Factory hog farmers are having a terrible, horrible, awful, no good, very bad week for an awful lot of reasons. Already in the news was the earmark for a pig poop study that Republicans were having a cow (or a pig?) over.
Next Nicholas Kristof took them on for overuse of nontherapeutic antibiotics. Meanwhile, Louise Slaughter's gearing up to reintroduce a bill banning several classes of antibiotics from nontherapeutic use in livestock (i.e. giving drugs to the animals when they aren't even sick).
But then - to kick 'em while they were down - last night HBO aired Death on a Factory Farm, with undercover footage of a factory hog farmer showing absolute utter cruelty. It was so graphic and awful that Eddie C said he's ashamed to be in the same species as the people in the documentary. That's how I feel.
I'm going to group all factory farms together here, not just hog farms. But what does this picture add up to?
- Stink in a very serious way, lowering the value of homes around them without compensating their neighbors for the loss in their property values or the effects on their health
- Pollute waterways with manure runoff and add to the dead zones off our coasts
- Contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, not only with CO2 but with methane (~ 20x worse than CO2) and nitrous oxide (~300x worse than CO2)
- Spread disease to wild animals and to humans (both feedlot and slaughterhouse workers as well as consumers)
- Contribute to antibiotic resistance and make human medicine less effective
- Torture animals
- Produce inferior quality meat that leads to human health problems
Why do these things exist? Seriously? Why? Because of an implicit agreement that we don't want to know so we don't feel guilty for eating cheap meat, and they don't want us to know so they can keep making money? I think if we really shined a light on this issue and examined it, we'd find a solution far better for all of us. Sweden did, as I wrote in a diary long ago.
Sweden (I think it was Sweden) came up with a way to raise hogs that:
- Had less odor than factory farms
- Allowed the hogs happier, more natural lifestyles, which made them healthier (needing less antibiotics, and with lower mortality)
- Made the hogs easier for humans to work with, i.e. if humans needed to move the hogs into a trailer, lowering the "need" for animal cruelty
- Partially composts the manure so that it could be sold and used
- Requires no electric heating, cooling, or ventilation
I don't know about the incidence of MRSA or the quality of the meat, but already - doesn't this look like a good idea? It's being done in the U.S. by at least a few people.
I think Louise Slaughter's bill is a start. I think it's important to call our reps and ask them to co-sponsor her bill (The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act). I think it's great that HBO showed its documentary. I think it's fantastic that Kristof wrote his piece in the New York Times. But I think we need more.
We need laws calling for the humane treatment of agricultural animals. OK, not laws requiring farmers to treat them like pets or name them or play fetch with them. But how about a law saying that animals who cannot walk must be euthanized humanely, not hung from a chain on a forklift, kicking in agony while they suffocate? Or a law that you can't pick up a piglet by its ears and throw it?
I'm sorry but there's no economic argument that either of those actions are necessary. There just isn't. Even if it WAS more profitable, that STILL doesn't make it acceptable. Obviously it's more profitable to put melamine in our milk but we don't allow that, do we?
I believe that factory farms need to go away altogether. Chipping away at them with animal welfare standards like those in California's Prop 2 or bills like Louise Slaughter's is a start, but it's not enough. The issue isn't just the cruelty, or the stench, or the public health risk, or the environmental hazards. It's all of it. All of it together, and it adds up to a conclusion that factory farms should have no place in our agricultural system. Period.
(On an unrelated note - I highly recommend checking out Joanne Rigutto's story about her emu who was raised by a wolf - cutest pictures EVER and definitely necessary after thinking about the horrors of factory farms)