Are we Comfortably Unaware?

Jeshica Patel

cows-cowspiracyAfter reading an article by Michael Pollan about factory farming and following his journey through the meat eating process, I became extremely curious about how people could read something like that and continue to eat the same way they do. I proceeded to watch a documentary that came out last year called Cowspiracy, which explores issues related to animal agriculture. Something about the way the documentary was made, and the information presented in such an effective manner blew my mind. The documentary features many experts in the field, such as Dr. Richard Oppenlander, who has written about the various issues raised in food depletion in his book Comfortably Unaware.

Cowspiracy dives into issues of animal agriculture being the cause of deforestation, water consumption and pollution without Continue reading

The Community Impact of CAFOs

Stop the Wysocki Factory-CAFO Farm

Seth Victor

Saratoga, WI is a small town in central Wisconsin. Set on the banks of the Wisconsin River, this community of a few thousand people is likely not a major destination for tourists roaming through the state, but by all appearances it seems a typical mid-western settlement from the 19th century that evolved into a small town befitting a Prairie Home Companion yarn. It is also the setting of an ongoing fight between the community and a proposed CAFO, one that has drawn intense public ire. Continue reading

50 Millions Deaths is an Acceptable Cost of Business

Seth Victor

I’ll keep this short and sweet, because we’ve made this point on the blawg several dozen times. NPR reports that the recent outbreak of H5N2, or Avian Flu, has caused economic hardship for American farmers, to the point that the USDA is importing eggs from the Netherlands to meet demand.

Although it is mentioned in the lead paragraph, the fact that nearly 50 million chickens and turkey have been slaughtered to stem the virus is played off like any other economic number. As you read the article, look at the wording: these animals have been “destroyed,” not “killed” or “slaughtered.” The rest of the article is about the business model and bottomline consequences. It might as well be about how many iPhones had to be recalled for defective touch screens. These aren’t living things, remember; they’re just animals, cogs in the machine. Nowhere in the article is any suggestion that this outbreak could be avoided by not housing birds in CAFOs in the first place, save for one link that claims humans might be spreading the virus by entering CAFOs. Instead, the US government has taken the position that this virus is the fault of wild birds. Any guesses as to which lobbying group might have had a hand in that statement?

We. Can. Stop. This. H5N2 is not some mystery beyond comprehension. It is a result of the way we raise farmed birds. Stop purchasing eggs and meat from CAFOs, and they cannot exist without your dollars. It really is that simple.

Progress at the Cost of Our Humanity

Seth Victor

The New York Times this week published an investigation into U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, and, perhaps predictably, the results are disturbing. I heartily suggest reading the whole article, but for those in a rush, here are some of the interesting takeaway points:

  • U.S. Meat Animal Research Center is pioneering ways to produce meat more efficiently and cheaply via re-engineering farmed animals through surgery and breeding techniques
  • In pursuing this research, animal welfare has taken a backseat. For example, since 1985, 6,500 out of the 580,000 animals the center has housed have starved. 625 have died from mastitis, an easily treatable infection.
  • Nearly 10 million piglets have been crushed by their mothers each year, not because this is what mothers naturally do, but because they are being forced to have larger litters of weak piglets, and the mothers themselves are artificially larger, kept alive longer to reproduce.
  • For thirty-one years, the Center worked on genetically modifying cows to regularly produce twins, noting that single births were not an efficient way to produce meat. By injecting cows with embryos from other cows that birthed twins, and then injecting them with semen from bulls who sired twins, the Center produced cows that have a 55% chance of having twins, when naturally the chances are 3%. Many of the female calves of twins are born with deformed vaginas, and the artificially large wombs create birthing problems even for single calves. Over 16% of the twins died.
  • Thirty to forty cows die each year from exposure to bad weather, not including storms, in which several hundred more die.
  • 245 animals have died since 1985 due to treatable abscesses.
  • In 1990, the Center tried to create larger lambs by injecting pregnant ewes with an excessive amount of male hormone testosterone. Instead, the lambs were born with deformed genitals, which made urination difficult.
  • In 1989, the Center locked a young cow in place in a pen with six bulls for over an hour to determine the bulls’ libidos. The industry standard is to do this with one bull for fifteen minutes. By the time a vet was called, the cows hind legs were broken from being mounted, and she died within a few hours.
  • The scientists charged with administering the experiments, surgeries, and to euthanize do not have medical degrees. One retired scientist at the Center was quoted saying, “A vet has no business coming in and telling you how to do it. Surgery is an art you get through practice.”
  • “The leaner pigs that the center helped develop, for example, are so low in fat that one in five females cannot reproduce; center scientists have been operating on pigs’ ovaries and brains in an attempt to make the sows more fertile.”
  • Regarding oversight, “A Times examination of 850 experimental protocols since 1985 showed that the approvals [for experiments] were typically made by six or fewer staff members, often including the lead researchers for the experiment. The few questions asked dealt mostly with housekeeping matters like scheduling and the availability of animals.”
  • “The language in the protocols is revealing. While the words “profit” or “production efficiency” appear 111 times, “pain” comes up only twice.”

Continue reading

Can California regulate egg production under the Commerce Clause?

New standard for chickens

New standard for chickens

Seth Victor

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District Court of California, asking the federal court to overturn a 2010 California law requiring the same standards for in-state chickens be applied to out-of-state chickens. In 2008, California passed Proposition 2, a ballot measure that increased the standards for egg-layers, providing that such chickens must have enough space to spread their wings without touching another chicken, and be able to stand up and lay down. Animal producers in California, however, complained that because they couldn’t stuff as many birds into the same space, they are at an economic disadvantage when competing with out-of-state producers selling in California. In response the state legislature passed a law requiring that all eggs sold in California be held to the same standards required under Proposition 2. The law will take effect in 2015. While California maintains that the additional law was enacted for health safety given the atrocious conditions of battery cages, Missouri counters that the law is an unlawful attempt to regulate conduct outside of California’s boarders, and an impermissible protection against out-of-state competition, both of which are in violation of the Commerce Clause. Continue reading

Why the King Amendment is Hypocritical

Seth Victor

Recently Angelique Rivard explained some of the dangers inherent in Rep. Steve King’s amendment to H.R. 6083, the Farm Bill. What makes this amendment maddening is that Mr. King has cited law to support this measure that he would decry as the product of an overreaching government in almost any other circumstance. There is no doubt that Mr. King’s proposal is intended to end state protection for farmed animals; his website proudly declares that he hopes to terminate the efforts of animal rights groups, ensuring “that radical organizations like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and PETA are prohibited from establishing a patchwork of restrictive state laws aimed at slowly suffocating production agriculture out of existence.”

King has hardly been the darling of animal rights before this foray, as Stephen Colbert nicely summarizes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund both gave him a 0% rating in 2012. This came after a 2010 statement at a National 4-H Conference that “the HSUS is run by vegetarians with an agenda whose goal is to take meat off everyone’s table in America.” King has also previously voted against broadening the definitions of the Endangered Species Act in 2005 which would have enabled better listing criteria.

Continue reading

Sheep (and ranchers) Find No Home on the Range


Seth Victor

From the tone of the NY Times article, John Bartmann doesn’t sound like a bad man. Though some readers might demonize him because he is involved in animal farming, this isn’t the CEO of a major industrial producer, and it would be inaccurate to lump him in under the same heading. I expect Mr. Bartmann knows a thing or two about sheep husbandry, and likely has his own grievances with the CAFO industry. Still, his plight is indicative of the complicated issues surrounding modern farming, and is not free from critique. The decline of the modern rancher, especially in the drought of 2012, highlights many of the problems with food in the United States, through both animal and environmental perspectives. Continue reading


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