Monday, April 28, 2014

Behind the Scenes: Factory Farming

        Many of us are aware that most of the store bought chicken, pork, and beef we eat is produced in a factory farm. Factory farming can also be described as large-scale industrial agriculture. As documentaries about U.S industrial agricultural practices leaked onto our TV’s, people began to worry how they could be affecting us. For example, chicken, pigs, and cattle in industrial settings are raised in very close contact with one another with large concentrations of urine and feces surrounding them. This is how these animals we consume are living their short lives, standing in their own feces up to their knees.

         Not only does factory farming bring animal health concerns, but public health concerns as well. These type of practices can harbor diseases such as mad cow disease and salmonella that may make it into our own stomachs. On top of this, these factory farms are producing huge amounts of toxic manure runoff that end up in our waterways. One more problem seemingly caused by factory farming is bacteria’s growing resistance to antibiotics. When these animals are shoved into close living quarters, risk for disease becomes a threat. To deal with this, many farmers will simply add antibiotics into the water and feed even though the animals may not even be sick. Another reason they do this is because antibiotic use on factory farms has also shown increases in animal size, which benefits pocketbooks. A recent blog post titled Meat & Antibiotic Combo, Please, also addresses this issue. Misuse of antibiotics in industrial agriculture is harming both humans and animals alike as we see many bacteria growing resistant to our medicines.

            In an effort to answer the publics worrisome questions about the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to people from factory farming, microbiologist Larry Price began doing research. He obtained samples of chicken, turkey, and pork from every major grocery store in Flagstaff, AZ and used genetic sequencing to match germs found in meat with those found in urinary track infections. If Price is able to accomplish this task, he will be able to show that misuse of antibiotics in a large-scale farm setting can lead to the transfer of antibiotic resistant germs to humans. This issue has definitely been recognized by agencies such as the FDA and the EPA. For example, the FDA has put into effect a new policy that will phase out the use of antibiotics in cows, pigs, and chickens used for meat and should start within the next three years. This new policy will make it so farmers have to obtain prescriptions for sick animals instead of feeding them to the whole lot. Countries such as Sweden and Denmark have already banned antibiotics for growth promotion. Some people are worried, however, that loopholes may render this policy as a joke.
            Although some progress is being made, the EPA is actually starting to back off on their regulation of factory farming. Under the CWA (Clean Water Act), the EPA must monitor our waterways and shield them from toxic runoff. In one of the EPA’s own studies, they actually recognize that agricultural runoff is the leading cause of impaired water quality throughout the U.S. A main priority of theirs should be to regulate the amount of waste factory farms are letting off. However, they seem to be doing the exact opposite as they recently withdrew two rules. First off, the EPA needs preliminary data on these farms, which entitles them to gather information on all factory farms. This data collection has been halted by the EPA, maybe because of money-oriented lobbyists from industries such as Tyson, one of the biggest meat processing industries in the world. Secondly, the EPA has done nothing to expand the number of factory farms required to have a national discharge permit. To put this in perspective, 10,000 hogs are able to generate as much fecal matter as a small city of 40,000 people. The only difference is that hogs do not have waste treatment plants. The mass amount of toxic manure runoff generated is rolling straight towards are weakening fresh water systems. The EPA needs to forcefully regulate factory farms as their practices are threatening the integrity of our environment.

  In an effort to curb factory farming, many people are looking to find alternatives. However, even proposed sustainable practices aren’t showing much progress. Except for treating animals more humanely, organic farming practices actually have worse impacts on the environment when it comes to climate change. For example, grazing cows have been shown to emit more methane than grain fed cows. On top of this, if all cows in the U.S were to be raised on grass, it would require almost half of the countries land! It sounds like we may be consuming too much meat. By converting half of our land into cattle grazing land, we would lose large carbon sinks as well as a lot of biodiversity. There was recently a tract of land in Brazil (a rainforest), just larger than France that had been cut down for cattle grazing. This was not a sustainable decision. Although organic practices appear to be more sustainable, they are a bad alternative to producing the quantities of meat seen in a factory setting. One way to promote more sustainable farming practices is to stop eating as much meat, dairy, and eggs. In this way, demand for these animals will decrease, as will their production. This not only curbs the inhumane treatment of animals, but is also better for human health as our waterways will begin to clear up.


  1. In an earlier class blog post (April 14, 2014, Meat and Antibiotic Combo, Please), it was stated that China and Germany both use routine antibiotics with livestock and both have a history of livestock-related strains tat are resistant to antibiotics. Are Sweden and Denmark first in line to reduce this practice, or are there many other countries changing accepted practice? Anyone know of other examples?

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