A 14-Year-Old Speaks Up About Factory FarmsMar 3 2012
Sam Reed got interested in local, family-run farming last summer when he got a new batch of 10 chickens. For an English paper at school he chose factory farms and genetically modified foods. While researching he came across a disturbing online video on industrial farms, but he didn’t think its vegetarian message was the answer, so he decided to make his own video with an emphasis on giving animals a decent life. We are so impressed that we wanted you to see Sam’s powerful work. It ends beautifully and that's Sam in the final frame.
So called confined animal feeding operations, or CAFO's, exist in 44 states but you would have trouble visiting one because agribusiness owners do not want you to know about the conditions in which your food is raised. Hens by the thousands are pressed together Raised in low-lit sheds and never see the outdoors. Breeding sows are placed in cages so small that they are unable even to turn around.
The result is abundant and low cost food, but that is because with donations from big food producers seeing to it that Congress members always protect farm interests they are not made to pay the full cost. The byproduct of huge concentrations of animals is massive deposits of manure. For some animals, we pay extra through taxes for treatment plants. For hogs, manure is poured into lagoons offering up a stench that pollutes the atmosphere for miles. An industrial farm of 5,000 hogs produces as much waste as a town with 20,000 people. Ultimately, it is sprayed on farmland, but in amounts beyond what the fields can absorb. It can become toxic. It can seep into the water table. Airborne ammonia can settle into lakes and streams. This is what we additionally pay for factory-farmed food.growing the next epdidemic
Europe and even South Korea do not allow it, but in deference to agribusiness interests, the Food & Drug Administration in the United States permits antibiotics in animal feed. Thus, more antibiotics meant for sick humans are given to animals to prevent them from getting sick, the consequence of living in such close confines. The Union of Concerned Scientists says animals are fed 70% of all antibiotics, more on North Carolina farms alone than is given to the human population nationwide.
Overuse and misuse of antibiotics leads to mutant strains of pathogens, so we now have growing problems with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a bacterium that defies our cornucopia of antibiotics. A University of Minnesota study finds that 25% to 29% of hogs already carry MRSA.
Another hazard of factory farms is that they almost invariably raise single types of turkeys, chickens and pigs leading to monocultures that could uniformly be infected and wiped out by a single disease. Not so with Sam Reed’s flock. He must know something about the importance of biological diversity because he tells us his growing flock has
“Barred Rocks, Speckled Sussex, Black Austrolorps, Road Island Reds, Golden Laced Wyondottes, Welsummers, and Ameraucanas which lay a variety of blue, green, pink and brown eggs. My chickens have a really good life with a pasture and woods to free-range in. We are building an addition on our chicken coop and when it's finished, it will be 30 feet long and able to hold up to 80 grown hens. I sell my eggs to people on my road. I ordered 35 new chicks and I have been asked to provide a local bakery and cafe with eggs once they are old enough to lay.meat: it's even a climate problem
The combination of organic food raising, cooperative farms, emphasis on local produce and farmers’ markets in cities has caused a major shift in American attitudes toward food. But we still encourage worst practices with our over-consumption of meat. And as developing countries become increasingly affluent, with populations that want to enjoy more beef, the problem is destined to worsen, with world demand likely to double by 2050.
Where once there was the elegant cycle of their manure fertilizing the soil that grew the grasses for them to eat, we have moved the animals into feedlots where we now need to dispose of that waste and rehabilitate the fields with fossil-fuel fertilizers to grow crops that are not their natural food and which cause them to belch troublesome quantities of methane.
Thus do livestock account for 18% of all greenhouse gases, according to a United Nations study more than all forms of transportation combined because methane released to the atmosphere traps 20 times the heat of carbon dioxide.
Then there is the question of food efficiency. It takes half a gallon of oil to produce a bushel of grain and an old rule of thumb, according to Rutgers University’s Agricultural Experiment Station, says it takes 50 bushels of corn (2800 pounds) to produce a steer that yields 600 pounds of meat. That equates to close to 5 pounds of grain for each pound of meat grain that could more efficiently nourish many more humans than the meat. Instead, 40% of the world’s grain output today is fed to animals, whereas once they were raised on grass that takes little more than sunshine to grow.
Sam Reed’s birds gain a pound of meat on only a fraction of what cattle need. And a free range bird has a more diverse diet than an industrially raised chicken or turkey because they eat plants and insects. They do produce less eggs, so their eggs will cost more, but at that point we come to the question of why should only cost be the determinant? Cheap food has led to the health crisis of obesity.
Decades ago Peter Singer, a professor at Princeton wrote a landmark article for The New York Review of Books which became the 1975 book, “Animal Liberation”, widely credited with sparking a new consideration for how we raise our food. The thesis was that we have ethical obligations to species other than our own. The young Mr. Reed has something to teach us on that point.
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