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Posts Tagged ‘CAFOs’

Up Shit Creek

March 11, 2010 Leave a comment

In 1995, Smithfield spilled more than twenty million gallons of lagoon waste into the New River in North Carolina.

In 1997, Smithfield was penalized for a mind-blowing seven thousand violations of the Clean Water Act… One violation might be an accident. Even ten violations might. Seven thousand violations is a plan. Smithfield was fined $12.6 million… but this is a pathetically small amount to a company that now grosses $12.6 million every ten hours.

– Jonathan Safran Foer, from page 178-179 of Eating Animals

Smithfield is the biggest pork producer in the United States. It annually produces at least as much fecal waste as the entire human population of the states of California and Texas combined (p. 175). This pig shit is pooled into football-field sized open-air lagoons. The lagoons can be overwhelmed. The shit then goes into local waterways. Bacon tastes good.

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E. Coli Revisited

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment

So I was just doing some casual reading on Slate about E. coli in ground beef… you know, how it seems to pop up seemingly more and more frequently, resulting in massive recalls (such as this week’s Huntington Meat Company recall of 5.7 million pounds of beef and veal). I always wonder how the average reader reacts to these stories. Going back to my pre-vegan days, I can only speculate that Joe Six-pack kinda shakes his head, double checks the fridge to make sure he’s safe, and then hopes they figure out how to fix it in the future.

The meat industry sure is trying. I’d be willing to bet that these big recalls are a bit embarrassing to them, not only because of what it says about the laxness of food safety regulations, but also because it lifts the veil for a few days every time this happens. It makes us actually think about how that meat gets to the shelf. We get to read about how E. coli lives in the intestinal tracts of real living cows, and how these outbreaks are usually caused by those cows’ feces splattering up on their dead carcasses and not getting cleaned off well enough. Maybe that is the most embarassing thing to Cargill and Huntington and factory farmers across the land, but I bet they are a bit nervous about us thinking about the process at all.

Even when things are going well (as you might expect me to say), the ground beef industry is not pretty. Big Ag doesn’t really want us to worry too much about the well-being of the cows, what they eat, how they are killed, or how they try to deal with that pesky E. coli. They just want us to want those burgers. In order for that to happen, it is best that things are kept simple. No more outbreaks would be a big help. That would keep food safety advocates out of their hair, cut down on public outcries for more regulation and federal interference, and get them sued less often. So, what are they doing about it now?

Well, they are developing a whole new arsenal of weapons to battle E. coli. USA Today filled us in on some of the plans last week:

  • More vaccines
  • Phages (a “a car-wash-like spray of bacteria-eating viruses” that cows are doused in 1-4 hours before slaughter)
  • New probiotics (bacteria to compete with E. coli in cow stomachs)
  • Sodium chlorate (a chemical that turns to bleach inside a cow to kill the E. coli)
  • Feeding cows hay and grass, instead of grain (which is natural but, according to Slate, not a real solution)

These measure would be in addition to the barrage of antibiotics, steam sprays, vaccines, and who-knows-what that the cows already endure (not to mention the lovely ammonia treatment I wrote about a while ago). It seems apparent that the beef pushers are going to great lengths to fight E. coli. That way we don’t have to think about CAFOs, slaughterhouses, manure-caked hides, acidic stomachs, bloody-diarrhea-kidney-failure-and-death, a cow’s recto-anal junction, vaccines, phages, sodium chlorate, antiobiotics, government subsidies, ammonia processing, the food system, lawsuits, agriculture lobbies, methane, O157:H7, water contamination, veal crates,  manure lagoons……………..

All this effort for a $2.99 (or whatever the hell they cost) Big Mac. Perhaps there is another way to keep E. coli at bay: don’t eat beef.

Manure Management: New Mexico’s Dairy Row

December 9, 2009 Leave a comment

From today’s Morning Edition on NPR:

Farms dispose of waste in two ways.

First, workers hose the muck off the concrete floor of a milking barn, and it flows into a plastic- or clay-lined lagoon where the liquid evaporates.

Second, waste from the feedlot where the cows live is collected and used as fertilizer for grain crops.

But the New Mexico Environment Department reports that two-thirds of the state’s 150 dairies are contaminating groundwater with excess nitrogen from cattle excrement. Either the lagoons are leaking, or manure is being applied too heavily on farmland.

On Dairy Row along Interstate 10 between Las Cruces, N.M., and El Paso, Texas, more than 30,000 cows live in 11 farms located one after the other.

In the past four years, the EPA has repeatedly cited these dairies for violating the Clean Water Act because manure-laced stormwater was washing into tributaries of the Rio Grande.

 

Everyday, an average cow produces six to seven gallons of milk and 18 gallons of manure. New Mexico has 300,000 milk cows. That totals 5.4 million gallons of manure in the state every day. It’s enough to fill up nine Olympic-size pools. Every single day.

That’s a lot of poo, eh?

This Sounds Familiar

November 21, 2009 Leave a comment

 Consumer campaigns don’t save endangered fish

These stories will become more and more common. The media is waking up. Are you?

From the article:

More than a third of fish caught worldwide is used to feed factory-farmed animals, they said. “Currently, 30 million tonnes of fish (36 percent of world fisheries catch) are ground up each year into fishmeal and oil, mostly to feed farmed fish, chicken and pigs.”

“Decreasing the amount of fish used for the production of animal feed should be a top priority of the sustainable-seafood movement,” said the report. “Pigs and chickens alone consume six and two times the amount of seafood as US and Japanese consumers.”

Just being vegan isn’t enough. That’s why I wrote this letter.

“What we know about eating animals is that we don’t want to know.”

November 20, 2009 2 comments

This quote comes from Elizabeth Kolbert’s thoughtful review of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals in The New Yorker. Foer’s book is getting a ton of publicity, it seems, and it is a very exciting time for vegans like me. By virtue of his hipster-approved novels and his combination of intellect and youth, Foer has shown that he has the power that many vegan freaks wish they had: the power to get more people to pay attention. I could blog about modern food problems until I was blue in the fingertips, and so could the rest of the vegan blogorazzi, and none of us would have the influence that he has. I am very happy to see it happening, but book tours and press junkets end after a while. We will have to see if interviews on Ellen Degeneres’ show and reviews in The Onion and New Yorker will merely start the conversation, or actually create a new movement towards veganism and vegetarianism. I hope Foer’s book is coming at the right time.

I want to believe that there are a lot of people out there who have thought a bit about the source of their meat. The sad thing is that most people choose to believe that if a burger can legally be sold to them for a dollar, everything with the system must be fine. These people do not choose to think about the power of corporate influence, the economics of how meat is created so cheaply, or maybe even the fact that a cow had to live a short horrible life so they could get a little salt-induced dopamine spurt. Like Kolbert said: “What we know about eating animals is that we don’t want to know.” Those who don’t want to know probably will not be part of the conversation. They are often the same people who say that eating meat is a god-given right and pleasure, or reduce the whole argument to “I have canine teeth, therefore I am supposed to eat meat.” Argh, it bugs me to think about the ignorance, so lets move on. Ignore the ignorant.

So, what about the people who do want to know? This is where we can get some hope from Foer’s book. There are potentially millions of new vegan converts out there, right? I mean, there has to be. Modern grocery shoppers increasingly care about organics, food-born illness, fair-trade, etc… So why not animal rights and corporate justice? For me, the biggest reason to go vegan was, and probably always will be, the satisfaction of removing myself from a system that repeatedly deceives us and corrupts everything it touches. To me, the food/agriculture industry is more evil than any of the bailed-out bankers, Big Tobacco, or Big Oil. I imagine there are a lot of people that hate being lied to as much as I do. Hopefully this book will make more veggie-leaning thinkers out there take the next step and do the right thing, just like Natalie Portman did (she became vegan after reading it).

I am simultaneously excited and frustrated by the transparency provided to us by the information age. The internet and investigative journalism should be giving us the truth that all the evil corporations are trying to hide. Unfortunately, that promise of transparency isn’t living up to its potential. Until our society at large decides that it is important to know where our food comes from, we cannot expect a high enough level of snooping around by do-gooders to make a difference. This is why I believe it is important to read (and buy) newspapers and magazines that do a good job. Those passionate journalists can’t find the dirt if they don’t get paid for it; at least not as effectively. This is also why I plan to read Eating Animals as soon as I manage to scrounge up the money.

Interview with Director Robert Kenner

November 18, 2009 Leave a comment

Interview with the director of Food, Inc. Robert Kenner. If I could, I would get a copy of this DVD for everybody I know for Christmas, or just for them to have. The DVD is available now. I would also recommend the companion book and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma if you are into things like truth, fairness, knowing how the food industry works, and pulling aside the corporate veil that hides all those things. The movie is really well done. Like Kenner says at the beginning of his interview, it is not for the extremist or even the vegetarian. It is a film for people who are curious about food, and who are interested in knowing the truth.

This American Porkchop

October 8, 2009 Leave a comment

cute-black-piglet

I’ve been vegan for two years now. Not a long time, considering I’m 27. I had dabbled with vegetarianism in high school, gave it up, but still didn’t eat a lot of red meat or pork. I had preferred rice milk over regular milk for years (now I prefer almond and oat milk). I had always loved cheese, but that’s not a problem anymore. Once I woke up to the realities of the animal-based food world, going vegan was a snap, and my veggie-lite history made the transition easier.

I say “veggie-lite” because I was never a real vegetarian. When I was in high school, my parents got hip to some of the nasty inner workings of the meat industry through some audio tapes my dad came across. He played a bit for us in the car one day, I heard about chickens eating sawdust and chicken poo and blood and all that, and it was enough for me. OK dad, I’m with you. I was vegetarian for maybe a year and a half before the fast food peer pressure of lunchtime with my friends made all those horrible things dissipate into nonexistence again. I just wanted some roast beef, or a cheap Taco Bell taco late at night. It just tasted so good, right? And even a teenager can afford a big meal at Taco Bell.

Ok, so I wasn’t really into it. Not completely. What 16-year-old would be? When I was that age I cared about soccer, video games, girls, and snowboarding. My brain could not wrap itself around things like politics, corporations, or animal rights. But that feeling stuck with me; that vague idea that there was probably something wrong with eating meat, so I kept it on the shelf.

As I got older I became more conscious of how a lot of corporations were making our world worse. It started with how all the music on the radio sucked, and figuring out why. Then I learned about Wal-Mart, and noticed Starbucks popping up everywhere while little indie shops struggled to stay open. By the time I finished college, I guess the floodgates opened. I try to look into every dollar I spend now, voting financially for companies I believe in. Whether it was spending money I didn’t have on obsolete CDs at the indie record store, or finally, eating organic and vegan, this is what I came to believe in.

My point in writing all this is that I think there is a big part of the population that is where I was at between high school and now… in a veggie-lite stage. The facts that organics have become so big, and people are talking about humanely raised chickens and cows, are signs  that awareness is growing. But all those cage-free egg buyers are still kinda kidding themselves, right? They  recognize that there are problems, and they might spend a little more for pesticide-free food, but they still don’t want to go any further. They choose to hope that buying grass-fed beef is solving the problem (and it certainly helps), but they just won’t give up those cheeseburgers or omelettes. Even vegetarians seem like fakers to me.

The turning point for me, the thing that switched me to vegan cold-turkey, was getting the info. We all have a hunch when something is wrong. But we don’t do anything about it until the proof is in front of our faces. Whether we seek it out ourselves, or somebody forces us to see the truth, we tend to turn a blind eye if it involves a part of life that we enjoy. This idea of getting exactly what we want at a low price has become some sort of distorted American right; we pass off responsibility for what we buy to the companies that sell it to us. We assume everything must be ok with a product if the government allows it to be sold on the shelf at Safeway.

So that info I got that turned me into a vegan… It didn’t take much. Yes, it was PETA literature, but mostly it was realizing that these horrible things must be happening. I didn’t have to watch the gruesome animal-torture videos online, or see photos of fuzzy bunnies being turned into fur coats. I just had to really think about it. Food companies are in the business of making money- not making us healthy or taking care of the soil or oceans. They exist to find ways to get us to buy things, and to find ways to create those things more cheaply. When you just take those simple facts of corporate nature and apply them to the food industry, you just know that those chickens are stacked 50 feet high in chicken-sized crates, and you know that cows are probably hooked to milking robots as much as biologically possible, and you just know that there must be so many more horrific things going that you can’t even imagine.

So, you decide to take that responsibility yourself. You decide what you will eat, and who you will buy it from. It takes a little research and maybe some more money, but goddamn it feels good to stick it to the Man.

I felt compelled to get this diatribe into digital record because I saw a cool episode of This American Life on Netflix instant-watch today. It was Season 1, Episode 6, entitled Pandora’s Box.

It wasn’t gruesome or disgusting. It was just a glimpse into a typical bio-engineered pig farm. The animals weren’t being tortured (well, there were no screaming pigs anyway); you just see a bit of how the operation works. And you see… how unnatural and wrong it seems. In fact, the TAL crew became an unplanned part of the episode because they didn’t even really know what they were getting themselves into. You see the looks on the producer’s face when he is smelling the the pigshit-lagoon below the grated floor where the pigs “live.” You see the confusion on the camera guy who has to shower and put on an entirely sterile suit before going into the pig quarters (because bioengineered pigs are very sensitive to viruses and a little germ can wipe out half an operation). And you see the seasoned sound-man take the rest of the day off and give up eating meat after being nauseated by the typical goings-on at a factory farm.

It was one of those eye-openers for the TAL crew. They were suddenly faced with the realities of industrial food, and they knew it was weird and really kind of messed up. They didn’t all go veg afterwards. But I bet they all think about food more.