Attending the recent CAFO Watch conference in Chesterfield, Indiana, was a second-generation farmer & livestock producer from Missouri named Terry Spence. Mr. Spence is co-founder and president of Family Farms for the Future and CLEAN (Citizens Legal Environmental Action Network).
Terry is also an independent consultant for the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project which focuses on working with rural citizens and groups throughout the the United States and Canada that are being negatively impacted by Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s), also referred to as Confined Animal Feeding Operations and Factory Farms.
Meat production in the United States has changed dramatically over the past several decades. Today, most meat, dairy products, eggs and poultry are raised within huge industrial facilities that confine thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of animals in a small space without access to pasture.
According to a report produced by the reputable Pew Research Trusts and the John Hopkins Institute:
While increasing the speed of production, the intensive confinement production system creates a number of problems. These include contributing to the increase in the pool of antibiotic-resistant bacteria because of the overuse of antibiotics; air quality problems; the contamination of rivers, streams, and coastal waters with concentrated animal waste; animal welfare problems, mainly as a result of the extremely close quarters in which the animals are housed; and significant shifts in the social structure and economy of many farming regions throughout the country.
Additionally, feed formulation further influences risks because the food given to confined animal populations are significantly different from the foraged feeds traditionally available to farm animals. The unintended consequences of feeding farm animals this non-traditional food is the production of bacteria. This bacteria is harmful for human consumption, so the meat packers add a mixture known as “pink slime” which kills the bacteria contained within the meat.
Factory farms use a tremendous amount of energy and water to produce a pound of meat. Many claim it is not sustainable, including Terry Spence. However, what allows it to continue to operate at a profit is the expansive network of grants, tax credits, subsidies, etc. that are available to these farms. It doesn’t hurt that many of the CAFO operations are owned by local political officials, congressman and senators. Those who don’t hold public office are protected by many powerful lobbying groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation.
How about the Cattlemen’s Beef Association?
When the USDA recently sent a newsletter to employees endorsing the John Hopkins program, “Meatless Monday’s”, a program which promotes reducing the negative impact of CAFO’s on our environment, the USDA was hammered by the Beef Association and Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa. Sen. Grassley lectured the USDA to, “Remember who they represent.” The USDA immediately retracted their endorsement of Meatless Monday’s and blamed the newsletter on an “over-eager” intern.
If the USDA represents the owners of these large taxpayer subsidized factory farms, we’d like to know who is representing the abused animals and the taxpayers who are being sold contaminated meat? Who is holding these farms accountable for polluting our rivers and streams?
In a recent article by Scott Edwards on Huffington Post, he stated:
The truth is that meat production in the U.S. is dominated not by family-owned farms, but by giant agribusinesses like Perdue, Smithfield, Tyson and a handful of others. Among the meat industry, four companies control 66 percent of pork, 58 percent of chicken and 83 percent of beef processing. Their lobbyists in D.C. and throughout the states wield a considerable amount of political influence on both sides of the aisle while the companies profit enormously off the environmental and human health impacts on our communities and from not paying a fair price to small and independent livestock producers.
Why aren’t the free market promoters investigating the amount of subsidies received by these large CAFO’s? Several members at the CAFO Watch conference said that on many occasions, there are more than one company on CAFO operated land so they can obtain taxpayer subsidies for several companies. According to Terry Spence, the money received from government allows Big Farm to produce for less than their costs…we’d like to hear the free market conservatives justify Big Farm’s subsidies that flood international markets with below cost product.
Based on the above facts, we think CAFO’s deserve a second look and that more light needs to be shined on their political influence and obstructionist policies that are preventing progressive changes to our food system.