After a decade of exposing and demonizing Monsanto and genetically engineered foods, including an intense four-year battle to force mandatory labeling of GMOs (a battle rudely terminated in July when Congress rammed through the outrageous DARK Act), the U.S. food movement stands at the crossroads.
Should we keep badgering Monsanto’s minions in Washington for the right to know what’s in our food, a sentiment shared by the overwhelming majority of consumers? Or should we focus more on single-issue reforms, such as banning neonicotinoid bee-killing pesticides, better nutrition in schools, taxes on soda, and an end to the reckless use of antibiotics in animal feed?
A growing number of food activists believe it’s time to move beyond limited or single-issue campaigning and lobbying and take on the entire degenerative food and farming system, starting with the malevolent profit-driver and lynchpin of industrial agriculture, GMOs and fast food: factory farming.
We obviously can’t count on a corrupt Congress or a Clinton/Trump White House to enact significant policy change, no matter how popular or just our demands. So we need to shift our strategy and tactics. We need to aggressively mobilize a full-blown online and on-the-ground food fight, complete with marketplace pressure, popular education, boycotts, litigation, brand de-legitimization, and direct action.
To bolster these strategies and tactics, we need to increase independent lab testing of brand-name foods so we can expose the human health and environmental poisons and toxins lurking in chemical-GMO-factory-farmed foods. At the same time, we will reveal the nutritional and environmental superiority of organic, grass-fed and regenerative foods and crops.
Millions of Americans are rejecting Big Food’s tainted fare, voting with their consumer dollars for healthier, humane, environmental- and climate-friendly foods and products. Our job as consumer advocates is to move organic and regenerative food and farming, including meat, dairy and eggs, from being a niche market to being the dominant force in U.S. and world agriculture.
Factory farms are the malevolent profit-driver of Big Food
Why do we categorize factory farms (euphemistically called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs by the government and industry) the “malevolent profit-driver and lynchpin” of industrial and GMO agriculture?
Factory farming is a trillion-dollar industry that has a devastating impact on food quality, human health, animal welfare, farmworkers, rural communities, water quality, air pollution, biodiversity, and greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, two-thirds of all farm animals are now confined on factory farms. In the US the figure is even higher—90-95 percent.
The overwhelming majority of U.S. and global farmland today is used either to raise animals before they are sent to the CAFO feedlots, or to grow the GMO and chemical intensive crops such as alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, soybeans and sugar beets.
The U.S. factory farm meat, dairy and poultry industry is an out-of-control system based on cruel, filthy, disease-ridden and environmentally destructive animal prisons; GMO-and pesticide-tainted feeds; labor exploitation; false advertising; corporate corruption of government; and the use of massive amounts of dangerous pesticides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones and growth promoters.
Factory-farm meat, dairy, poultry and fish are the number one cause of water pollution, soil degradation, greenhouse gas emissions and diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, reproductive defects, hormone disruption and obesity.
We will never get rid of GMOs, chemical-intensive mono-crops, antibiotic resistance, animal cruelty and agriculturally derived greenhouse gas emissions until we eliminate factory farms.
We need to stop feeding herbivores (cattle, sheep, goats) billions of tons of GMO and pesticide-contaminated grain. We need to stop lacing animal feed with antibiotics and growth hormones. We need to promote zero consumption of factory farm foods. We need to move the world’s billions of farm animals back onto the pastures, rangelands, and agroforestry paddocks where they belong.
And we need to stop the overconsumption of meat and animal products in general. Americans consume on the average 10 ounces a day of meat, whereas natural health experts recommend three.
It’s time to mobilize public consciousness and market pressure against factory farming. It’s time to transform our entire degenerate chemical- and energy-intensive industrial food and farming system into a system that regenerates—a system that can restore biodiversity and revitalize public health, animal health, the environment, rural communities and the body politic, while drawing down billions of tons of excess CO2 from the atmosphere and safely sequestering this carbon in the soil and forests, where it belongs.
It’s time to drive factory farms and GMOs off the market, for good.
Factory farms are the lynchpin of the GMO industry
The multi-billion dollar GMO and pesticide industries could not survive without factory farms (or CAFOs). These animal prisons monopolize farmland for chemical fertilizer and pesticide-dependent GMO grains while denying animals access to pasture and the ability to exercise their natural behavior.
Ninety-five percent of the nine billion cows, pigs, goats, chickens and turkeys raised for meat in the U.S. every year are kept in confinement for most of their lives. These CAFO prisons are the lynchpin and foundation of Monsanto and the Gene Giants.
Factory farming creates a huge market for “animal pharma”—the divisions of drug companies that create livestock drugs. CAFO meat, dairy, and poultry is routinely laced with antibiotics, vaccines, anti-inflammatory drugs, hormones and growth chemicals to keep animals alive in deplorable conditions. These dangerous drug residues end up in food and drinking water.
For example, the Office of Inspector General of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) found in 2010 that beef released to the public contained penicillin, the antibiotics florfenicol, sulfamethazine and sulfadimethoxine, the anti-parasite drug ivermectin, the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug flunixin and heavy metals.
Factory farms are also unremittingly cruel. “We have industrialized the production of animals for food, putting them wing to wing and shoulder to shoulder in factory farms,” writes Wayne Pacelle of HSUS. “We confine animals in small cages and crates; mutilate them by cutting off their tails or beaks without painkillers; slaughter them when they're too sick or injured to walk; and cause them immense chronic pain and disease through unhealthy breeding practices that swell their size and unnaturally accelerate their reproduction.”
Factory farms are a blight on the environment
Mono-Cropping—repeatedly growing a single GMO crop with chemical fertilizers and pesticides on large amounts of land to feed animals —decarbonizes soil, reduces food quality and nutrients, destroys biodiversity and creates "super pests" and "super weeds.”
If that weren’t bad enough, factory farms are the nation’s biggest polluters, contaminating not only soil, but air and water. For example, Tyson Foods alone released 104.4 million pounds of toxic pollutants into waterways between 2010 and 2014 according to a report by Environment America.
In 2003, Tyson the second worst polluter of U.S. waterways (second only to a polluting steel manufacturing company) pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act with effluvia from its Sedalia, Mo. facility and agreed to pay $7.5 million. But before its probation ended, Tyson was charged by the state of Oklahoma with polluting the Illinois River watershed. Poultry polluters eject as much phosphorous into the watershed as a city of ten million people, said State Attorney General Drew Edmondson in bringing charges.
Factory farming and the mismanagement of fertilizers also have long been known to cause huge “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere. A 1998 EPA study found 35,000 miles of streams in 22 states and ground water in 17 states that had been polluted by factory farms. Even though six of the top 15 polluting industries in the U.S. are food producers—paper and gasoline producers pollute less—these factory farm polluters are exempt from federal water-pollution regulation.
Factory farms harm workers
Those people who are against immigration or foreign workers don’t seem to realize that without cheap labor their fast-food hamburgers would cost $10—not $1 - $4. The fact is, the fast food industry relies on cheap, foreign labor at factory farms to help keep costs and prices down.
When it was raided in 2008, the huge kosher slaughterhouse Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa, employed 290 Guatemalans, 93 Mexicans, two Israelis and four Ukrainians. (It also had a meth lab in the plant to keep workers motivated.) Within weeks of the raid, Agriprocessors was canvassing homeless shelters and running radio ads in Mexico to replenish its workforce. At many meat plants legal workers from places like Somali and the Palau Islands—not U.S. workers—dominate.
Factory farms invariably treat these workers, who cannot protest their working conditions, as abysmally as they do animals and the environment. Still, lawmakers defend factory farms because they allegedly create “jobs.” But what kind of jobs?
Here’s just a sampling of what factory farm workers have endured.
“Aaron,” an undercover investigator for Mercy for Animals who was employed at the egg producer Norco Ranch in Menifee, Calif., told the author that only two employees were in charge of seven barns, each holding 30,000 hens when he worked there. His job, maintaining conveyer belts 12 hours a day, six days a week with no overtime paid $8.50 an hour but his non-English-speaking coworkers earned less, he said.
The death of a slaughterhouse worker from tuberculosis at a Tyson Foods slaughterhouse in 2007 brought tempers to a froth in Emporia, Kan. “Was Tyson attempting to deceive the public as to the reason or cause for this employee’s death?” asked a commentator on the Emporia Gazette’s website, according to an article on Counterpunch.
According to a 2013 article in Alternet, the case of Jose Navarro, a federal poultry inspector who died at the age of 37, also raised questions. Navarro, who coughed up blood several months before his death, may have had lung and kidney failure, according to the autopsy report.
In 2007 and 2008, a debilitating neurological disease called progressive inflammatory neuropathy (PIN) broke out at Quality Pork Producers in Austin, Minn., Indiana Packers Corp. in Delphi, Ind. and Hormel Foods Corp. in Fremont, Neb. PIN afflicted only those workers at the “head table” where hog brains were turbo-charged out the animals’ snouts with a high pressure hose and poured into containers for shipment to countries where brains are considered a delicacy. A Plexiglas shield protected the hose operator, but other workers were likely breathing the pulverized brain material and developing PIN.
PIN led to limb weakness, paralysis, wheelchairs and hospitalization. Employees protested at the Quality Pork Producers plant in Austin holding signs that said “Hormel and QPP Guilty For Our Disease.”
The dismal lives of animals on factory farms
Confining animals wing-to-wing and shoulder-to-shoulder over their own manure, then inundating them with chemicals to keep them from dying is clearly a recipe for disease.
By May 2013, the scourge of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) had killed one-tenth of all U.S. pigs—a fact Big Meat was able to downplay in the media. By 2014, PEDv had killed at least 7 million piglets in their first days of life. PEDv was so bad that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) caught a Kentucky farm that lost 900 piglets in two days feeding dead pigs to other pigs in an attempt to induce "immunity" in survivors. Footage from the Iron Maiden Hog Farm in Owensboro, Ky. also shows pigs whose legs had been bound together to keep them standing when they otherwise would have collapsed.
Big Meat hopes the public has forgotten about bird flu which took the lives of 50 million chickens and turkeys in 2015, mostly healthy animals killed through cruel suffocation methods to protect farmers’ profits.
“It’s reasonable when we see these outbreaks to wonder if they are a manifestation of the unsustainability of the system,” says Suzanne McMillan, senior director of the farm and animal welfare campaign at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) citing the intensive confinement, unsanitary conditions, unnatural and unsustainable conditions on factory farms.
Big Meat downplayed both porcine epidemic diarrhea and bird flu in the press, not wanting customers to fear their products—or to reveal the appalling conditions factory farmed animals live in.
GMO animals on the dinner plate
While the FDA approval of the AquAdvantage “frankensalmon” got media attention, other, less well-publicized GMO animals are also in the works.
Scientists at the University of Missouri, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Harvard Medical School have developed “White piglets with muscle tissue larded with omega-3 fatty acids,” that can lead to "healthy pork," reports the New York Times, because such fatty acids are linked to a lowered incidence of heart disease. “People can continue to eat their junk food,” rhapsodized Harvard’s Alexander Leaf. “You won’t have to change your diet, but you will be getting what you need.” Aren’t animals great?
Brave New scientists at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where the cloned sheep Dolly was created, have developed chickens that produce eggs with interferon functioning as living, breathing biofactories for humans. “Once you’ve made the transgenic birds, then it’s very easy,” enthused scientist Helen Sang, PhD. “You can breed up hundreds of birds from one cockerel [young male] — because they can be bred with hundreds of hens and you can collect an egg a day and have hundreds of chicks in no time.”
The end product—unhealthy, toxic food
In addition to causing water pollution, soil degradation, fish kills, dead zones, greenhouse gas emissions and extreme animal cruelty, factory farms harm human health itself. They make fattening, over-processed, chemically-adulterated food so cheap, obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome are epidemic. The average American man today weights 194 pounds and the average woman 165 pounds--everything from airline seats to coffins to hospital operating tables are being made bigger to accommodate the growing girth.
But there is money in growing GMOs for livestock and unhealthy human foods and the industry increasingly monopolizes. Ninety-five percent of all grain reserves in the world are now controlled by just six multinational agribusinesses and the same concentration of power is seen with beef packers, pork packers and flour milling. Big Food has become so wealthy and politically powerful, it “money bombs” politicians in the U.S. to pass laws that ensure our degenerate chemical- and energy-intensive industrial food and farming system. The system pumps out billions of tons of climate-disruptive greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and destroys soils, destroys biodiversity and drives climate change.
But even though Monsanto, its indentured scientists, politicians, regulatory agencies and members of the mass media succeeded in ramming through the DARK Act this summer, consumers are building a grassroots-powered revolution that will succeed.
Fast Food giants like McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC; factory farm kingpins like Cargill, Tyson, JBS, Perdue, and Archer Daniels Midland; along with junk food multinationals such Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Campbell’s, Dannon, Smuckers and Starbucks are losing credibility and sales. Yet even as their profits stagnate, they want to hang on to their chemicals, their food additives, GMOs, their cronies in government, and their “cheap food” factory farm empire.
But Big Food, Ag, and Pharma’s current problems are just the beginning. It’s time for a change, Big Change. It’s time to zero in on factory farms and the entire degenerate food and farming system before it kills us all.
Martha Rosenberg is a contributing writer to the Organic Consumers Association.