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From Homeland to Wasteland: Part 4

In the latest issue of All Animals magazine, author David Kirby describes the health and environmental problems caused by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and the fight against industrial animal production in rural America

All Animals magazine, July/August 2010

  • David Kirby

Editor's note: David Kirby's Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment was published in March by St. Martin's Press. He also wrote the award-winning New York Times bestseller Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic—A Medical Controversy (St. Martin's Press, 2005). A journalist for more than 15 years, he has appeared on numerous television and radio programs and is a contributor to The Huffington Post. Read part one of the series » Part two » Part three »

by David Kirby


They say that reading a book might change your life, but writing a book almost always does. I am not the same person I was three years ago before I started my research. I have changed the way I shop, cook, eat, and to a certain extent, the way I vote and approach our two-party political system. (Hint: Neither party has much of the high ground on the CAFO issue.)

I changed my ways because I know that factory farms do not have to be the main source of our animal protein, and I choose to vote with my fork. Taking a page from the Meatless Mondays campaign, which urges people to refrain from flesh one day a week, I have reduced my own meat intake by more than one-seventh. I have learned to go several days without eating meat—though sustainably raised eggs and dairy will always be in my diet—and when I do cook beef or chicken, I buy less, cut it up, and cook it with rice or veggies. One chicken breast can easily feed four people this way. 

It's true that sustainably and humanely raised animal products are more expensive, so I often look for "manager's special" tags that can reduce the price by a third or more (cook it that day or freeze it). I am also trying to get a coveted spot at my local food co-op, which sells grass-fed, organic meat, eggs, and dairy at a deep discount.

"I have changed the way I shop, cook, eat, and to a certain extent, the way I vote and approach our two-party political system."

As for industrial meat, I sometimes think it is just too cheap. Sometimes, young chickens are sold in my supermarket at 59 cents a pound, or about $3 a bird. That animal's life, I believe, was worth more than $3, and I personally have no problem paying a higher price for something that could feed a family of five.

On the policy front, as a citizen as well as a journalist, I support certain measures that have been proposed to rein in some of the excesses of animal factory farming. Most of these steps were endorsed by Barack Obama when he campaigned in Iowa (the nation's No. 1 hog state), and readers of this magazine should hold the President to his promises. 

Here are just a few.

Local Control: Allow counties, rather than states, to decide whether a CAFO may set up shop.

More Competition: Confront the monopolistic, anti-competitive business models of mammoth "vertically integrated" food companies and ease their domination of the market, enabling smaller non-corporate farms to stay in business.

Packer Ban: Prohibit companies that own large processing plants from owning the animals they slaughter—a practice that can shut smaller competitors out of the supermarket.

Subsidy Limits: Place strict limits on eligibility for subsidies, and direct funding to more independent, community-supported producers. Giant farms that grow grain and corn to feed CAFO animals receive billions of dollars in direct-payment subsidies furnished by us, the taxpayers. Billions more go to payments to large CAFO operators.

Antibiotic Ban: Prohibit the use of medically important antibiotics in animal farming, except for treatment of sick animals, by passing a bill currently before Congress, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. Seventy percent of all U.S. antibiotics are now given to poultry and livestock for subtherapeutic use (growth promotion and disease prevention), contributing to widespread antibiotic-resistant pathogens such as MRSA, which now kills more Americans each year than AIDS.

But will any of this actually get done in the next few years? "I'm not more optimistic; I'm less," says Rick Dove. "Animal Factory hit and it should've set the world on fire, sent lagoons into oblivion. The book exposes the whole thing, and I would've expected the response to be tremendous. But I'm not seeing that. The public is going to close their eyes and buy their meat and not get involved. I’m having a difficult time understanding why there isn’t outrage across the country."

Dove does see one glimmer of encouragement. "Obama's starting to get involved, the signs are there, and if the federal government takes some action, that could be a wonderful thing and produce some great results. But I have a hard time getting optimistic because I have seen too many chances just erode away and fizzle out."

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

This is part four of a four-part series. The entire article is published in the upcoming July/August issue of All Animals magazine.

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