Commentary: In praise of factory farming

 Resize text         Printer-friendly version of this article Printer-friendly version of this article

I encountered a typical complaint the other day, one that over the years I’ve heard more variations on than a chess master has openings.

“I don’t really like to eat meat, because those animals are just so abused.”

The speaker was an otherwise intelligent, well-educated young woman with enough smarts and savvy to have risen to the managerial ranks in her company at an age my biggest accomplishment was blowing my measly paycheck—and my weekend—on the futile pursuit  of whatever girl du jour I had no chance of landing.

This particular young woman was a sucker for the “pumped full of antibiotics and hormones” rhetoric that anti-industry activists are so adept at disseminating. Even though she admits to being underweight and anemic, she vowed to gain her way back to a normal BMI by increasing her consumption of—wait for it—peanut butter.

I’ll grant you, George Washington Carver was a genius who created some 300 uses for the peanut, but none of his patents involved the reversal of anemia. Although highly nutritious, a jar of Skippy isn’t going to take anyone to a place, nutritionally speaking, that lean meat can’t go more efficiently and, truth be told, contributing far fewer calories and fat to one’s diet (a single cup of peanut butter delivers more than 1,500 calories, two-thirds of them from fat).

That’s the predictable part of the discussion I had with this young woman. The interesting part, however, was that her objections to eating meat centered not on how animals are killed, but on how they lived. It’s not about humane slaughter, it’s about humane lifestyle, if that term can be properly applied to farm animals.

Interesting, because her objections echo the more recent positioning of the activist community. Ten years ago, there were high-profile campaigns against inhumane slaughter, and lots of accusations about animals being skinned alive and chickens getting manhandled at the plant, and pigs jammed into overheated trailers on their way to slaughter.

Those issues, however, have largely subsided, and for the past five years or so, the thrust of both the activist community’s propaganda and its campaign funding has been focused squarely on living conditions, not slaughter. Thus, the referenda launched against gestation stalls and battery cages and veal crates, and the concurrent marketing of the benefits of free-range production, open housing systems and the outdoor access that many alternative agriculture participants preach to their customers.

Pushing back on the issues

In some ways, it’s just easier for the groups invested in promoting vegetarianism to attack producers on the confinement issue. Most people still harbor romantic notions of a now non-existent farmstead with chickens running loose, a couple pigs covered in mud and a docile cow in the barn munching on hay as their conceptual framework for food production.

It’s also a far better source of the angst activists prey on to drive their fund-raising, and focusing on living conditions allows those holier-then-thou groups to hide behind a reform banner, rather than admitting their ultimate goal is a meat-free society.

So how does the industry push back? On two fronts.

First, by pushing forward in the evolution of production systems that incorporate the key concerns consumers have bout food animals: open, or group housing systems and access to the outdoors. In the end there is no inherent conflict, no technical barriers to adding those elements to production that cannot be overcome. Just the necessary determination and the appropriate investment.

Second, the looming specter of a world population plagued by food shortages—even in our own lifetime—represents a real awakening for the very people, like the young woman I spoke with, who are intelligent enough about the larger issues of resource limitations and climate change to appreciate the urgency of maintaining, if not increasing, global farm productivity.

There is fertile ground, I believe, to discuss the merits of so-called industrial agriculture. Without the efficiencies inherent in modern food production, there would be starvation in many places around the world. Although we like to believe that could never happen here, the specter of soaring food prices does hit home, and it’s there that traction can be gained for establishing not just the justification for, but the necessity of factory farming.

I know activists love that phrase, but I think it’s time for producers and farmers to demystify it and drain it of its pejorative context. Nobody objects to the concept of a factory, if—and that’s a big if—the working conditions are satisfactory. And few people complain about the concept of mechanized farming when it applies to commodities such as corn, wheat and soybeans. Heck, there wouldn’t be a veggie activist alive today to protest production agriculture without the availability and affordability of soy protein in its many culinary incarnations.

It’s only animals that are seen as victims in the farming and food production systems that have evolved so dramatically over the past 50 years.

And as long as industry maintains the efficiencies, and mitigates the deficiencies, there is no reason that even the more critical consumers can’t be eventually persuaded to skip the Skippy and return to meat-eating.

Dan Murphy is a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator



Comments (32) Leave a comment 

Name
e-Mail (required)
Location

Comment:

characters left

Janet Weeks    
Sacramento  |  June, 22, 2011 at 10:47 AM

There is no way I will ever be persuaded to consume animal flesh or animal secretions: http://meatvideo.com/

Jason    
Birmingham, UK  |  June, 22, 2011 at 01:13 PM

Interesting article. I've just written one looking at anti-factory farming arguments around pig farms in the UK. I'd appreciate your opinion. http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/10620

Bea Elliott    
Florida  |  June, 22, 2011 at 01:59 PM

You give me hope Dan Murphy - I love the wording of your last sentence " there is no reason that even the more critical consumers can’t be eventually persuaded to skip the Skippy and return to meat-eating." Apparently there are a growing number of us! Enough for you to write this piece and enough to put the "eventual" "maybe" in, that implies a maybe "not" as well... Perhaps some critical "consumers" may regress. But not the critical thinkers --- And my bet stays with them!

Cat    
Canada  |  June, 22, 2011 at 04:59 PM

I hear you Bea. Go back to eating meat? That's a good one. Meat is disgusting. Its... creepy to think of eating meat. . . at least it is for me. Nightmare stuff. Sell the ranch and grow some beans; the wave of the future. Cattle raising destroys the environment and air. Growing beans doesn't. :) May the fur, cattle, chicken, aquatic species, and hog industry be a thing of the past, something we only speak about in history books. This is my prayer every day.

veganelder    
Oklahoma  |  June, 22, 2011 at 02:37 PM

You write: "It’s only animals that are seen as victims in the farming and food production systems that have evolved so dramatically over the past 50 years." Yes, the animals are victims, but there are many others, including the planet herself...critical consumers know this and look forward to the demise of the current systems of destruction.

jmcv02    
manhattan, ks  |  June, 22, 2011 at 05:40 PM

haha, gettin a kick reading these comments while I eat my juicy home raised steak, no plant food in the world even comes close to matching a good piece of meat both taste and nutritionally. Cat- so plowing up land doesn't potentionally harm it? Applying ag chemicals to keep the weeds and pests off doesn't potentially cause harm? Even organic farming can cause harm. I can tell you've never raised a crop or livestock for that matter. Raising cattle is no different then a deer grazing in the woods except, they get alot better nutrition, care and we can feed a whole lot more people. Tell you whats creepy, one chunk of tofu has more hormones then any piece of meat you could ever buy.

jmcv02    
manhattan, ks  |  June, 22, 2011 at 05:44 PM

veganelder- guess your gonna stop eating then because anytime you plant a garden/crop field, youre changing/destroying the environment that was there. Good luck just gathering your food naturally from nature, let me know how that works out. Im pretty certain humanity tried that long ago and could barely survive, it wasn't until farming/livestock raising that our food supply became alot more secure.

Cat    
Canada  |  June, 22, 2011 at 04:49 PM

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. This article is a classic example of stupidity. Eating meat, drinking milk and eating eggs causes cancer. All the crap that's in it doesn't all break down in your liver. Poor liver, it can only take so much abuse and it affects your thinking. It makes you...well...stupid. Plain and simple. The comment on the skippy peanut butter is pure fantasy and sarcasm that only shows more of your ignorance. Its bull, don't pardon the pun. I'm actually a overweight vegan. I love eating this way so much, well, i do tend to indulge. All animals are sentient beings. Why just eat cattle? Join the asians and eat dogs and cats, maybe that will deal with the over population in the shelters. They all have fur, two eyes, two ears, one nose...etc. They all have feelings, can understand and experience fear, and pain. Im sure the writer probably loves dogs and cats but no, wouldn't eat them. LOL Eating animals is wrong and all this crazy, abusive ways of raising them for fodder is disgusting and wrong. Its insanity, Doctor Frankenstein in the barn stuff. This industry wants to create as many animals for the market but at the lowest cost as possible. This means, immoral measures to do so like feeding them feces. Feces is cheap, its free. What... swine flu, avian flu? Wait for the next outbreak, our writer will be first in line for a vaccine. Its all..... insanity.

laura farrell RN    
chesapeake va  |  June, 22, 2011 at 05:45 PM

this whole write up seems like some feeble attempt to delude yourself and your readers. once a person like myself sees the reality of what CAFOs are, they never eat meat eggs or dairy again. more and more ppl are seeing the truth and rebelling against this broken system. Good luck getting those of us who go vegan for ethical reasons to ever go back to eating animals. Confinement transport and slaughter are still viable important issues, because we are exposing your common practices on farms does not mean the other issues have gone away, they haven't. Animals are not the only victims, family farmers, CAFO employees are victims, the environment, the children starving all over the world because we feed 65% of our grain to animals, they are also victims. you people are despicable and your time is short. we will see an end to these barbaric industries soon. The time for a revolution is at hand. i suggest you silly harmers, opps i mean farmers, go find a sustainable line of work. like organic vegetables, because thats where the future money is and we all know you monsters live for money. "the love of money is the root of all evil" If you people aren't evil, who is?

cowboss at wscc    
Canada  |  June, 23, 2011 at 07:02 AM

Laura Ya know who is evil? .............. the consumers who have for years DEMANDED cheap food. and our Governments who have enabled factory farms though subsidies and blind approval of chemicals and GMOS, etc. TIme to get the mirror out if you want to see who to point your finger at! When consumers demand ethically raised food and are willing to pay the cost for a farmer to produce the same, it WILL BE PRODUCED in abundance! cowboss

cowboss at wscc    
Canada  |  June, 23, 2011 at 07:02 AM

Laura Ya know who is evil? .............. the consumers who have for years DEMANDED cheap food. and our Governments who have enabled factory farms though subsidies and blind approval of chemicals and GMOS, etc. TIme to get the mirror out if you want to see who to point your finger at! When consumers demand ethically raised food and are willing to pay the cost for a farmer to produce the same, it WILL BE PRODUCED in abundance! cowboss

Dairy Farmer    
Vermont  |  June, 23, 2011 at 11:57 AM

Dan - Thanks for your commentary. I appreciate your opinion. I think there is a Third Front for pushing back - We as a farming industry need to do a better job of telling our stories. There are a lot of intelligent folks out there, such as the gal you talk about in your article that would do well to be better informed.

Cat    
Canada  |  June, 23, 2011 at 12:37 PM

I agree whole heartidly we, as a people should be better informed. Thumbs up on that one. Show all the abuse, instead of hiding behind closed doors. Make televised adverts of what goes on in all the animal factory industry. Show how chicken legs are ripped off in the mechanized processing while the dear bird is still alive. Show how cattle are hung up and writing in pain as they were carouselled around in the air with a hook sticking out of them to the next step in processing it. Definately show a horse slaughtering house. Show how the beaks of chickens are clipped off and housed in cramped and dark (24 hours) conditions and fed a 'special' diet so they can't even stand because they are designed now (genetically modifidied) to grow bigger breasts because people prefer bigger breasts in their chicken. Sure, people asked for this, but sometimes people don't know what the cost is when they ask for things. Show the cannibalism and self mutilation of animals due to stress related housing and conditions. Yes, inform us more. Show us more, let the public know it all.

Dairy Farmer    
Vermont  |  June, 23, 2011 at 04:48 PM

What I can show are how our lives are dedicated to the care of our jersey and holstein cows. What I can show is the steps we take to provide comfort, a balanced diet and medical assistance if necessary. What I can show is a whole host of others who are just like me - from all different types of farms - conventional, organic, beef, dairy, goat, poultry, swine; from all different sizes of farms - 30 cows, 100 cows, 1000 cows, 10 cows; from all different places - across the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, etc. That's what I can show.

grace    
usa  |  June, 23, 2011 at 12:53 PM

The problem is that our country just has too much food and its not being distributed to others evenly. Maybe with the weather patterns changing we will find ourselves in a food deficient area and some of the current food deficient areas will become the bread baskets - wonder if they will distribute to us or watch us be malnourished while they complain about the producers of their food? We need to work to come up with an equitable way to distribute this food to farther regions and maintain its nutritional value so that those in need and who so desire can receive balanced meals. I believe that should be one of the next steps we take as an industrial food producing nation. In the style of the large dryers used for grains - perhaps we can also employ this type of operation for meats, fruits, veg - so that the shipping can be greatly reduced. There are people starving and this should not be so. Some must have nothing better to do that surf looking for a fight. Why bother, obviously they have a difference of opinion and are not there to learn - try to do some good towards mankind instead.

grace    
usa  |  June, 23, 2011 at 12:53 PM

The problem is that our country just has too much food and its not being distributed to others evenly. Maybe with the weather patterns changing we will find ourselves in a food deficient area and some of the current food deficient areas will become the bread baskets - wonder if they will distribute to us or watch us be malnourished while they complain about the producers of their food? We need to work to come up with an equitable way to distribute this food to farther regions and maintain its nutritional value so that those in need and who so desire can receive balanced meals. I believe that should be one of the next steps we take as an industrial food producing nation. In the style of the large dryers used for grains - perhaps we can also employ this type of operation for meats, fruits, veg - so that the shipping can be greatly reduced. There are people starving and this should not be so. Some must have nothing better to do that surf looking for a fight. Why bother, obviously they have a difference of opinion and are not there to learn - try to do some good towards mankind instead.

FarmerD    
Phenix, IN  |  June, 23, 2011 at 02:17 PM

Dan, thank you so much for reassuring me that there is still some intelligence left in ag journalism. You have made more accurate comparisons to factory farming in this one article, than any other's I've seen collectively. Unfortunately, there are still idiots out there referencing meatvideo.com, the most inaccurate anti-farming documentary ever assembled to date. Most of the other comments left here, are from delusional vegans and vegitarians that are still daydreaming of the farm u depict in this article... With a couple horses playing on the hillside... Pigs wallering in the mud... A couple useless goats... A couple sheep. You know, the "farmstead" from the 1920's. Well, sorry to burst your bubble people, but those don't exist anymore! Why? Because they don't make enough money to be sustainable! Banks won't even loan the money to start that type of farm! It's time to get real people. ORGANIC FARMING WILL NEVER FEED THE WORLD!! It's more about trying to get people to not eat meat by injecting people with falsified fear mongering information about their food. All because their OPINION is that we shouldn't eat meat. Things like fact & truth don't play a part in their scheme. Few of these ill informed whackos realize that meat eating in the U.S. will NEVER end. There will always be people out here, in the heartland, such as myself that will fight until death to continue to consume meat of all kinds, as well as dairy & eggs! U all can continue to discuss animal "feelings", and habitat, & hormones while I continue to enjoy my juicey steak, ribs, & chops & wash it all down with an ice cold glass of milk!!

Cat    
Canada  |  June, 23, 2011 at 03:00 PM

Another person who calls animal activists idiots. No better plan of attack? How about facts instead of slinging mud. You think feeding the world with meat is the way? Wrong. This industry has screwed up the planet, the air and our bodies to function correctly along with our brains and its going to take a lot of work to get it worked out correctly. Evolution takes time, patience and pain. This industry is so saturated into our way of the world, its going to take more than wishful thinking on my part to make it change. Never have I called you or anyone an idiot but this is the attacks we get. I say your thinking is stupid, not you. This is the best you can do, just throw mud? You think all those videos on animal cruelty in the animal farm industry are photoshopped for propoganda? What would be the point? The reality is more much graphic than a paintshop job. Animals can understand and experience fear. Lots of hogs panicking in the process isn't there? They really 'get it' whats happening to them. So they're shoved into a metal box that electrocutes them. Gawd, thats awful. Animals can understand affection, love and caring, just like you and me. Aren't people sick of the gerbal wheel of thought? Expand your mind and your sensabilities, your ethics, your morals. Put an apple and a rabbit in the crib of a baby. If the baby eats the rabbit, i'll buy you a car.

D    
NC  |  June, 23, 2011 at 05:05 PM

We use more corn to produce ethanol than we use to feed our animals. All this concern about food security and we've chosen to burn our food rather than eat it. If you want to a crusade for a worthy cause, this is a good place to start. American agriculture is a resounding success, famine is no longer a worry for any American.

PROUD Dairy Farmer    
Cobleskill NY  |  June, 24, 2011 at 03:40 PM

Seriously - you people who choose the Skippy over meat are just simply ignorant - DO YOU ACTUALLY THINK THE HUMAN RACE WOULD HAVE SURVIVED HUNDREDS OF YEARS AGO IF WE JUST ATE PEANUT BUTTER ! Stick with what works and stop screwing with it ! Everyone should have a beef cow a few chickens in the back yard maybe this world wouldnt be so screwed up if we did - Children would grow up with respect and not be shooting others ! CHEW ON THAT ONE !

Bea Elliott    
Florida  |  June, 24, 2011 at 05:19 PM

Ah! So we are "ignorant" in our choices of foods that require no killing as opposed to those that do. Not too judgmental there are you? But dear sir! We are not talking about what happened "HUNDREDS OF YEARS AGO". Nor are we discussing what bushmen or Inuit Indians should eat. We are speaking of us in a civilized, advanced, modern culture. There are simply too many options of good, healthy food that requires no killing to defend a system of endless, brutal slaughter. "Stick with what works and stop screwing with it!" Well gee, I'm sure glad not everyone thought that about horse and buggies, slavery, carrier pigeon, pony express, air travel, child labor, racial/gender equality, and on and on. Finally, if you think children would grow up with respect and not be shooting others by condoning, witnessing the act and actually killing nonhumans themselves, then you don't understand where the root of violence stems from: It's all the same source. Violence is violence whether the victim has 2 legs or 4! CHEW ON THAT ONE yourself!

Rob    
Baltimore  |  June, 27, 2011 at 01:33 PM

A stunningly stupid article. Is there a single fact in this article? Omnivores have conceived of plenty of valid points in favor of meat-eating, but not one is articulated here.

Rob    
Baltimore  |  June, 27, 2011 at 02:19 PM

PS - can anyone cite a single peer-reviewed article which suggests that only factory farming can feed a growing planet? Does anyone in their right mind believe this? What if fat-ass America (and yes, this includes vegans and vegetarians too) just ate less? The amount of food people leave on their plate at Olive Garden is enough to feed a small country. The amount of wasted food in the country is abhorrent. Almost as abhorrent as turning a pig's brain into slurry. http://m.motherjones.com/politics/2011/06/hormel-spam-pig-brains-disease

    
June, 29, 2011 at 05:49 PM

why dont you look up the actual nutrition value of peanuts you dimwit? I'm not talknig about skippy which shows just how great your understanding of foods is .only the cheap brands huuh? only what your mom bought you to eat with your foamy wonderbread? well i'm glad to say that i would only eat peanut butter if the ingredients said peanuts and salt . nothing else. It is beyond ridiculous to compare the fat content of meat to the fat in any kind of nut. Why? because it is not the same type of fat. Although peanuts are even really nuts .they are loaded with non saturated fats that reduce LDL. bad cholesterol. Educate yourself man . I am not even a vegan or vegetarian but i refuse the red meat that comes from factory farms.

Lioba Multer    
Yachats/Oregon  |  July, 06, 2012 at 05:49 PM

Until Dan Murphy agrees to live in a gestation crate, or become a broiler chicken in a heat wave, this article is as good as useless.

JD    
New York  |  November, 24, 2012 at 04:46 PM

Dan Murphy, you are a dumb hick.

lisa wilder    
virginia  |  July, 26, 2013 at 06:07 PM

I have only been a vegetarian for a couple of months. don't eat eggs or drink milk and working on the rest. where I live the only cows I see are in fields grazing with the sun and breeze on their face. living in peace.it is nothing but cruel what these greedy things do to these animals do to these animals in factory farms. there is much abuse. the answer to world hunger is not factory farms they are a huge part of the problem and pollution.............the woman is intelligent and correct so get it right!

lisa wilder    
virginia  |  July, 26, 2013 at 06:24 PM

you are completely right.


6D Series

John Deere offers four models in its economical 6D Series Tractor lineup: the 105 horsepower 6105D, 115 horsepower 6115D; 130 ... Read More

View all Products in this segment

View All Buyers Guides

)
Feedback Form
Leads to Insight