Thursday, March 4, 2010
Animal Factory -- Factory Farming and Its Impact on All of Us
Tonight I attended a reading at Borders Bookstore at the Time Warner Center in NYC by David Kirby, author of the bestselling Evidence of Harm and the sure to be bestseller Animal Factory. Animal Factory was released only a few days ago but the buzz it is generating is HOT! The book is an incredibly well-researched and timely look at the factory farming dilemma in the United States, from a very human perspective.
In discussing the book, reading 3 excerpts to the standing-room-only crowd, and fielding many questions, David eloquently discussed the very real looming crisis facing the U.S. as a result of huge CAFOs ("Consolidated Animal Feeding Operations"), a term that itself, quite frankly, makes me feel kind of disgusting - a feeling exacerbated as I learned more about them. As David said, when you dissect the acronym, "Operation" is kind of innocuous, "Animal" is, well, animal, that's OK, I love animals as a general rule -- it is the "Consolidated" and "Feeding" aspects that are problematic. CAFOs are huge operations in which thousands of animals may be housed in inhumane conditions and fed things they were not meant to eat (grains, corn, soybeans for cows for example, instead of grass). Moreover, the waste created by these facilities is highly toxic, likely to be poorly stored, and, if leaked or spread (as does happen) creates the potential for catastrophic health and environmental consequences. David described the consequences of poorly run CAFOs (and there are some that he found, though few, that are responsibly administered) and we should ALL be worried. The unwillingness and/or inability of federal, state and local government to address the issues raised by CAFOs is disheartening and worrisome.
In New York City, people often feel disconnected from their food sources. This book should serve as a real wake up call to many, and teach NYers -- and others -- about really examining where their food comes from and the consequences of their choices. For example, David pointed out that many CAFO cows actually eat other cows as part of their diets in several ways. This was very disturbing and, as he elaborated on, creates a real risk for the spread of "mad cow disease."
I grew up in suburban Cleveland a short drive from my great uncle's dairy farm outside of Erie, Pennsylvania, a small operation with dairy cows as well as some pigs and chickens (creating a lifelong fear of chickens because these were pastured chickens that roamed free and pecked me!). The cows were treated well, went outside, and had spacious accommodations in a barn. The aforementioned chickens roamed around, free to terrorize me! The pigs were outside in a sty. Well not an expert by an stretch, I know what a small family farm -- one that has sustained a few generations -- looks like. Contrast that to a thousand pigs in a huge enclosure where, if the power goes out completely, the fumes from their waste will kill the pigs in very short order.
While I gave up it up recently, the rest of my family still eats meat. However, we try to eat whatever we choose responsibly. Our CSA, about which I have written before, allows us to purchase humanely and responsibly treated meat and dairy products as well as organic fruits and vegetables - and the meat and dairy is available year-round. We can obtain grass-fed and grass-finished meat (the "finished" part is harder to find for most people, yet critical to maintaining nutrient levels in beef -- it means that animals were not feed-fed at a lot before slaughter, which often happens even to animals grass-fed on the farm). I consider myself pretty "aware" but I learned a lot tonight that reinforced my gut instincts about factory farming.
Many kudos to David for bringing attention to this subject.
Animal Factory, like Evidence of Harm, is available from all major booksellers as well as many local independent bookstores.