, however, currently rely on heavily subsidized agriculture to produce feed, large infusions of capital to dominate markets, and lax enforcement of regulations to deal with waste disposal.
Perverse incentives and market controls leverage an unfair competitive advantage over smaller producers and cloud a more holistic view of efficiency.
Factory farms and CAFOs appear efficient only if we focus on the quantity of meat, milk, or eggs produced from each animal over a given period of time.
But high productivity or domination of market share should not be confused with efficiency. When we measure the total cost per unit of production, or even the net profit per animal, a more sobering picture emerges.
Confinement operations come with a heavy toll of external costs - inefficiencies that extend beyond the CAFO or feedlot. These hidden costs include subsidized grain discounts, unhealthy market control, depleted aquifers, polluted air and waterways, and concentrated surpluses of toxic feces and urine.
The massive global acreage of monocrops that
produce the corn, soybeans, and hay to feed livestock in confinement
could arguably be more efficiently managed as smaller, diversified
farms and pasture operations, along with protected wildlands.
To gain a pound of body weight, a broiler chicken must eat an average of 2.3 pounds of feed. Hogs convert 5.9 pounds of feed into a pound of pork. Cattle require 13 pounds of feed per pound of beef, though some estimates range much higher. To supplement that feed, one-third of the world's ocean fish catch is ground up and added to rations for hogs, broiler chickens, and farmed fish.
The 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report Livestock's Long Shadow summed it up this way:
In the United States, between spring 2007 and spring 2009 alone, there were 25 recalls due to the virulent E. coli O157:H7 pathogen involving 44 million pounds of beef.
When all costs
of research, prevention, and market losses are added up, over the
last decade E. coli contamination has cost the beef industry an
estimated $1.9 billion.
of regulations has allowed CAFO waste disposal problems to escalate
in many areas.
Thanks to U.S.
government subsidies, between 1997 and 2005, factory farms saved an
estimated $3.9 billion per year because they were able to purchase
corn and soybeans at prices below what it cost to grow the crops.
this uneven playing field, CAFOs may falsely appear to "outcompete"
their smaller, diversified counterparts.
Because CAFOs have direct relationships with meat packers (and are sometimes owned by them, or "vertically integrated"), they have preferred access to the decreasing number of slaughterhouses and distribution channels to process and market products.
or smaller independent producers have no such access and as a result
must get big, develop separate distribution channels, or simply
Rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity
related to excessive meat and dairy consumption - are at an all-time
high. Respiratory diseases and outbreaks of illnesses are
increasingly common among CAFO and slaughterhouse workers and spill
over into neighboring communities and the public at large.
As a result, CAFOs can become
breeding grounds for diseases and pathogens.
According to the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University, meat and dairy foods contribute all of the cholesterol and are the primary source of saturated fat in the typical American diet. Approximately two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, increasing their chances of developing breast, colon, pancreas, kidney, and other cancers.
Obesity and high blood
cholesterol levels are among the leading risk factors for heart
disease. Both of these conditions are associated with heavy meat
consumption. More directly, researchers have linked diets that
include significant amounts of animal fat to an increased incidence
of cardiovascular disease.
High intakes of fruits,
vegetables, whole grains and Mediterranean dietary patterns (rich in
plant-based foods and unsaturated fats) have been shown to reduce
the incidence of chronic diseases and associated risk factors,
including body mass index and obesity.
Corn and soybeans, for example, have been shown to absorb dioxins, PCBs, and other potential human carcinogens through air pollution. Once fed to animals, these persistent compounds can be stored in animal fat reserves.
These harmful pollutants can later move up the food chain when animal fats left over from slaughter are rendered and used again for animal feed. As fats are recycled in the animal feeding system, the result is a higher concentration of dioxins and PCBs in the animal fats consumed by people.
Animal and plant fats,
both of which can store dioxins and PCBs, can compose up to 8
percent of animal feed rations.
indicate that at least 25 percent of CAFO workers experience
respiratory diseases such as chronic bronchitis and occupational
The diseased workers suffered burning sensations and numbness as well as weakness in the arms and legs. All the victims worked at or near the "head table," using compressed air to dislodge pigs' brains from their skulls. Inhalation of microscopic pieces of pig brain is suspected to have caused the illness.
After a CDC investigation,
this practice was discontinued.
More than a million Americans, for example, take drinking water from groundwater contaminated by nitrogen-containing pollutants, mostly derived from agricultural fertilizers and animal waste applications. Several studies have linked nitrates in the drinking water to birth defects, disruption of thyroid function, and various types of cancers.
Further, the use
of antibiotics on livestock over sustained periods is widely
acknowledged to increase the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant
A separate study found that people living close to intensive swine operations suffer more negative mood states (e.g., tension, depression, anger, reduced vigor, fatigue, and confusion) than control groups.
Exposure to hydrogen sulfide - given off by
concentrated animal feeding operations - has been linked to
...gives us the best chance for a
food system that is safe and healthy for eaters and producers alike.