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Tales From The Factory Farm

April 12, 2012

That’s the new Category I am creating for this blog, because (and this is good) I am seeing an increasing number of debates and analyses of the way in which we have industrialized food production, both to the detriment of the animals and our health. Here are two good examples:

1) Pink Slime: we’ve all been hearing about it, and you are probably disgusted by it (here’s an explanation of what it is). But Mark Bittman lately has been riffing alot on it, and has done a very nice job of pointing out that as odious as the idea of Pink Slime might be, it is a logical consequence of the industrialization of meat production:

But pink slime, as Grist writer Tom Laskaway says, is the tip of the iceberg; it’s a symptom, not a disease. Remember why it was originally created — to eliminate bacteria found in ground meat. The fact that pink slime was a “solution” might lead you to ask: What’s the problem?

The answer lies in the industrial production of livestock on a scale that’s far too large to sustain without significant collateral damage. E. coli, found in the digestive tracts of cattle, is common on factory farms where cattle are fed only grain. (Their stomachs are meant to digest grass.) The incomprehensible quantity of manure produced by these cattle — also often containing E. coli — is deposited on the land, sometimes seeping into the water supply; that’s how you wind up with E. coli in vegetables. To make matters worse, “healthy” farm animals are routinely fed so many antibiotics that E. coli, salmonella and other pathogens are developing resistance to commonly prescribed drugs.

Exactly. Defenders of Pink Slime have been saying that if it is eliminated something like 1.5 million more cows a year will have to be slaughtered to make up for the loss of Pink Slime content in ground beef. So the choice they pose is: eat Pink Slime or kill a million more cows. That’s not a very appealing choice. So here’s the solution: go vegetarian, or stop eating factory-farmed beef. Simple. Yes, humanely-treated, grass-fed beef will cost you more per pound. But if you eat a lot less beef you will be healthier, and the planet will be healthier.

Here’s more from Bittman, in video form.

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And, even more, here. Consider yourself fully slimed.

2) Eggs. Eggs are delicious (sorry vegans) and healthy, and it should be perfectly possible to raise and keep hens that are happy to produce them. Except consumers apparently care more about saving a few cents than treating hens humanely. Perhaps that is because they simply have no idea of the depraved and inhumane way in which hens are treated by the factory farmers. Nick Kristof, who grew up on a farm, is trying to rectify that, recently writing about the obscene conditions of one of America’s largest egg producers. As usual, read the whole thing, but here is a key portion:

Mice sometimes ran down egg conveyer belts, barns were thick with flies and manure in three barns tested positive for salmonella, he said. (Actually, salmonella isn’t as rare as you might think, turning up in 3 percent of egg factory farms tested by the Food and Drug Administration last year.)

In some cases, 11 hens were jammed into a cage about 2 feet by 2 feet. The Humane Society says that that is even more cramped than the egg industry’s own voluntary standards — which have been widely criticized as inadequate.

An automatic feeding cart that runs between the cages sometimes decapitates hens as they’re eating, the investigator said. Corpses are pulled out if they’re easy to see, but sometimes remain for weeks in the cages, piling up until they have rotted into the wiring, he added.

Other hens have their heads stuck in the wire and are usually left to die, the investigator said.

Is that how you’d like your breakfast egg to be produced? I didn’t think so. What can you do? Again, simple. By eggs that are certified humane.

Yes, they will cost a bit more. But there are two unavoidable questions central to feeding yourself and your family: 1) Are you willing to pay anything at all to insure humane treatment of the animals feeding you?; and 2) Whether you are or not (hopefully you are), are you willing to pay anything all for a food production system that causes less sickness and environmental damage?

The answers seem pretty obvious to me.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2012 9:38 am

    I completely agree that pink slime is a symptom of a larger disease. Nice post. My husband and I have been lucky enough to have a nice farmers market near by and a local farm that we can buy grass-fed beef, free range chickens and eggs from. Hoepfully in the future, everyone can have this opportunity!
    Sara from

  2. April 12, 2012 9:47 am

    Ethical choices are always more expensive to begin with, but hopefully if demand for higher welfare meat and organic produce rises it will bring the cost down

  3. Tekoa permalink
    April 12, 2012 2:55 pm

    I’d love to see you write on Canadian farms. Our countries are close in proximity, but I’m sure there are different regulations between them. My house has been grass finished beef and free range chicken product for a number of years.

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