In Plain View: The Problem with Factory Farms

by Brooke Truchon |

When I think of farming, I picture the farm I used to visit when I was a child. Every summer when I was younger, I would visit my friend’s grandparent’s farm. I remember looking out the window of the car driving up the long dirt driveway. I could see the little farm house, weathered barn, and the fence that went on so long I could not tell where it would end. Inside that fence is where they held cattle. As kids, we would go for long walks through the fields and woods, letting our imagination take us to all kinds of different places. On those adventurous walks there was always one thing that we would make sure to do, and that was to stay close to the fence to find our way back. A lot of the time we would play inside of the fence. We were never scared of the cows because the cows were nowhere near us. The cattle had plenty of room to live a full plentiful life foraging on the greenest grass they were meant to eat.

This image of the perfect farm life is what most people picture in their minds when they are shopping for meat and dairy in the produce section of the grocery store. The reason they picture this is because that is what farming use to be 60 years ago and what they want to believe it still is today. For instance, a package of bacon is not going to show a pig living in a crate, but they will show one living on a beautiful farm. The marketing techniques for these meat and dairy companies strategically use this facade to trick the consumer into making a purchase they believe is going to be a purchase of meat and dairy that will be beneficial to the heath of themselves and their families. Sadly, that is far from the truth. However, I believe that we can get back to that way of farming. To a way of life where every time my child eats; I am not putting them in danger of additives, hormones, and E.coli. If we, as a society, start making purchases of organic meat and dairy along with consuming less of these products, we will start to see not only a change for the better but will question why we let things get this bad in the first place.

Sometimes things start out with good intentions but end with negative consequences. After World War II, there were many changes in the United States. Women started working and people’s lives became more hectic. There was less time to spend cooking for the family, which led to people eating packaged meat and fast food. The demand for cheap meat and dairy became too much for the small local farms to produce. Big corporations were able to produce meat faster resulting in the decline of local farms. They changed the way of farming, putting the world at risk in many ways. Industrial farming started with the idea of feeding the hungry all over the world; it is ending with the sickness of people, animals, and the environment. With small purchases of organic meat and dairy, along with consuming less of these products, we can start to see a change in our current farming techniques (Nanda and Warms 138).

Let us first acknowledge the significance of organic meat and dairy by understanding what makes them organic. There should be some hormones found in organic meat and dairy that the animals produce naturally themselves, and there should not be added hormones and antibiotics (Storrs). There are many requirements to be considered an organic farm. According to the website Organic.org, “…organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.” It takes at least three years for a farm to develop its soil to be regarded as organic (Organic.org). Organically farmed raised animals differ drastically from factory-farmed animals. Factory farms are industrial farms that treat animals as if they were objects in an assembly line. They have no moral obligation to the animals they raise. They possess as many as they can to make a bigger profit, without the care and compassion they deserve. Even if people do not care for the welfare of animals, they might care for the welfare of themselves. Therefore deciding that the difference between Organic farming and Factory farms is extremely crucial.

Even with the additives and hormones there is still a bigger picture here. Non-organic farms, some of which are known as factory farms, are very harmful not only to people’s health but to the environment and other species as well. However, is eating organic enough to solve our environmental problems? No, it is not. The ultimate goal for our environment would be for humans to become vegan. It would be ideal to have only organic pasture-raised farms to raise our meat and dairy in a humane way, but unfortunately, that is unrealistic. It is currently impossible for organic farms to house the number of animals that are consumed by people around the world. It’s just not practical. However, with that being said, it is also not practical to believe everyone will become vegan, so society can start by consuming less organic meat and dairy. According to John Jevons, author of the book How to Grow More Vegetables, “Organic farming is one major positive step in the right direction but we need to keep walking. We need to get beyond organics: we need to get to sustainability” (qtd in, Cowspiracy). Society as a whole has to work together in taking small but substantial moves towards the right path. Organic farming and less meat consumption is one of the first moves to make in improving people’s health, as well as the health of the environment, animals, and our local communities.

One of the biggest downfalls from factory farming is the destruction of the environment. Factory farming is the beginning thread in a spider web of environmental havoc. We would think that the biggest pollutant would be the carbon dioxide from transportation vehicles. However, it is actually the methane gas produced by the meat and dairy industry (Cowspiracy). According to the documentary Cowspiracy: the Sustainability Secret, “Methane gas is 86% more destructive than carbon dioxide from vehicles.” However, let us say that carbon dioxide was the main pollutant. With higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air, there needs to be more forests and land covered in plants, so they can take in and sequester the carbon. That cannot happen with the deforestation of the earth mainly due to factory farming.

We are cutting down trees and leaving fields bare by plowing down the crops in conventional farming techniques (Truchon). We are trying to make room for the high demand of inexpensive meat and dairy. Not only is society cutting down forests to breed animals but they are also cutting it down to feed them. Dr. Richard Oppenlander explains, “Clearing rainforests one acre every second to graze animals and grow their feed crop. Agriculture is the main cause of deforestation.” (Cowspiracy). In 2012, the earth had a population of seven billion people and 70 billion farm animals (Cowspiracy). If people continue to use these practices there will no longer be an earth to live on. There are always movies made on apocalypses caused by aliens or zombies, but maybe there should be one made on the destruction of the earth caused by our own eating habits.

People might think that without these industrial farms the world would go hungry. However, there is no reason to have farms that produce so many harmful effects to the environment. There are other ways to feed the hungry without so much destruction. According to the documentary Cowspiracy: the Sustainability Secret, “50% of the grain we grow go to animals that are eaten by the more well-off people. Take the feed we give to animals and give it to people. 82% of starving children live in countries where they make food for animals.” If we ate only meat from organic pasture-raised animals, then we could start to see the decline of factory farms, less meat and dairy consumption from humans, and more vegetation. Instead of growing and watering crops to feed factory farms, we could be growing crops to feed ourselves.

All around the world people are fighting wars over fresh drinking water and society is destroying this irreplaceable resource with factory farming. Not only is society polluting it but society is also consuming 34 trillion gallons of it a year to breed factory-farmed animals (Cowspiracy). Factory Farms are supposed to be managing their manure pits or lagoons, but it is too difficult to do resulting in polluted water. When the snow melts or it rains, it will run manure, pesticides and other pollutants used by the farm into the nearest lakes, streams, and rivers. It puts phosphorus and nitrogen into the wetlands that makes the water highly poisonous to people (Truchon). According to Mary Truchon, the District chair for Anoka County soil and water conservation,

40% of the country drains into the Mississippi. It is so polluted that when it reaches New Orleans there is a dead zone that no sea creature can live. In Minnesota we are at the top of the Mississippi and we are responsible for about 9% to 11% of the pollution in the Gulf of Mexico, because we have gone to factory farming and little rotation of crops.

Another way the water is being polluted is by Factory farms cutting down the buffer zones. Buffer zones are the forests around the water sources. When this is cut down the water becomes hotter, allows for more polluted run-off, and is more susceptible to flooding. Buffer zones also help pollinators. The honeybees in Minnesota are dying off along with the buffer zones (Truchon). Farmers are trying to make more room to breed more animals but in reality, they lose land from cutting down the buffer zones and allow flooding. Society is ruining fresh water by not using organic farming techniques. If people continue using these non-organic practices of farming we are going be prone to more diseases and the loss of species (Truchon).

The damage to the environment is not the only thing people are not aware of. According to Eric Shlosser, the author of Fast Food Nation, “You go into the super market and see pictures of farmers, the picket fence, and the silo…it’s the spinning of this pastoral fantasy” (Food Inc.). What if these were images of the truth? What would one see? It would not be appetizing to see a dying chicken covered in debris and feces unable to move because its body could not keep up with the rapid growth from the hormones. I would not be purchasing beef with the image of a cow covered in manure and standing deep in its and thousands of other cow’s fecal matter (Food Inc.). I do not think that one would find a picture of a pig being cooked alive because of the stunning process, which should put them unconscious, did not work correctly (“Farm Animal Welfare: Pigs”). These animals are put into crates that are so small that sometimes they cannot even stand. Sometimes they remove the beak of chickens and the tails of pigs to prevent fighting, but if they had enough room this would not be a problem. If these companies were forced to label the truth, I believe our world would make the choice to purchase organic meat and dairy.

These are just some of the ways in which animals are treated cruelly on factory farms. According to Heidie Lish a registered and licensed dietitian who teaches health classes at NHCC, “If I go to the farm and see and smell how the animals are raised, no one would want to eat it.” People have to start observing this behavior for themselves. Animals are living breathing species just like human beings and if we can recognize this, maybe we can start to feel the compassion for these animals that they deserve. Once people start to feel for these animals it will build a connection between them. Once a person feels connected to something, they will start to want to make a difference, and that difference starts with buying organic meat and dairy products.

Let us say that people still do not have empathy for animals, but they do care about the process in how their dinner has arrived on their plate. There is a commonly used statement that “we are what we eat”. With that saying, let us go through the process of how we might get our steak dinner. One’s dinner may start with the male cow being castrated with no pain relief and an abundant amount of pain. This process is performed on male cows that will not be used for breeding, which are then called steers. Up to the next eight months of the steer’s short life, he will graze with no protection from weather or predators. He will then be placed in a crowded feedlot and fed growth hormones to fatten him up. The article “Cows Raised for “Meat”” states,

Over the next 6-8 months, they eat a high protein grain-based feed, consisting of corn, soy, and miscellaneous by-products. Some of the by-products come from animal sources deemed unfit for human consumption. According to the latest FDA guidelines, cattle feed can include non-mammalian protein sources as well as chicken manure.

Finally, at the short age of 16 months the steer will be sent to the slaughterhouse under extremely inhumane and stressful circumstances. If we are what we eat, then ones dinner would be a plate of hormones, chicken manure, and many other by-products that were not meant for consumption. I believe it is safe to say that people care about putting those kinds of by-products into their bodies (“Cows Raised for “Meat””).

If eating chicken manure is not enough to stop ourselves from eating non-organic beef maybe the dangers of the cows manure itself will. Corn is the main ingredient in the cattle’s grain that they eat. According to Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivores Dilma, “Cows are not designed by evolution to eat corn. They are designed by evolution to eat grass and the only reason we feed them corn is because corn is really cheap and corn makes them fat quickly” (qtd in Food Inc.). A high corn diet in cows will start producing E.coli in the ruminant, which is the first compartment of the stomach. Allen Trenkle, a ruminant nutrition expert, states, “A high corn diet results in E.coli that are acid resistant and these would be the more harmful E.coli” (qtd in Food Inc.). Cows raised on non-organic farms do not get the grass that they need to prevent E.coli from producing.

When these cattle are bred, they are living in their own and thousands of other cow’s manure. They are covered in it. This can be very dangerous to the health of the consumer and in some cases deadly. Cows are being sent to slaughter houses from factory farms all around the country. When a cow has E.coli plastered all over itself and is slaughtered with a thousand other cows, all from different farms, it will be impossible to trace back to which farm the E.coli came from (Food Inc.).

Not only does manure have the dangers of E.coli but according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Manure can contain pathogens, antibiotics, drug-resistant bacteria, hormones, heavy metals and other compounds that can seriously impact human health, aquatic life, and wildlife when introduced into the environment”(David Kirby xv). There are far too many endangerments with the manure created by factory farms for people to be eating non-organic meat and putting their families at risk. My hope is that people will start to recognize the extreme hazards of factory farming and the severity of the problems they create. We can start to make a difference with small purchases of organic meat and dairy products. After time, if society starts to make small changes then we will be able to see a decline in factory farming.

When we start to make these small changes and are consuming less of these products we can replace them with other items with the same, if not more, nutritional value. According to Mark Bittman, an American food journalist, “Spinach has more than twice as much protein per calorie as a cheeseburger.” (Bittman 85). Another option we can take, that can still make you feel as if you were eating meat and dairy, is to choose foods made out of nuts or beans. There are many options like soy and almond milk, or even soy burgers. According to the book Eating for Health, “Soy has anti-cancer and anti-oxidant properties as a flavonoid. It has also been proven to help reduce cholesterol levels.” (Kirkham 65). We can also cut down on the consumption of dairy by not eating high-fat dairy foods, such as foods made with heavy cream. Marion Nestle, who has a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and a Masters in Public Health, explains, “In parts of the world where cow’s milk is not a staple of the diet, people often have less osteoporosis and fewer bone fractures than we do; they maintain calcium balance perfectly well on less than half the calcium intake recommended for Americans.” (Nestle 74). Small changes like these will turn out to be a healthier option for the environment and ourselves.

I care deeply about the welfare of animals and the environment, but what has me invested the most is the health of my children. According to August McLaughlin a certified nutritionist, “some researchers believe that steroid hormones, in particular, cause girls to undergo puberty prematurely, an occurrence associated with increased risk for breast cancer later in life.” As a mother of two young girls, I am concerned with the consequences of eating non-organic meat and dairy. My oldest daughter does not eat meat but she does drink cow’s milk, and my youngest daughter consumes both. I only started purchasing organic meat and dairy about a year ago, so they were both subjected to the additives and hormones up until then. I can say from my own personal experience that I believe girls are experiencing early growth and development due partly to the food they eat. I believe people can see that children are maturing at an alarming rate compared to when they themselves were growing.

The problem is that there is not enough evidence to prove that this is solely happening because of the consumption of non-organic meat and dairy. According to Heidie Lish, a licensed dietitian, “There are not critical trials showing that [additives and hormones] causes [premature puberty]. We can say that this is a contributing factor along with other things in the environment. We do know that children are entering puberty earlier than the past and are also developing diabetes. A lot of the time it is related to the added chemicals and hormones. We suspect that, but we cannot say it causes it until we do enough clinical trials.” With so many factors pointing in that direction, I hope that there will be more trials done to prove that non-organic meat and dairy is causing early development in children.

One of those factors is when non-organic cows are given sex hormones. These cows are given estrogen which may affect young children who have not started producing the hormone themselves. Early development is also linked to obesity in children. Fat cells produce estrogen, so in young children this can cause the onset of puberty (Storrs).

Another growth hormone given to non-organic dairy cows are called rBGH. It is believed to be producing another hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF). Too much of this hormone is believed to be linked to a higher risk of multiple cancers in humans including breast cancer (Storrs). According to Dr. Willett, who works at the Harvard School of Public Health, “Milk in general – and the proteins, sugar, minerals, and non-IGF hormones it contains – may somehow cause the human body to make more of its own IGF”(qtd in Storrs). My hope is that these concerns will be enough to have more clinical trials done. Then we can prove without a doubt that these hormones are the cause of these alarming problems.

I believe that this is going to be a situation where we will one day look back and wonder why we were subjecting ourselves to something that had such harmful effects. If we were to go back to the traditional ways of farming and consume less meat and dairy, there would only be good outcomes. There would not be the what-ifs. What if this causes cancer or what if this is harmful to my child? To stay away from the effects of these hormones and additives we need to buy organic, and cut down on the consuming of meat and dairy products (Storrs). One needs to remember that there are still trials that are being done, so we may not be able to say that these allegations are true but we also cannot say that they have been proven false.

The health of the environment, animals and ourselves are not the only things benefiting from purchasing organic meat and dairy. One main benefit is having the opportunity to buy from local farmers. This will help the community in more ways than one. If there is a demand for organic meat and dairy in one’s community than there will be more incentive for farmers to change to organic practices. According to Mary Truchon, “The 2014 farm bill will allow farmers to get money to put their farms back to organic. When you farm organically your produce is more nutritious.” This will allow farmers the chance to switch to organic without the additional stress it may cause, and allow the consumer to buy organic at an affordable price.

People may think that it is hard to find organic meats and dairy. However, it can be easy with a little research. According to Heidie Lish, “We are fortunate in the mid-west because we have farmers that will sell it to us directly.” People can go online and search for local farmers markets. Once they find a local market, they can shop around and talk to different farmers and other consumers. If they do not find what they are looking for they can get information on more farmers markets in the area. The farmers benefit from the business of the community and the community will benefit from the lower prices.

Others may believe the price and taste difference of organic meat and dairy are too different, so they are unwilling to make the change. One will find that the prices at farmers markets are more affordable than that of the super market. The super market will up charge the price of organic purchases (Lish). It is profitable for both the local farmers and the community. Society is always saying to buy from local small businesses, and that should be true with local farmers as well.

As for taste, I personally, did not find a big difference between organic dairy. However, many people find a taste difference in organic meat versus non-organic meat. They feel that organic meat has a gamier taste. It should taste like this because organic raised meat comes from animals eating what they were born to eat, grass. Conventially raised meat has more fat from all of the byproducts they are fed and hormones they are given. In time, one will start to prefer the taste of organic meat (Lish). I like to compare eating non-organic meat to eating too much candy. Once someone has consumed too much his or her body is in need of something nutritious.

After learning, the difference between organic meat and dairy and non-organic meat and dairy there are people who still might not see the importance of their purchases. Some might say that there is not a significant difference between the two and eating organic is not healthier. Others may admit that there are more hormones in non-organic meat and dairy, but believe that there is not enough scientific evidence to prove harmful effects on humans who consume them. As a mother of two young children, I do not want to take a chance on food that has added growth hormones. I want to provide the healthiest food possible. Food that will provide nutrients and health benefits. I do not want to provide them with food that contributes to early development and, in extreme cases, cancer later on in life (McLaughlin).

It is time we start to recognize this epidemic for what it is, and realize the effects this damaged produce is having on this earth. There is a domino effect of catastrophic consequences. One right after the other. Too many animals raised on a farm results in their mistreatment, the mistreatment of the environment, and mistreatment of human health. This is a problem that everyone can help make a difference in. Society can do this, starting with the purchases of organic meat and dairy from our local communities, and by consuming less of these products.

 

Works Cited

Bittman, Mark. Food Matters A Guide to Conscious Eating. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2009. Print.

“Cows Raised for “Meat”.” Food Empowerment Project. (2015): Web. 19 October 2015.

Cowspiracy the Sustainability Secret. Dir. Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn. Perf. Kip Anderson. 2014. Film. 30 September 2015.

“Farm Animal Welfare: Pigs.” MSPCA-Angell Kindness and Care for Animals. (2015): Web. 19 October 2015.

Food Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. Perf. Eric Shlosser, Michael Pollan. Participant Media and Robert Kenner Films, 2008. Film.

Kirby, David. Animal Factory. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2010. Print.

Kirkham, Sara. Eating for Health. US: The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2007. Print.

Lish, Heidie. Personal Interview. 19 October 2015.

Nanda, Serena and Richard L. Warms. Cultural Anthropology Tenth Edition. United States of America: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.

Nestle, Marion. What to Eat. New York: North Point Press, 2007. Print.

Truchon, Mary. Personal Interview. 21 October 2015.

McLaughlin, August. “The Effects of Growth Hormones in Food.” Livestrong.com. 16 August 2013. Web. 30 September 2015.

Organic.org. 2015. Foerstel Design. Web. 30 September 2015.

Storrs, Carina. Hormones In Food: Should You Worry? “The Huffington Post.”( 31 January 2011): Web. 30 September 2015.

 

 

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