(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally's kat, aka Kerry
Trueman, corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of
Pet Food Politics, What to Eat and Food Politics:)
KAT: We talk a lot about the factory farms that provide most of our meat,
poultry, eggs, and dairy products, but most Americans have no idea what
really goes on inside a CAFO, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.
You, however, saw a number of these fetid facilities firsthand when you
served on the Pew Commission on Industrial
Farm Animal Production a couple of years ago. And industrial livestock
production's role in degrading our environment, undermining our health,
abusing animals and exploiting workers in the name of efficiency has been
well-documented, most recently in Dan Imhoff's massive, and massively
disturbing, coffee table book
CAFO- The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories.
Given all the problems inherent in industrial livestock production, do
you see a future for factory farming?
Dr. Nestle: I do not think
factory farming is going away. Most people like meat and want to eat it, and
do so the minute they get enough money to buy it.
I think a more
realistic question is this: Can factory farming be done better? The
interesting thing about the Pew Commission's investigations was that we were
taken to factory farms where people were trying to do things right, or at
least better. Even so, it was mind-boggling to see an egg facility that gave
whole new meaning to the term "free range." And these eggs were organic,
yet. The hens were not caged, but there were thousands of them all over each
other. This place did a fabulous job of composting waste and the place did
not smell bad. But it did not in any way resemble anyone's fantasy of
chickens scratching around in the dirt.
Factory farming raises issues
about its effects on the animals, the environment, the local communities,
and food safety. As someone invested in public health and food safety, I
care about all of those. The effects on the animals are obvious, and those
will never go away no matter how well everything else is done.
the everything else could be done much, much better. The first big issue is
animal waste. It stinks. It's potentially dangerous. Most communities have
laws that forbid this level of waste accumulation, but the laws are not
enforced, often because the communities are poor and disenfranchised.
The second is antibiotics, particularly the use of antibiotic drugs as
growth promoters. This selects for antibiotic-resistant bacteria and is, to
say the least, not a good idea.
The factory farming system could be
greatly improved by forcing the farms to manage waste and restricting use of
antibiotics. This will not solve the fundamental problems, but it will help.
I'm hoping that more environmentally friendly meat production will
expand, and factory farming will contract. That would be better for public
health in the short and long run.
Fugitive Waste: Despite efforts to contain manure from CAFOs through
infrastructure and nutrient management plans, the wastes often become
"fugitive," washing into waterways and traveling airborne across
communities. The result is what Brother David Andrews of Food and Water
Watch has called a "fecal flood" in rural areas across America. Humane
Society of the United States/CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal