Did the term “factory farm” exist 50 years ago? Ranching typically means raising cows, horses, or sheep (right?), but ranching can not describe our “concentrated animal feeding operations,” where we grow cows. So, in that regard, “farming” is apt. Methods have certainly devolved over the last 50 years; now corporations dictate the what, when, where, and why of raising an animal. There I go again, it isn’t raising, it’s growing. Raising implies some care. Well, factory farming finally got a holistic critique by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. The report, released Monday, explores the social, public health, animal welfare, and environmental consequences of the meat and egg industry.
From the Washington Post:
The report acknowledges that the decades-long trend towards reliance on “concentrated animal feeding operations,” or CAFOs, has brought some benefits, including cheaper food. In 1970, the average American spent 4.2 percent of his or her income to buy 194 pounds of red meat and poultry annually. By 2005 typical Americans were spending just 2.1 percent of their income for 221 pounds per year.
But the system has also brought unintended consequences. With thousands of animals kept in close quarters, diseases spread quickly. To prevent some of those outbreaks — and, more often, simply to spur faster growth — factory farms routinely treat animals with antibiotics, speeding the development of drug-resistant bacteria and in some cases rendering important medicines less effective in people.
It’s interesting to note that the commission also recommends the mandatory implementation of the National Animal Identification System, where each animal must be registered and tracked from birth to plate. NAIS participation is currently voluntary. Isn’t it funny that the small farmers avoiding the practices the commission calls into question (reckless antibiotic treatment; pollution of water, air, and soil; dense confinement), would bear the heaviest burden from compulsory participation in NAIS? The commission recommends that along with the announcement of mandatory participation in NAIS, that funding be made available to small farms.
The report [PDF] briefly addresses the social consequences of CAFO hiring practices:
Because capital-intensive agriculture relies more on technology than on labor, there are fewer jobs for local people and more low-paid, itinerant jobs, which go to migrant laborers who are willing to work for low wages (Gilles and Dalecki, 1988; Goldschmidt, 1978; Harris and Gilbert, 1982).