Factory Farms: Backbone of The Junk Food System

There is more and more information coming out that highlights the true environmental and health costs of factory farmed foods. The idea that human population can only be fed by massive industrial farms is a myth and it is destroying our world. The following is from some of the articles that have been coming out recently about this industry.

THE SLOW INSIDIOUS DISPLACEMENT of home cooked and communally shared family meals by the industrial food system has fattened our nation and weakened our family ties. In 1900, 2 percent of meals were eaten outside the home. In 2010, 50 percent were eaten away from home and one in five breakfasts is from MacDonald’s. Most family meals happen about three times a week, last less than 20 minutes and are spent watching television or texting while each family member eats a different microwaved “food.” More meals are eaten in the minivan than the kitchen. From the article Eating at Home can Save your Life.

The following is taken from a newsletter sent out by www.nyeleni.org. I highly recommend subscribing to the newsletter:

Industrialized food production: the base of the junk food system

There is no more potent symbol of the almost absolute control wielded by the international agri-food system (from landgrabbing to retailing), than the factory farm. These industrial complexes cause extensive pollution and disease in entire regions and emit huge amounts of greenhouse gases, all in order to produce food destined for the poor: “cheap” meat of dubious quality, whose true costs are never measured. This system is imposed on us, on humanity, and represent in one crisis the sum of multiple crises. In the almost endless list of calamities caused by factory farms, the genetically modified soy bean monoculture – farmed with pesticides and then used to feed imprisoned animals – means that everything returns to the same pockets at a harsh cost to the planet.

However, the people are organizing and having more and more conversations and debates in an attempt to comprehend this together. This is very subversive, because our collective memory, and continuing to produce our own foodstuffs, according to our own peasant traditions, represents essentially the most fundamental basis for our autonomy – allowing our peoples, with all our ways and wisdom, to persist, and even to cool the earth, and attain lives of justice and dignity in the present and into the future.

Cheap meat? A deceptive price
Mostly of the meat and dairy products that we consume today come from factory farms. Livestock are raised indoors and fed with high-protein animal feed, mostly produced with soy-beans and maize, complemented with vitamins and antibiotics to avoid the spread of disease in the overcrowded industrial facilities. Every day family farms are forced out of their livelihoods while big corporations increase their control of meat production all around the world. From whatever angle we look at factory farming, the outcomes are alarming.

This intensive way of producing meat is systematically spoiling the planet, endangering biodiversity, exploiting workers, jeopardizing human and animal health, abusing animals and undermining the survival of rural communities and family farmers.

Despite this, the consumption of industrial meat is increasing everywhere, as big corporations invade international markets with meat products at a deceptively low price. As consumers we need to change the way we eat – choosing local products and diminishing the amount of meat in our diet; concurrently we should call on our governments for a radical change in national policies and international agreements, with the inclusion of the right to food sovereignty at all levels.

Factory farms: an environmental calamity
The scale of environmental devastation caused by factory farms is huge and varied. Intensive animal breeding requires ever-growing quantities of water, animal feed, energy and chemical inputs. The concentration of thousands of animals creates an unmanageable amount of waste. The manure that is used as organic fertilizer in smaller holdings, becomes a dangerous pollutant. In many pig factory farms for example, the waste is dumped after being mixed with water in lagoons and then sprayed on croplands. This blend contains antibiotics and metals from animal feed, which contaminate the air, water and soil. The impact on human health is obvious: the ongoing dioxin crisis in Germany, the spread of Salmonella caused by contaminated eggs, the current outbreak of swine flue or of mad cow disease few years ago are clear examples. Furthermore factory farming contributes largely to global warming – it is responsible for 18% of total greenhouse gas emissions4- in particular carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, which in addition are harmful gases for those living or working close by. The damage of factory farms is wider still if we consider the indirect consequences. To guarantee the fast growing rate of livestock, intensive farms import and use of massive quantities of cheap protein-based animal feeds, mainly produced with soy-beans and maize. Soy monoculture production – especially in Latin America – is one of the main causes of deforestation, loss of important wildlife habitats, intensive use of GMOs seeds and pesticides. Rural communities and indigenous people are evicted from their territories by the agribusiness which produces soy beans.

The social impacts of the meat business
The corporate takeover of the meat industry is accelerating. In United States for example in 1985 the top four pork-producing companies accounted for 32% of the market; by 1998 they controlled over 56%; and by 2006 that had risen to 63%. Corporations often control the whole process of production – from raising the animals to processing the meat, and distributing the final products. This vertical integration of the meat chain production makes it easier for factory farm corporations to push traditional family farms out of business.

Moreover as a result of their growing power, big business can lobby to prevent the implementation of regulations to protect human health and the environment from the damages caused by factory farms. In addition, the concentration of the meat industry in the hands of big corporations promotes the alarming reduction of livestock’s genetic diversity and the loss of traditional breeds; for example currently industrial pig production relies on only five breeds. As in agriculture, the trend towards raising single adapted varieties increases the risk of susceptibility to disease and diminishes livestock’s resilience.

Factory farms are not even a fair and safe place to work. Workers are often exposed to unhealthy conditions: regular inhalation of toxic gases and dust and use of chemical products and physical labours that may cause temporary or permanent traumas. Furthermore the employment of undocumented persons and underage workers is a commonplace, to the point that Human Rights Watch has described workers’ conditions in many of these industrial facilities as systematic human rights abuses.

From North to South, Big Meat is advancing
Despite all these negative aspects, intensive meat production is increasing everywhere. As for many other commodities, big corporations from the North have started moving their businesses to poorer countries where they can produce more cheaply. In addition, companies from the South are using their capital to set up new factory farms. A large number of meat companies based in the South have grown into fully-fledged transnationals, with their own aggressive overseas expansion strategies. The global food system is managed by these corporations, and corporate strategies define all investment flows. The role of governments is mostly to help their companies to navigate these markets, whether by signing bilateral trade and investment agreements or by launching diplomatic missions to overturn import restrictions.

References:

  1. What’s feeding our food? PDF FOEI 2008
  2. In United States additionally it contains growth hormones
  3. After this event, in Germany they have started an action against industrial animal production, learn more here.
  4. Livestock’s Long Shadow, UN FAO, 2006
  5. For more info www.pigbusiness.co.uk
  6. Regional Latinoamericana-Lots of great articles posted here on the topic
  7. Blood, Sweat, and Fear, PDF Human Rights Watch 2005

This is also from the same newsletter:

The Beginning of Factory Farming

Factory farming began in the 1920s soon after the discovery of vitamins A and D; when these vitamins are added to feed, animals no longer require exercise and sunlight for growth. This allowed large numbers of animals to be raised indoors year-round. The greatest problem that was faced in raising so many animals indoors was the spread of disease, which was combated in the 1940s with the development of antibiotics, added since then to animal feed too. Business found they could increase productivity and reduce the operating costs by using mechanization and assembly-line techniques. Resource.

Good meat!

Integrated small farms, which breed local livestock, are much more efficient, healthier and better for the environment. Cattle, sheep and other ruminants have the unique capacity to turn pasture into proteins for human consumption, as milk and meat. Farmers also use the manure to make healthier, living soils*.

The negative contribution to global warming associated with meat production is
mainly caused by the fertilisers used in the vast monoculture plantations for industrial animal feed, as soy-beans for example. On the contrary through sustainable pasture management carbon is stored as humus in the soil and contributes to its fertility. Each ton of humus in the soil captures about 1.8 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere**. Additionally traditional family farms guarantee the endurance of local breeds, conserving biodiversity and reducing the risk of disease transmission.

* – Via Campesina, Small scale sustainable farmers are cooling down the Earth, 2009PDF
** – Anita Idel, The Cow is not a Climate Killer, 2010 (only in German, English translation planned for 2011)

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. hellaD

    So true, it is so strange the nut-bag solutions they come up with to their own stupid problems that they have created. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Richard

    How long before “they” start growing meat in vats and tout that as a solution to the animal cruelty of farming?

    It’s good that people are starting to wake up to choices we still have when it comes to food.

    Great post, as usual, Hella!

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