CAFO, or the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, also known as a factory farm,is the natural result of the sheer volume of animal products we consume today.
Mahatma Ghandi is widely quoted as saying "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the ways its animals are treated." Keep this in mind as you go through the following material about factory farms.
Quoting from Jonathan Safran Foer's well-researched book "Eating Animals" (2009, Little, Brown & Co.), ..."roughly 450 billion land animals are now factory farmed every year. Ninety-nine percent of all land animals eaten or used to produce milk and eggs in the United States are factory farmed".
Obviously factory farming is big, big business and the sheer demand of the marketplace requires huge economies of scale which can only be met by a concentrated feeding operation, or so says the industry. The business of turning corn into animal flesh is dominated by a very small group of very rich, powerful multinational corporations.
It's no mystery who they are, just walk down the meat and dairy aisles of your local supermarket and read the labels. The mystery, however, is just who owns what. On the surface it appears that there are many different companies but the reality is that most of those supermarket brands are owned by just four or fewer corporations.
A CAFO attempts to mimic the high volume assembly line production methods of manufactured goods, only with live animals. The key word in CAFO is "concentrated".
The objective is to place as many animals or birds as possible into as small a space as possible. Everything is geared toward getting them to market weight in the least amount of time or, in the case of layer hens or dairy cows, to confine them and maximize their egg or milk production with the least amount of human labor.
Efficiency, speed and technology is what matters most. Limiting the movement and freedom of the animals reduces their energy consumption and thus makes more calories available for conversion to flesh.
CAFOs depend on corn, soy or other grains that animals are not designed to eat in their natural habitat. The effects of this unnatural feeding on the animals has devastating effects on their health but that is of little concern as long as the end product meets the proper specifications and can create a profit.
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The captive/concentrated animal factory system didn't just spring into existence. It is the result of 10,000 years of human progress from nomadic hunters to hunter/gatherers to the domestication of plants and animals, allowing the establishment of more permanent settlements, then communities.
As more food became available, populations increased thus creating a demand for more food. This positive feedback loop continued until there were so many people that small farms run by single families could no longer keep up with demand nor could they get their produce, eggs and meat to the large consuming markets.
The advent of the automobile, refrigeration, food processing and preservation all combined to attract business entrepreneurs who envisioned large scale production of both plant and animal foods, far reaching distribution systems, and large centralized retailing of food.
The natural result of the convergence of technology, efficiency, speed and the huge demands of a growing worldwide population was the CAFO system for animal products and the monoculture approach to plant farming.
An alliance (some might say collusion) between corporate corn growers, food companies and the federal and local governments greatly accelerated and enabled the spread of CAFOs.
Cheap feed in the form of corn and later soy and other grains is what kept the price of the end products low and thus demanded ever increasing volumes of output to maintain profits in the face of ever declining profit margins. Today everything depends on corn, in fact everything is corn.
When we read the label on packaged meat and see "grain fed beef" we can interpret that as "corn fed beef" and can interpret that as an animal factory product.
Aside from animal welfare issues, which is not the same as "animal rights", why should we care about CAFOs?
Anyone who wants to make healthy choices about their food and health must learn about how cattle, pigs, chickens and fish are fed in preparation for marketing.
Why? Because it is an absolute truth that we are what we eat and what these animals and fish eat becomes us.
We also ingest the waste from CAFOs from fouled water supplies, emissions into the atmosphere and food crops that have been fertilized with CAFO waste.
The health and environmental effects of a CAFO is covered in the following pages and if you are interested in reading a landmark book on all aspects of the facory farm system, the CAFO Reader is the one. Click on the book cover to look it over.
CAFOs are simple, just think corn. That sounds innocent enough except that none of these animals are designed to live on corn. We aren't either for that matter.
This section deals with what the factory farms put into these animals through their CAFOs. The next section deals with what comes out of those animals and what it does to our environment.
Much of the material covered in these pages comes from a landmark study on Industrial Farm Animal Production by the Pew Commission.
What is it that supports such a seemingly unsustainable system? First and foremost it is the profits; profits to the agriculture industrial complex, certainly not the contract farmers.
Those profits are made possible by one thing, cheap corn. To understand the economics of the concentrated animal feeding operation, we have to start with corn. As detailed in Michael Pollan's book, Omnivore's Dilemma, corn is the engine that powers the machine.
Because of U.S. Government subsidies, corn has become so abundant that the animal factories are able to buy it cheaper than the cost to produce it. Without the destructive price supports from the government, the whole system would collapse. Would that be a bad thing? Probably not, but the true costs of a concentrated animal production system will be presented in later pages.
Ellen Davis, the author of that site has done a great job in researching the inner workings of the political processes affecting our food supply.
Corn is so over-produced that it and its many components are now found in almost every food item that we consume. Try to find a supermarket item that does not have high fructose corn syrup in it. A strong case can be made that corn is behind the obesity epidemic, the diabetes epidemic and the general decline of health in the U.S.
The 2007 documentary King Corn is about two friends who move to Iowa to raise one acre of corn and follow it through the food system. Their findings are disturbing and track the findings of other food chain researchers.
Click on the DVD image above to buy it from Amazon.com.</p>
A case can be argued that it is also responsible for the current immigration problems in the U.S. The story goes that once upon a time Mexico had its own thriving corn industry with the growers employing many thousands of workers.
When the U.S. began flooding Mexico with cheaper corn, Mexico's growers couldn't compete. Their out-of-work field hands migrated to the U.S. to work the lettuce fields of California, Arizona and animal factories of North Carolina.
The great migration was largely driven by U.S. companies that advertised in Mexico for workers. They didn't care if the workers were legal or illegal as long as they would work for minimum wage, had no union, and would not demand benefits or pensions.
Our government looked the other way, after all, production was up and prices were kept low and many state politicos were in the CAFO business.
Why didn't the government step in? We can't talk about the system without getting into the real driving power which is politics and money.
The agencies set up to regulate the industry and protect the consumer have evolved into nothing more than extensions of the few multi-nationals that own and run the vertically integrated operations.
The FDA, EPA and USDA in particular spend more time protecting the welfare of the corporations than they do regulating them. Food, Inc., the feature length expose on "big food" documents very well the revolving door between the food industry and all branches of government.
This tremendous power is now used against the consumer, farmers (both contract and independents), and workers. The companies have used their bought and paid for judges, congressmen and regulators to keep information out of the hands of consumers.
One example is that certain items, such as genetically modified food, is exempt from product labeling although that is slowly changing state by state.
Under the guise of "veggie libel laws", in thirteen states it is illegal to criticize food quality or publish photos of a CAFO; wonder what ever happened to the first amendment? Is your state one of the thirteen?
Recall that Oprah Winfrey was sued by a group of Texas cattlemen for simply saying on the air that she would never eat another hamburger following the mad cow disease scare. She won the case but at a cost of $1 million in legal fees and seven years in court.
The good news is that several states efforts to criminalize the undercover filming of animal suffering in factory CAFOs have died in committee.
From the June 30, 2011 Wall Street Journal, we read that bills to make it illegal to record video or audio inside factory farms without the owners permission or to lie in order to get hired by the farm in order to document the abuse would be a misdemeanor for the first offense and a felony for the second.
In Florida, Minnesota and New York these bills died a well deserved death in committee. A similar CAFO protection bill is still breathing in Iowa but will likely meet a similar fate. Could there be a better example of politicians selling out to corporate power to make sure their constituents prosper at the expense and suffering of thousands of animals. What ever happened to "do the right thing"?
At least Kroger and Safeway still believe in humanely produced food in that they have suspended purchases of Iowa Select products from JBS Swift, the company that was nailed by undercover investigators from Mercy for Animals.
Costco Wholesale and Hy-Vee are under pressure from animal welfare groups to do likewise until the company stops the use of gestation crates, clipping piglets tails and castrating them without painkillers and smashing the skulls of unwanted piglets against cement floors among other cruelties caught on the hidden camera. This is what the bought and paid for politicians don't want us to see.
Given that certain corporations have patented life in the form of their genetically modified corn and soybean seeds, they have been successful in making it illegal for farmers to clean and reuse the seed.
This is a practice that has been going on for thousands of years, but now farmers are forced to buy new seed every planting season.
According to the documentary, Food, Inc., food safety inspections are way down. According to the film, in 1972, the FDA did 50,000 food safety inspections, in 2006 it did 9,100. Perhaps that is partially due to there being thousands of slaughterhouses in the 70's but today there are only 13.
There seems to be something wrong with this picture, namely that the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service is charged with inspecting slaughterhouses, not the FDA. Second is that there is no way 13 slaughterhouses could churn out the amount of pork and beef demanded by U.S. consumers.
There is no doubt that that technology has provided the means for slaughterhouses and meat packers to greatly speed up their operations and increase the number of lines in a given facility. According to the USDA's own figures, 26 federally inspected plants do "process around 76% of the cattle harvest".
Given that, it is not hard to believe that the large corporate run packing houses and slaughterhouses have probably penalized the small local beef producers who depended on having nearby facilities to slaughter and sell their beef.
Does any of this sound like a grand plan to protect the big corporate CAFOs from competition, especially from smaller more sustainable, healthier producers? Not likely.
Even if true, don't tell Snake River Farms; no CAFO meat here and no big high-speed, corporate owned slaughterhouses. CLick on their banner on the right and see what real, pastuered, grass fed beef and family raised hogs are like. You will probably never buy a supermarket cut of meat again.
With so few remaining slaughterhouses, they should be so frequently inspected that there would never be a case of tainted meat hitting the market yet the incidences are increasing.
Slaughterhouses are only a small part of the problem however, now vegetable fields are being more and more contaminated from fertilizer from toxic CAFO waste.
Most food we eat now is processed and there are numerous entry points for contamination. With such huge, high volume plant operations, it is impossible to inspect the river of food flowing from factory to supermarket.
We will wrap up this section by giving the multi-national corporation Monsanto and Forbes magazine the last word on the Food, Inc. production. Your homework is to watch the Food, Inc. production then read the industry rebuttals and make up your own mind.
With that effort at a point and counterpoint wrap-up it is time to move on. Rest assured, this website will back the Food, Inc. message over the Monsanto and Tysons of the world any day.
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Take a look at the factory operation for beef
Visit an Industrial Chicken Factory
Foie Gras, fancy name for diseased goose liver
Fish Farming, the factory goes to Sea
Are factory-cow milk machines happy cows?