For the majority of Americans, the days when meat came from the local butcher who purchased animals from a nearby family farm are a distant memory. Due to the growth of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) most meat products now comes from so-called factory farms.
How concentrated has this production process become? Today, 54% of US food animals are concentrated on only 5% of the farms. As of 2000 four companies in the United States produced 81% of our cows, 73% of our sheep, 57% of our pigs and 50% of out chickens. Globally, 43% percent of the world’s beef is raised on factory feedlots, and over half of the world’s pork and poultry is raised on factory farms.
“Every day, doctors use antibiotics to treat thousands of sick children and adults. Humans depend on these life-saving medicines for their personal health. But did you know that as much as 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are being fed to cattle, swine, and poultry on industrial animal farms, for purposes other than treating disease?” Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (PCIFAP)
Have you seen The Meatrix?
The subject is not a simple one. Increases in productivity and efficiency have allowed a smaller number of workers to produce meat products for an increasing population. For example, since 1960, milk production has doubled, meat production has tripled, and egg production has increased fourfold.
But the methods employed in these operations are having unintended side effects. The environment has suffered greatly through increased pollution of the air, land and surrounding water ways, while public health is also threatened by the appearance of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
“The waste management practices of Industrial Farm Animal Production (IFAP) facilities can have substantial adverse affects on air, water, and soils. Another major risk stems from the routine use of specially formulated feeds that incorporate antibiotics, other antimicrobials, and hormones to prevent disease and induce rapid growth. The use of low doses of antibiotics as food additives facilitates the rapid evolution and proliferation of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.” Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (PCIFAP)
Evidence of the biological threat to humans continues to make headlines. Half a billion eggs were recently recalled due to an outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis linked to Hillandale Farms of Iowa and Wright County Egg and sold by retail food stores such as Albertsons, Farm Fresh, James Farms, Glenview, Mountain Dairy, Ralphs, Boomsma, Lund, Kemps and Pacific Coast.
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad-cow disease, resulted in the slaughter of 4.4 million cattle during the United Kingdom eradication program put in place. Unfortunately, close to half a million BSE-infected animals had entered the human food chain before controls were introduced in 1989.
As the world population continues to increase, along with the rising affluence of the middle class in countries such as China and India, the demand for meat products follows suit. Beyond the severe environmental degradation, many in the scientific community feel we’re heading for an outbreak that won’t be as easy to stop as the ones we’ve encountered to date.
Can factory farming become sustainable, or is it fundamentally flawed?