An Economy of Scale

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).

5 thoughts on “An Economy of Scale

  1. You know, every time I balk at the prices of the farm down the street, I have to remind myself that I don’t want to squeeze my ground beef from a log purchased at the local big box. Sounds like Big Ag is as screwed up as Big Healthcare. What’s a girl to do??? Maybe I can work at their farm for cheaper meat….

  2. 1 Mary: “What’s a girl to do”??? You could eliminate animals from your menu….. A plant based diet is better for you – better for the planet – and certainly better for the animals. For health & heart…. Go VEGAN

  3. A major problem is that the USDA cannot police and promote itself at the same time. No one can. Until that changes, there can be no real reform in the way this country raises animals for consumption.

    I love eating meat. I see no wrong in the act of doing so; however, the meat industry’s practices turn my stomach. Not supporting the major corporations that churn out meat from animals that lived lives in confinement and altered states is one way to combat the problem. Writing to your congressperson, another. And yes, you can even go vegan; however simply removing yourself from the equation doesn’t solve the problem. Buying meat from local farmers that use humane and organic practices in raising livestock is really the only way to go to be sure you know what you’re eating.

  4. I have no problem paying more for meat that wasn’t tortured, prepared by workers who weren’t tortured either. That just means I have to eat it less often so keep the budget in check.

    As consumers demand more humanely treated meat, the market will adjust. But I think it’s going to take a lot of money lost to convince the major meat companies to change their ways.

    I recommend reading and watching the film version of “Fast Food Nation.” It will disgust you right into the local Farmers’ Market.

  5. Bea: Maybe. Yeah, CAFOs are horrible for the environment and long-term they may prove to be horrible for the economy. But, lately I’ve been thinking that free-range meat may be helpful for the environment. Like Kimberly said, as we demand and purchase meat from eco-friendly and humane producers, the Joel Salatins of the world may flourish. And Joel Salatin’s method of farming/ranching is good for the environment. Granted, it’s not wilderness, but pastured chickens and cows necessitate stewardship of the land. It protects the water, doesn’t foul up the air, and relies on grass, which sequesters carbon dioxide. Only native grasses are grown, and from what I’ve read (a while back, admittedly), bovine activity helps native grasses flourish.
    I could never go vegan, but I was vegetarian for a couple of years and found myself relying on processed foods—namely soy products—for convenience and satisfaction. With 85% of the soy crop in the US being GMOs, I don’t see that as good for me or good for the planet. In addition, not sure how much of the USA soy crop is organic, but I’d guess that the majority of it is not. It’s true that veg*ns don’t have to rely on soy, but I wasn’t one of those. Hey, if you are a healthy and happy vegan, more power to ya. I’m just not sure that’s the only way to go. Thanks for posting.

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