The Meat You Eat

How corporate farming has endangered America's food supply

by Ken Midkiff

St Martin's Griffin, 2004


Although the British government [1980s] originally denied that BSE [bovine spongiform encephalopy] could "jump" to humans, as of December 1, 2003, a total of 153 cases of the human version (variant of Cruezfeldt-Jakob Disease or CJD) had been reported in the world ...

Today ... there are only three commercial breeds of hogs, one of broiler chickens, one of dairy cattle, one of salmon, and two of beef. Genetic similarity makes these mono-breeds extremely susceptible to disease. (In fact, in the large confined feeding operations in which the animals are kept, it has become necessary for workers and visitors to "shower in"-put on sanitized coverings to protect the animals in the enclosed facilities from pathogens.) Diversity is always to be desired, whether stock investments or livestock are at issue. The more baskets we can put our eggs in, the better off we are. Yet the livestock industries have been moving in the opposite direction. Livestock production has not only been concentrated in larger and larger operations, but these facilities also are located in small areas of the country. Circle Four, so called because it was originally developed by four agribusiness corporations and located near Milford, Utah, raises over a million hogs inside a few square miles. The Central Valley of California is glutted with gigantic dairies. Greeley, Colorado, has enclosures housing millions of beef steers in a feedlot connected to a slaughterhouse. In the Panhandle areas of Texas and Oklahoma are giant feedlots with millions of steers. In southwest Missouri's McDonald County, 13 million chickens are housed on any given day. The same holds true for North Georgia, the DelMarVa area of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, northwest Arkansas, and northeast Oklahoma. Millions of commercially raised Atlantic salmon are now contained in pens in the Georgia Strait of British Columbia.

... We have placed our trust in industries run by people who own and manage the feed mills, the fish nurseries, the finishing houses, the laying houses, and the slaughterhouses but who live nowhere near what they raise. Their products are not sold locally; they are shipped hundreds or even thousands of miles for value-added processing. While the products may eventually end up back in the small-town supermarket or at the local McDonald's, the journey, however long it has been, has transformed the meat, milk, and eggs into yet more units of production.

Although modern livestock facilities are clearly based on an industrial model, in the eyes of state and federal agencies they fit the legal description of "farm." This suits the owners and managers of these operations just fine, because it allows them generous tax breaks and exemptions from a number of environmental laws.

... The owners and CEOs of today's agribusiness operations live in New York City, Chicago, or Dallas-Fort Worth. Joe Luter, the CEO of Smithfield Foods, the largest producer of pork in the world, describes his occupation as "farmer" yet lives in a condo on Park Avenue in New York City. Members of Congress are the major investors, These "farmers" hire migrant workers to do the hard work of producing millions of steers, hogs, and broilers and filling our supermarkets with billions of cartons of eggs and milk.

This is not culture and it is not agriculture; it is not even the business of farming. It is agribusiness. Managers and corporate CEOs are not farmers. These executives care about the profit margin, not about the health and safety of the meat, milk, and eggs. American Gothic has become Gothic Horror.


Down on the Corporate Farm

... In 1997, Sanderson Farms was ranked by the Environmental Protection Agency as the twenty-fourth-largest polluter in the country; it released over 2 million (2,195,343 to be exact) pounds of toxic wastes to the waters of the company's home state of Mississippi. Having fouled the home waters, the company is now doing the same to the water in central Texas.

The chicken litter that contains this waste is normally not sent directly into streams and rivers; rather, it is dumped on adjacent farm fields-as fertilizer, allegedly. However, applied to the same areas year after year, the waste eventually builds up and runs off into small tributary streams of the area-or directly into the Navasota. The river contains about every conceivable pollutant: giardia, assorted pathogens, nitrates, phosphorous, arsenic, selenium, and what are termed suspended solids. This might make a fine-although somewhat toxicstew, but it makes a lousy habitat for fish, and an even worse place to swim.

As one farmer put it, "Mother Nature never intended for eighty-thousand hogs to shit in the same spot." The EPA acknowledges that pollution from agribusiness operation poses the single largest threat to this country's waters. Thousands of miles of streams and rivers, and many hundreds of lakes, are contaminated with "nutrients from livestock operations," as they put it euphemistically. Too much shit in the same spot.

What have federal and state environmental protection agencies done about this problem, which now exists across America? In a word: nothing. Water-quality monitoring and testing by state and federal officials, as well as by trained and certified volunteers, have documented the contamination, but very few state, and no federal, agencies are willing to take on an industry with as much clout as agribusiness.

... laying hens endure more than any other farm animal.

Most Americans with even passing concern have seen the photos of laying hens confined to tiny cages, heads sticking out, their feet entwined (sometimes permanently) in the steel mesh of the cage. A few years ago, a defunct egg-laying operation was visited by a photographer/reporter employed by a major newspaper. This facility, owned by a contract grower for one of the major egg companies, had been abandoned due to financial problems. The grower simply left, leaving 10,000 laying hens to die of starvation and dehydration. Neighbors had complained of an overpowering stench, and word had reached the newspaper a couple of years later. The newspaper asked the reporter to check this out during the course of his investigation into abuse of migrant workers by poultry slaughterhouses. Arriving at the site, the reporter pushed through tall weeds and squeezed through a broken door. He was greeted by the nightmarish sight of thousands of skeletal heads poking through rusted cages. There were thousands more feather-covered skeletons in the cages. Appalled by this vision of poultry hell, he dutifully took photos. When he submitted these along with his story, his editor told him that the photos could never be published in that newspaper. They were just too horrible and too graphic. The reporter argued his case. The photos revealed the reality of egg-laying operations, but they were not published and never have been.

By its very nature, killing and cutting up farm animals is a brutish enterprise and one that poses all sorts of sanitary challenges. As I will later show in greater and grislier detail, the stomachs and intestines of the animals must be removed, and these are laden with bacteria. Should the meat become contaminated via improper handling or exposure, those eating the meat will likewise be exposed. Animals' guts contain various pathogens. Normally these don't cause any problems, as long as they are not ingested by other animals, such as humans. Although imperfect, those small slaughterhouses sometimes created small outbreaks of disease-small because exposure to the contaminated meat was quite limited.

No longer. When ground beef is made up of the components of thousands of cows, the contamination, from bacteria contained in excrement and entrails, becomes rampant. For example, the slaughterhouse and packing plant in Greeley, Colorado, owned at the time by ConAgra, had to recall 18.6 million pounds of meats contaminated with E. coli (technically E. coli H7:1057) pathogens. The company was allegedly unaware of any problems with the meat until consumers became sickened. Instead of alerting consumers to potential harm, the USDA chose to conduct two more days of tests, during which time most of the contaminated meat was consumed. Victims, especially young children, suffered from severe gastroenteritis (including vomiting blood) and endured permanent injuries to vital organs, such as the liver and kidneys. A few died.

However, even in this highly publicized recall, only a small percentage of the ground beef was actually returned to the slaughterhouse. The Denver Post reported that a mere 12,000 pounds had been returned, though ConAgra had asked retailers and consumers to destroy suspect meat. The meat that was returned to the ConAgra plant was heated to destroy the bacteria and then resold. Much of the meat was placed in value-added products and recycled into supermarket cases in the form of spaghetti sauce, canned chili, and ravioli, among other items. Still, as one consumer put it, "It may be free of bacteria, but I don't want to eat poop."

Slaughterhouses no longer kill, cut up, and package meats for local families. Rather, these operations are massive facilities owned by the companies, such as Seaboard, Tyson, and IBP, which own the animals that are grown on contract. The numbers of animals killed and processed is truly astounding. The Tyson plant in Noel, Missouri, alone processes 300,000 chickens per day; a similar facility a few miles away and owned by Simmons Foods also processes 300,000 chickens per day. The Premium Standard Foods plant in the same state was designed to ,kill 7,000 hogs per day. Seaboard has been looking for a site for a plant that will kill 16,500 hogs per day; the current target is a tract of land just south of Dumas, Texas. The IBP slaughterhouse in Garden City, Kansas, disassembles 6,400 steers per day. The plant in Greeley, Colorado, formerly owned by ConAgra also kills and processes 6,400 steers per day. Each of these facilities keeps the production lines moving at a rate of 400 carcasses per hour and runs two eight-hour shifts per day-the so-called graveyard third shift is reserved for sanitation and maintenance.

... farm animals destined to end up as food are fed copious quantities of antibiotics. Consequently, the very drugs that medical professionals rely upon to combat food-borne illnesses are no longer effective. The Union of Concerned Scientists reports that over 70 percent of antibiotics manufactured in this country are fed to farm animals. These antibiotics-the same ones that have proven so valuable in treating humans-are given "subtherapeutically" as appetite enhancers, not for disease.

It is hoped-there is no actual scientific proof-that antibiotics will somehow ward off the inevitable results of deplorable living conditions and stress and promote efficient growth. Efficient means that the animal will gain much weight on the smallest amount of feed. The problem is that a small daily dose of these antibiotics creates resistant pathogens in the guts of the animals. These pathogens-E. coli, salmonella, camphylobacter, and others-result in human illnesses. So two realities are at work: Meats get contaminated in vast quantities, and the antibiotics prescribed by doctors prove ineffective against the contaminants that cause the diseases that humans contract from eating contaminated meat.

... use of antibiotics in nondiseased livestock-chickens, pigs, and cows-is eight times greater than among humans.



... the Farm Bill, a federal act that gets renewed every five years, contains a program titled Environmental Quality Improvement Program, which goes by its acronym of EQIP or, simply, "Equip." This program was established to provide grants to smaller, independent farmers for conservation projects, like buffer strips along streams. In the 1995 Farm Bill, environmental, conservation, and sustainable agriculture groups were successful in keeping any of the EQIP grants from flowing to "large" animal feeding operations. After much pressure, the secretary of agriculture decreed that large was to be defined as 1,000 or more animal "units," the size for which the Clean Water Act requires wastewater discharge, National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, permits. The decree was a victory for sustainable agriculture groups, since it meant that EQIP grants, which would pay out $60 million per year by 2001, could not be given to large agribusiness corporations. Almost all of the agribusinesses' operations have considerably more than 1,000 animal units.

Alas, in the 2002 Farm Bill that passed through the Congress and was signed into law by President Bush there is no such prohibition against "large" operations receiving EQIP funds. To the contrary, the administration argued that in order to comply with new regulations by the EPA, large livestock operations needed access to these funds. Having failed to secure a prohibition, sustainable ag groups then lobbied for a $50,000 per-operation limit. Congress debated this for quite some time and finally imposed a total limit-of $450,000 per owner. Finally, sustainable ag lobbyists tried to prevent EQIP grants from going to "new or expanded CAFOs." This effort also failed. As if to rub salt in the wounds of sustainable agriculture, NRCS decided that 60 percent of EQIP funds should be directed to "animal operations." Large grants are now going to install new or expanded lagoon systems or even to build new confinement facilities.

The EPA is a regulatory body, responsible ... for administering the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (Hazardous Waste), and all the other human health and natural resource protective laws. The EPA is the nation's watchdog, ensuring that industries are polluting within limits established by laws and implementing regulations. But agriculture has been exempt from most of these laws, which were enacted in simpler times, when traditional farmers did minimal damage to human health or natural resources and when it was deemed in the national interest to promote agricultural practices. o cite but a couple of examples, there is an exemption for "agricultural storm water," so that any runoff from farm fields is exempt from water pollution laws, and there is an exemption from "fugitive dust" emission, meaning that agricultural dust is not deemed to be an air contaminant as defined by the Clean Air Act. There are similar exemptions to other provisions of environmental laws. The use of pesticides and herbicides is administered by the USDA or the agriculture departments of the states, and these agencies are more inclined to overlook infractions than to enforce procedures.

It is no accident, then, that Big Pig acts as any industry but gets itself legally categorized as "agriculture." Even a hog operation with 100,000 animals is legally considered a "farm."

In addition to the legal loopholes protecting Big Pig, the industry has powerful political connections, making it difficult for the EPA to regulate it. Indeed, the EPA has yielded to pressure by representatives of the National Pork Producers. It is no longer agency policy to take any enforcement actions against hog CAFOs. State legislators have similarly shown little or no interest in bringing Big Pig under control.

The "pork powerhouses ... have bought into the system first developed by john Tyson, founder of Tyson Foods. These companies boast about "vertical integration," claiming that controlling the entire process, from feed mill to retail product, helps maintain quality and uniformity. There is some truth to this: The pork chops produced by this system are uniform in size, shape, and leanness. The meats are also bland to the point of being tasteless, in addition to being laced with pathogens resistant to antibiotics.

Each company controls every aspect of hog production. First of all, the companies own the feed mills and put in all the ingredients. Each company claims those ingredients are its secret to efficient hog production and therefore that the feeds are "proprietary." What is known is that these companies add various heavy metals and antibiotics as growth enhancers and for "subtherapeutic" purposes. Second, the company owns the breeding stock. Unfortunately for the poor sow, she never meets the boar. The boar is manually masturbated by women, who, hog companies assert, have the "right touch." The semen is collected and artificially introduced into the sow. No joy of sex in this process. Third, the company owns the sow and ultimately the piglets. Much has been written about the gestation crates in which the sow is imprisoned, and I will add more to it later. Fourth, the company owns the pigs throughout the process of "finishing" or attaining a weight of about 250 pounds for slaughter. The company dictates to its employees or contract growers the daily management activities in the CAFOs in which the hogs are grown to finished size. The company determines when the hogs are to be picked up or delivered for slaughter. The company owns the slaughterhouse and packing plant in which the hogs are disassembled and packaged for retail sale. And, in most instances, the company owns the refrigerated trucks that deliver the packaged meat products to the retail outlet.

This complete control ensures that every piece of meat, ham, pork chop, bacon-is virtually identical to every other piece. To attain maximum speed at the slaughterhouse and packing plant, hogs need to be roughly the same size and confirmation. That is why every animal is of the same breed, is fed the same food-and at the same rate-and ideally reaches the magic size at the same time.

A Pig's Life

What is it like inside Big Pig? The lives of the animals resemble those of chickens, dairy cows, or steer-that is, they are considered "units" rather than living creatures. A piglet never gets to snuggle up to its mother but recognizes the mother sow only by her teats. You see, the sow is encased in a metal cage, the idea being to prevent her from rolling onto her brood. There is nothing particularly new about this. Long ago, hog farmers devised contraptions to keep newborn piglets from being crushed or smothered by the sow. The difference is that in today's sow and farrowing operations the piglets are prevented from any motherly contact and are separated from the mother sow at an early age.

During pregnancy, the sow is encased in a gestation crate, intended to keep her completely immobile. This crate, by the way, was recently banned in the state of Florida by a ballot vote; Floridians deemed it cruel and inhumane. However, the vote has not put an end to farrowing crates, which are used as long as the piglets are with the sow. At one to four days of age-depending on the hog operation's schedule-the piglets get "processed": Their tails are docked, their ears are notched as a form of branding, they are castrated if male, their newborn, needle-sharp teeth are trimmed or filed, and they are given shots to stimulate growth. At three weeks of age, they leave the mother sow and are sent off to get fattened. The sow is immediately artificially inseminated and begins the next cycle of gestation.

When the pigs reach fifty-five pounds or so, they are transported to the next-to-final stop, the so-called finishing operation. Typically, the hogs are housed in buildings that hold anywhere between 1,100 and 2,500 animals; the average site has six to ten such buildings. These buildings have slatted floors through which the waste falls. A flush system carries the waste to a gigantic cesspit. These pits, euphemistically and hopefully called lagoons by the hog companies, are up to twenty-five feet deep and up to eighteen acres in size. Typically, each cesspit holds the wastes of the six to ten buildings at the site and is roughly the size of a football field. As the cesspits reach capacity, a fixed irrigation piping system delivers the liquefied manure and urine to the adjacent fields, where those center-pivot or "manure cannons" send the wastes into the fields.

The operation's goal is, always and ever, efficiency-so that the hogs reach market size of about 250 pounds in the least amount of time and with the least amount of feed. Unfortunately for both the hogs and the growers, the stress generated by such congestion and such massive feed intake results in a high mortality rate, apparently roughly 12 percent from weaning to finishing on an industry average, although rates as high as 15 percent are not uncommon. Smaller dead hogs don't pose any serious disposal problems; a 200-pound carcass is another matter. Various solutions have been provided by agricultural researchers, from incineration, to burial, to composting, but none have worked particularly well. This problem is compounded by ownership of the hog magically being transferred to the contract grower upon the death of the animal. The dead hog provides no benefits to the grower. It is merely a liability. Sociable and gregarious by nature, hogs do not fare well in congested conditions. Hence the need for the appetite and growth enhancers and antibiotics.

From squeal to meal, from semen to cellophane, the life of a pig is carefully controlled and managed by those whose only interest is profit. The animals are transformed into eating machines that can be converted into meat. At the end of a rather miserable existence-hogs are also quite intelligent, though of course intelligence has no value in this system-the day arrives when the hog reaches market weight and gets hauled off to the slaughterhouse and packing plant.



John Tyson of Springdale, Arkansas started the move toward "vertical integration" in the poultry industry back in the late 1950s. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s he had been struggling to make a living, hauling the products of his and his hens' labors to the towns of northwest Arkansas. Then he learned that more money was to be made by delivering chickens to Kansas City and St. Louis and eventually to Chicago and other northern cities. John began hauling chickens from other local chicken farmers to these markets. In the early 1950s, his son Don joined the commercial egg and broiler business.

Eventually, Tyson got incorporated, and Tyson Foods, Inc., began acquiring other poultry companies and buying out poultry producers. By the early 1960s, the company was in control of the entire process from feed mills, to hatcheries, to growing houses, to processing plants, to delivery, to retail outlets. By 1970, broiler sales had reached 72 million chickens and for the first time Tyson appeared on the Fortune 1000 list. It was no longer hauling live chickens to cities of the North; now it was supplying chicken parts to the entire country.

At some point in the process of getting big, Tyson Foods, Inc., discovered that it was cheaper to contract with local farmers and let them raise the broilers than to do it itself. The advantages to the company were immense. They could let the contract growers assume all the risks and the company would still reap the benefits. The terms of the contracts to which Tyson submits its growers are not negotiable. Either the grower accepts and signs the contract as is or there is no arrangement. To a local farmer, it sounds good at first: Tyson will provide the chicks, Tyson will provide the feeds, and Tyson will pick up the birds when they reach market size (it only takes six or seven weeks from chicks to broilers). The grower is guaranteed a price for each bird that reaches a predetermined weight by the pickup date. What most growers don't realize until after the contract is inked is that they have just signed away their freedom. They become, as one of them phrased it, serfs on their own land.

The bizarre situation confronting contract growers is that while they have made the decision to stay down on the farm and Tyson seemed to have offered a way to do that, they are no longer farmers. Rather, they are chicken caretakers.

A Broiler Chicken's Life

On the banks of the Elk River in Noel, Missouri, is a massive Tyson Foods, Inc., poultry slaughterhouse and processing plant. This facility kills, packs, and ships 300,000 chickens per week. This means that 300,000 live chicks must be delivered to growing operations each week to replace them. To meet this demand, the entirety of McDonald County is devoted to raising chickens. Tyson and two other poultry companies effectively own the county. The local economy, unemployment rates, housing, water quality, and politics revolve around the poultry industry. Almost every aspect of county life is determined by decisions by Tyson, Inc., Simmons Foods, and MOARK/ Land 0' Lakes Eggs. On any given day, McDonald County is home to 13 million chickens, plus a few hundred thousand turkeys. Those are large numbers but by themselves have little or no meaning. For the chicken destined to be included in tomorrow's eight-piece box, it means that life is nasty, brutish, and very short.

The chicks are incubated at a large hatchery and are delivered to a contract grower by the thousands. Consequently, there is no such thing as a chick; the creatures are simply viewed en masse. Typically, 22,000 chicks occupy one broiler house, but this number can vary from 11,000 to 30,000, depending on the size of the confinement building. Several hundred chicks of these thousands are crushed or suffocated or succumb to disease. Others are severely injured by handling during transfer to the large cardboard crates that transport them to the growing operation. Still others are injured upon transfer from the crates to the growing house. There is no attempt made to care for these diseased or injured chicks; they are considered just so much trash and are treated as such. The dying, diseased, or dead chicks are thrown into piles, using devices that can be operated without the need to stoop, and discarded.

The next six to seven weeks, depending on the company's schedule, the chicks spend in the confinement building. Every effort by the company and the grower goes toward making every chicken reach a weight of 2.5 to 5 lbs within that six-to-seven-week period. Aggressive chickens are debeaked to avoid injuries and cannibalism.

If all goes relatively well for the company and the grow] around 80 percent of the chicks will make it to the prescribed weight at the prescribed time. At this point, with what were two-ounce balls of down now weighing 2.5 to 5 pounds each, crowding becomes a very real problem. Twenty-two thousand chickens confined in a small space make things very difficult for the individual chicken. In addition to competition for food there is some cannibalism, even when the more aggressive birds have been debeaked. There is also an inevitable pecking order, meaning that less vigorous chickens lose feathers and then are pecked to bloody shreds since it is impossible for them to run or hide. Smothering becomes more and more prevalent as the chickens reach their full size. What was spacious for small chicks becomes overcrowded for seven-week-old chickens.

The torture comes to an end with the arrival of the catchers, crews sent out to catch the chickens and place them into crates. Catchers are hired by the trucking companies and normally don't have any of the benefits associated with full-time employment: no paid holidays, no health insurance, no vacations. Some are undocumented immigrants, almost all are from minority groups, and most are otherwise unemployable. These people are not, even on the best of days, in a position to be sensitive and caring individuals. After a few days or a few weeks on the job, even conscientious catchers become callous and indifferent to the suffering of individual chickens. Using wire devices that hook onto the chickens' legs or just grabbing handfuls of chickens by their legs, they toss and cram the birds into wooden crates until those crates are completely packed in. Some birds get injured, others are killed, but this doesn't matter- next stop is the processing plant, where those not already dead will be killed.

The crates of birds are unloaded and each animal is paralyzed or stunned electrically (either by being dipped into a charged water bath or by insertion of an electric rod up the anus), then two slits are made in the jugular veins of its neck to bleed out as it is hung upside down on hooks on the line. This takes but a minute or so. After death, the carcass is scalded, then a mechanical whirring rubber "brush" removes the feathers, its entrails are removed, and other unwanted parts (beaks, wing tips) are sent to a protein plant, along with the feathers. These are rendered down to make pet foods and, grimly, chicken feed.

After slaughtering, the birds are disassembled into component parts, chilled, and packed into boxes for shipping. Refrigerated trucks then haul the products to retail outlets. Tyson's trucks carry the company's oval logo and in large letters "Feeding You Like Family." Some contaminants from the intestinal contents and from the feathers in the whirring rubber brush remain on the chicken parts. Random testing of supermarket broilers and packaged portions has shown high levels of salmonella.

From the time the chick is hatched from an egg to the time when it bleeds to death hooked on the line, the animal is not treated as a sentient creature. The companies that raise and slaughter it consider it a unit of production, one among millions. The life of a broiler chicken is not a life, as we might define it. The chicken is a very small cog in the industrial machine.

The relationship between Don Tyson and Pres. Bill Clinton is a larger-than-life example of the political influence of Big Chicken. Mike Espy, initially secretary of agriculture, got caught in the fallout from this relationship and was forced to resign, although he was eventually cleared of the charges. Recently poultry growers, through the preceding lobbying organizations, achieved a twofold victory in Washington. Through their efforts, livestock operations, including poultry, were exempted from the Clean Air Act, in a proposed regulation by the EPA touted as a "safe harbor" for agricultural facilities, and they pressured Congress into opening up 2002 Farm Bill funding for large CAFOs. The latter move had been rejected by Congress in 1996, and President Clinton's second secretary Lo~ agriculture, Dan Glickman, further resisted such efforts.

MOARK/Land 0' Lakes' massive egg-laying operation dominates the landscape. Housing over 1 million laying hens, this facility embraces all the modern integration: an on-site feed mill that grinds and mixes the feed ingredients and the antibiotics, an egg-laying building (more on that shortly), and a processing plant where the eggs are washed, candled, and packaged. Its neighbors have complained about fine particles of dust from the feed mill that coat everything and about the stink from the blackish waste spread on nearby fields. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources responded and issued Notices of Violation (NOVs) of the Clean Air Act. There have been no fines or penalties, and, subsequently, nothing has changed.


A Laying Chicken's Life

Photos showing laying hens crammed into tiny cages have regularly appeared in publications put out by the Animal Welfare Institute, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and Farm Sanctuary. They depict the reality of modern egg production, which almost defies description.

Up to ten hens are put in cages no larger than five feet by five feet. A hen normally begins laying eggs at twelve to sixteen weeks of age and continues laying for around sixty weeks. Most hens are "spent" before they reach two years of age and are sold to make chicken soup and other processed foods in which the meat can be made tender through cooking. Some of the toughest meat is used in pet food. (However, when the market for these products is glutted, the spent hens may simply be killed. What is done with the carcasses is a matter of some conjecture; some are thought to be fed back to the living chickens or mixed in with hog feeds. There have been experiments with composting, with mixed success, as there is little market for the results.)

The cages are tilted slightly, so that the eggs can roll gently down into a catch tray to be collected by a conveyor belt that transports the eggs to the processing plant. With less modern or older systems, the eggs are collected manually. The cages are stacked four to six high, usually in pyramid fashion. These are covered with a metal roof, to keep the excrement and other wastes (broken eggs, feathers) from the cages above from going into the lower cages. Water flows over the roofs, carrying the wastes down into a central pit. Large chain-driven paddles push the more solid wastes into a large holding cesspit located at the end of each building. It is then pumped into tank trucks, which carry it to and spread it on adjacent fields.

The hens spend their entire lives in these tiny cages; their feet and claws sometimes become distorted from being bent around the wires of their cage. As gruesome as this is, those concerned about the humane treatment of farm animals find two practices by the egg-laying companies particularly atrocious, neither of which are used by sustainable free-range poultry operations: debeaking and forced molting.

Debeaking means exactly what it says: The chicken's beak is clipped, chiefly to prevent the hens from pecking one another. While there is some debate over whether correct debeaking causes the animal pain, there is no such debate that debeaking well beyond the tip does. Chickens that have been subjected to such improper debeaking become traumatized due to long-term pain and have proven to be less productive than chickens that either have not been debeaked or had only the beak tip removed. Chickens are cannibalistic by nature, and while this trait seems more or less to have been bred out of broiler chickens, such is not the case with laying hens. It is likely that the overcrowding system used by the industry causes stress, which leads to extreme cannibalism. Rather than convert to a less stressful system, the egg companies choose to debeak the chickens, adding further stress-another Catch-22 situation.

Forced molting requires a bit of explanation. Molting means a periodic losing of feathers, a natural occurrence in all birds. With a laying hen, molting naturally occurs when she reaches an age of about eighteen to twenty months and egg production ceases until this process is completed-that is, the feathers grow back, after a few months. Some flocks are sold for slaughter at this point, and a replacement flock takes their place. However, such replacement is costly, so the ever-resourceful university and egg company researchers have determined that after two periods of "controlled" or forced molts, one at fourteen months and another at twenty-two months, and after a rest period of four to eight weeks after each molt, egg production and quality is much more consistent than with a "natural" molt at eighteen to twenty months.

The forced molt involves removal of all feeds until the chicken loses between 25 and 35 percent of her body weight. The weight loss causes hormones to kick in and the chicken to enter a molt. There are also unintended consequences, however: The chicken's bones become fragile and break, and she can die. Moreover, the eggs from chickens that have been force-molted are far more likely to be contaminated.

... Before eggs are packaged and crated, the material sticking to their shells must be removed. In the first quarter of 2003, MOARK/Land 0' Lakes sold 202 million dozen eggs; that's 2.4 billion eggs requiring a lot of washing and resulting in a lot of stuff going down the drain. In the washing process, a few eggs get broken, and even a few out of 2.4 billion adds up rather quickly, and MOARK/Land 0' Lakes is just one company of many. Buckeye Egg in Ohio, which was operating under an appeal of a closure order, confined 15 million laying hens, each producing at least one egg per day. The operation has since been sold.

So, other than polluting, stink, dead hens, debeaking, forced molting, broken eggs, and contaminated washwater to annoy the neighbors (and those downwind and downstream), what's the problem? There is, in fact, an enormous consumer problem. While e producers like to brag about the "incredible, edible egg," the facts are likewise incredible: The CDC estimate that 1 out of every 10,000 eggs is contaminated with salmonella. Given the number of eggs sold and consumed in this country (in 2002 that number was 86.7 billion), the odds that contaminated eggs will end up in the grocery store are quite high. And the odds that someone will have a gastrointestinal upset or worse from Salmonella enteriditis is likewise high. Any cracking or breaking of the eggshell will add to the likelihood of contamination. When 86.7 billion eggs are processed (washed, candled, packaged) each year, if only 1 percent have cracked shells, over 8 million eggs are subject to contamination resulting from fecal matter coming into contact with the contents of the egg through the crack(s).



... 1.3 billion pounds of surplus milk in powdered form is stored in temperature- and humidity-controlled caves. These caves are actually inactive limestone quarries located throughout the country, with most in and around Kansas City, Missouri. According to workers at the Kansas City storage area, about 20 to 25 million pounds of nonfat powdered dry milk arrive each week. "They keep making it, and we keep buying it," said Steve Gill, a spokesman for the USDA. "They" are the dairies that get paid regardless of supply and demand and "we," of course, are all of us taxpayers. "They" have overproduced 386 million pounds between October of 2002 and June of 2003, and it keeps coming in, filling up the caves.

We were in a large metal building; behind us were the enormous tanks that contained and chilled the milk. Lined up outside the building were gleaming tanker trucks, with hoses attached like piglets at a sow's teats. A bank of computers ran along the opposite wall. Among other, more mundane, functions, these computers, we learned later from a friendly employee, were used to keep track of each cow's production.

But it was what we found below that commanded our attention. The milking carousel accommodates about one hundred cows, and it turns slowly. A couple of workers ensure that the cows are lined up properly to get on the wheel. As a cow enters the empty stanchion, vacated by the previous cow who has been gently bumped in the head by a tire affixed above the wheel, two employees begin cleansing the udder. Two other workers attach the milking suction cups, which are in turn affixed to pipes that transport the milk to the holding and cooling tanks.

Every half hour or so, a flush system spreads water across the floor. This water carries the cow pies and copious volumes of urine down grated drains and through pipes to the cesspit outside. From there, fixed irrigation lines transport the liquefied wastes to center-pivot sprayers. The sprayers, moving in huge slow circles, apply the wastes to the fields adjacent to the milking and feeding center. Each cow has a computer chip implanted in her ear. A tracking device mounted on the stanchion relays production information to the central data bank, stored on one of the computers in the observation area. If the cow falls below a certain expected quota (the national average is about 260 pounds of milk per week), she is "culled" from the milking herd, sent to a slaughterhouse, and converted into ground beef. In 2002, over 65 percent of Idaho's slaughterhouse beef was from culled dairy cows. Each cow is provided ) ground feeds, a "proprietary" mixture likely consisting of [grains, antibiotics, appetite enhancers, and other additives, and as the carousel slowly makes its way around, and if all goes as preprogrammed, the cow will finish the feeds and be milked-out by the time the tire bumps her head, causing her to back off the carousel to make room for the next cow.

And so it went. Cow after cow, around and around, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Each cow in this herd of 5,000 or so was milked at least twice a day. (Efforts have been made to boost the schedule to three times per day, but the results have been inconclusive. There is some evidence that milking more than twice per day actually results in lowered production - and higher labor costs.

There are those who claim, based upon much documentation, that milk, as currently produced, presents a clear and present danger to human health. These claims are summarized in a 1997 book, by neuroscientist Robert Cohen, titled Milk, the Deadly Poison and elaborated upon on practically a daily basis on a Web site ( One of the principal targets is rBGH. Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) is a "natural" compound found in all dairy cows, but the genetically altered version of this hormone has aroused the ire of activists and more traditional dairy farmers. The r indicates that BGH has been altered-and is short for recombinant, meaning the compound has been combined with genes from other organisms. In the case of rBGH, the combination is, unbelievably, with E. coli.

The FDA, under pressure from Monsanto, which is the developer and the patent holder of rBGH, and in response to a scientific report compiled by scientists under contract with Monsanto, declared in 1993 that milk produced with rBGH was essentially "biologically indistinguishable" from milk with natural BGH. The FDA ordered that milk produced without rBGH could not be so labeled, and Monsanto has filed lawsuits against dairies and dairy co-ops that have placed a notice on their milk products that these were produced "rBGH-free."

There is little doubt that the injection of rBGH increases the milk production of a dairy cow. There is also little doubt that rBGH increases the likelihood of mastitis (an infection of the udders and teats of the cow) and shortens the productive life of the cow. Given there is a surplus of milk in this country, the only advantage of a cow producing even more milk is that owner of the dairy gets rewarded with greater subsidies, and there is always a slaughterhouse market for culled cows. The use of rBGH is detrimental to cows in large dairies but quite beneficial to their owners.

The key word in the preceding sentence is large: Small, traditional dairies don't use rBGH; the costs are too high and the results mixed. These family-owned dairies typically don't view individual cows as mere milk machines requiring artificial means to produce as much milk as possible. Mastitis is an ailment to be treated-not a reason to send the infected cow to the slaughterhouse. Finally, traditional dairies tend to be more concerned about the lifetime production of a cow, not short-term production.

European countries employ what is called the Precautionary Principle: When an activity threatens human health or the environment, precautionary measures are taken even if cause and effect relationships have not been fully established. This principle is applied when assessing whether or not a newly created compound should be used. As much attention is paid to determining the unintended consequences as is paid to developing the compound. Unfortunately, in this country the Precautionary Principle has been turned on its head: A compound is to be used and released unless and until harmful effects have been conclusively demonstrated. Under this standard, Monsanto can continue to market rBGH and large dairies may continue to use it unless and until studies demonstrate and prove beyond doubt that it is harmful to human health. Monsanto is not about to perform such studies. Neither is the National Institute of Health nor any other public or private funding entity. And since there is no proof rBGH presents a health threat, the CDC will collect no data. There is not now, and likely will not be, serious scientific inquiry into the harmful impacts, or unintended consequences, of rBGH. Therefore, use of this genetically modified compound will continue.

In addition to rBGH, large dairies also use antibiotics to increase production, even though a number of peer-reviewed scientific studies have revealed that antibiotics have no effect on milk production. While critical for treating certain specific human diseases, antibiotics do nothing to prevent or control the spread of such diseases. Indeed,(as I will be discussing in much more detail later in this book) overuse of antibiotics in livestock operations, including dairies, decreases the effectiveness of these drugs in combating the very food-borne diseases contracted from meats and animal products.



Veal-Don't Eat It

While there are a lot of questions about the healthfulness of milk and the continuing controversies about hormones and antibiotics, there is one thing the dairy industry does that is beyond all doubt truly reprehensible ... Female calves have the potential to develop into productive dairy cows, and there is a subsidiary "replacement" industry revolving around raising female calves, heifers, to replace culled dairy cows. No such market exists for male calves. Semen to impregnate cows to produce the replacements comes from a very few bulls selected as sperm donors because of their genetic makeup, which, it is hoped, will be passed on to their heirs. With artificial insemination the standard industry practice, impregnating an entire herd of cows requires a small amount of semen from an equally small number of bulls, and hence no demand for bull calves.

The market for dairy steers is also very limited. Angus and Hereford steers reach market weight much more rapidly than do dairy steers, and these breeds, or some cross such as "black white-face," animals with attributes of both their Angus and Hereford parents, are the predominant inhabitants of feedlots. As a result, there is very little to be gained by raising a male dairy calf. It is simpler to just kill male baby calves shortly after birth. Those who escape this immediate fate are doomed to become veal. The life of a male calf raised for veal is hardly a life at all. Veal has high value because it is tender and pale and lacks the chewiness of steak. This tenderness is due to a lack of muscles. The calf is contained in a tiny stall in which any movement is all but impossible. The animal is tethered and receives neither protein nor even iron in his feed. At the slaughterhouse, the calf is bled out, so that no taint of red enters the meat.

This, then, is how veal gets produced: A [male dairy] calf is taken from his mother, placed in a small pen, tethered so that movement is impossible, then fed a bland no-protein diet. He becomes anemic and diseased. Then he is drained of his blood and killed.

Thankfully, because public awareness of this horror has led to a decline in demand and consequent reduction in price per pound, currently around $85 per hundredweight or 85 cents per pound, and increased costs in producing veal, fewer male calves suffer this horrible fate. ... there is ... simply no way to produce veal without torture. If this book convinces you of nothing else, let it convince you of this:

Don't buy veal. Don't eat veal. Don't patronize any restaurant that has veal on its menu-and be sure to tell them why (you are not eating there.



"You start out on the kill floor, it kind of gets to you. All those living animals, stunned, stuck, and skinned," explained "Bill Buck," a slaughterhouse worker. "Then after a few days and they just keep coming, you get to where they aren't even living things anymore. They're just things. One after another. They keep coming and coming and coming. On my line, we kill four hundred an hour. If any of them puts up any kind of resistance, this is just viewed as a frustration. Some of the guys take it out on the animals. They hit 'em with crowbars even though these aren't even supposed to be in the plant, they stick the stun gun in their eyes, or they don't even bother stunning them, just hang 'em on the chain squirming and struggling.

"After a while, you don't even think about it. You just do what you're supposed to do. But it gets to you in ways that you don't even know about or think about. Almost everybody on the kill floor goes down to the bar after the shift. Some of them don't go home until they're so drunk they can hardly stand up. Then they beat up their wife or their kids.

"They go home and treat their family like they're on the kill floor. Or they get in fights. They go to jail. After you've worked on the kill floor covered in blood and gore, it's like being in combat. It gets to you." Bill Buck stared into his empty beer bottle as if it contained answers.

What happens in a slaughterhouse is never pretty: There is no way to make killing animals pleasant either for the animals or for those who kill them. However, some ways are more humane than others. And there are without question ways to ensure that the meat products that come out of the slaughterhouses and packing plants are safe enough to eat. It is not a coincidence that more humane slaughter practices result in safer meat products. It used to be that the slaughterhouse workers' jobs were completed at the "sawing in half" part-then the sides of beef were delivered in refrigerated trucks to butcher shops and supermarkets for further processing. However, there are very few butcher shops still operating in the United States and supermarkets want the meats to arrive precut and prepackaged. So the slaughterhouse has evolved into a disassembly plant, slicing animals into the retail portions and packaging these for shipping and delivery. j

Often what happens is that for a variety of reasons ... the animal is not properly stunned and arrives at the station of the sticker alive and kicking. The sticker will then attempt to cut the poor animal's carotid artery but has to defend himself against being kicked, butted, or bitten. This often prevents successful severing of the artery and the shackled steer literally gets skinned alive. More out of self-interest than humaneness, the skinners kill the animal by means of a heavy blunt instrument. By this time, the animal's hide has become covered with dung, some of which gets transferred to the meat. A frightened animal-one that is being slammed with a bolt, hung on a shackle, stabbed, and beaten-will likely lose control of its sphincter muscles and quite literally shit all over, emptying the contents of the digestive tract onto the hide and the meat.



The Georgia Strait a large body of salt water, surrounded ( by heavily timbered mountains, between the mass of Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia, While the strait occasionally gets rough, it is nothing like the open Pacific Ocean. For this reason, it has been fished by native peoples since time immemorial. In the 1950s, over 5,000 commercial salmon-fishing boats plied the glistening waters off the mostly protected coast of British Columbia. Now the strait is "home" to gigantic salmon pens, enclosures owned primarily by multinational corporations that raise millions of salmon per year. As the salmon pens moved in, the native fishing industry gradually declined until by the late 1980s the corporations had taken Lover and the once-swarming fishing fleet was all but gone.

... "We were told that the Atlantic salmon in the pens would, one, never escape to compete with wild salmon, two, never intermingle with the wild salmon, three, never enter our rivers and streams, and four, never spawn. All this was just flat untrue and all of these things that we were told could 'never happen' are happening.

"Rather than protecting the wild salmon stocks and the environment, the Federal and Provincial Governments have devoted much time and attention to protecting an industry that has decimated our wild stocks and has destroyed the environment-and the local economy.

Farming Fish

* The Atlantic salmon on the menu does not come from anywhere near the Atlantic Ocean. It is a species of salmon that originally came from the Atlantic but is now primarily raised in gigantic fish pens in the Pacific Ocean. There are a few pens in the North Atlantic of Scotland and Norway.

* The wild North Atlantic salmon is an endangered species and afforded the protections of the Endangered Species Act. It may not be taken for any purpose, commercial or otherwise, and cannot be caught or served.

* The escape and survival of a few Atlantic salmon from the Pacific pens-if 40,000 a year can be considered "a few"-has led to crossbreeding and competition for food with native Pacific coast salmon subspecies that may eventually lead to the demise of native stocks.

* Rearing Atlantic salmon in these enormous multi-tiered pens has created "dead zones" in the area of the ocean under and around the pens as feces, excess foods, and harmful feed additives stack up on the seafloor. Salmon pens have also led to an infestation of "sea lice," which prey on both introduced and native salmon stocks.

* Heavy metals and toxic compounds, including PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), are concentrated in the feeds provided to the penned salmon and remain in the fillet on your plate.

* To prevent the damage caused by pens, a federal judge in Portland, Maine, essentially banned salmon farming in Maine's offshore waters. The state of Alaska has also banned salmon pens from its waters, in order to protect native stocks and the Alaskan fishing industry.

This is in part the result of the multinational corporations' takeover of the industry. In the case of salmon farming, the industry is dominated by Norwegian and Dutch corporations.

The [salmon] pens or cages are located above water that is at least 100 feet deep, a necessity since the pens are large. Each pen is approximately thirty meters wide by thirty meters long by twenty meters deep and contains up to 50,000 salmon.

... The salmon rely on food pellets for their nutrients. These pellets constitute a concentrated diet, designed to promote maximum and efficient growth. The exact composition of the pellets at each operation is somewhat secret in nature and considered a "proprietary" trade secret. However, the Georgia Strait Alliance in a letter to the British Columbia minister of agriculture states that the pellets are typically composed of: "15% slaughterhouse wastes, 30% from grain crops, and 56% from rendered fish, including significant quantities of anchovy and jack mackerel from Peru and Chile." The pellets are "shot" into the pens through plastic tubes. Some companies claim to have underwater cameras that carefully monitor the feeding to ensure that most or all of the pellets are consumed, thereby minimizing loss of unconsumed pellets to the seafloor. However, most companies rely on the appetites of the penned salmon to cause them to efficiently ingest the pellets. It is to the companies' benefit to ensure such efficiency, since feed costs represent one-third of the costs of production. It is estimated that overall costs now average about two dollars per pound.

Inevitably, however, some pellets are uneaten and drift to the seabed, where they contaminate the area and create a dead zone where no living organism can survive. Fish pellets contain a high concentration of certain toxic substances found naturally-at low, nonharmful levels-in almost all living organisms. But when marine organisms (anchovies and other small "bait fish") are "rendered" and concentrated into feed pellets, the process also concentrates PCBs and dioxins. The result, according to the BBC in a report on January 3, 2001, is that the uneaten pellets fall into the sediments on the ocean floor at toxic levels.

The ocean floor isn't the only place these toxins settle. There has been considerable concern raised in England and Scotland, which along with Norway lead the planet in fish farming, that the pellets introduce cancer-causing toxic chemicals into the flesh of the fish itself. Salmon eat the pellets, the contaminants are stored in the fat and muscle of the fish, and then we eat the fish, contaminants and all. According to a study conducted by Michael Easton, a Vancouver geneticist, the farmed salmon he tested had far higher levels of most contaminants than wild fish. The farmed fish contained nearly ten times the toxic load of some types of PCBs as wild salmon. Easton estimated that based on World Health Organization standards for PCB exposure, Canadians should not eat more than one to three meals of farmed salmon a week.

After the salmon have been in the pens for about two years, they are harvested. If all goes well, the largest salmon will weigh about ten pounds and the smallest around five pounds. The industry average is slightly less than nine pounds. Salmon must be harvested prior to reaching sexual maturity, as the meat becomes unpalatable at that point. Before being filleted, the salmon are not fed for several days so that no material remains in the digestive tract, fat is reduced, and supposedly the meat becomes firmer. The pens are raised to concentrate the fish, which are then collected in large baskets or removed by large "fish pumps." The salmon are then "subdued," bled out, gutted, and packaged in iced containers for shipping to distribution centers.

Initially it was believed that ... escaped "Atlantic" salmon were strangers in a strange land that would not survive and certainly would not crossbreed with native stocks. Those beliefs have proven to be false: Not only do some escaped salmon survive and compete with wild stocks for food in the open ocean, but also some have crossbred with native Pacific coast salmon. These native stocks, as we all know so well, return, with increasing difficulty, to the headwaters of the streams in which they were spawned. The crossbreeding of Atlantic and native salmon produces a fish that quite literally is confused-it does not know where it came from and spends its sexually active time roaming the open ocean. Fertility becomes nil in these fish, and an already-diminished supply of native salmon is further reduced. Eventually, it is feared, succeeding generations of native salmon will become even more infused with genetic imprinting from Atlantic salmon, until there are no runs up local streams.

These escapees also create another problem: They are voracious feeders and compete with the wild stocks for the smaller fish that make up the diet of wild salmon. While the industry claims that only a "few" salmon escape from the pens, these few add up to at least 40,000 Atlantic salmon escaping from the pens per year. These salmon have no tracking mechanisms to guide them to the streams of their birth since they were hatched in a tank, but some have been found in inland freshwater streams, where they compete with the native stocks for a diminishing supply of foods and may even fertilize the eggs of native salmon.

Just as the U.S. government protects the interests of the swine, poultry, beef, and dairy industries, the British Columbian government acts as an advocate and a research arm for the salmon-pen industry. This choice is, of course, an economic one-if these decisions were based upon peer-reviewed scientific reports this government, and the governments of the other chief salmon-pen nations of Norway, Scotland, and Chile, would have banned the salmon farming industry and supported more traditional means of providing salmon fillets, such as has occurred in Alaska. But this provincial government has typically viewed its bountiful natural resources as "open for business" and has generally allowed various industries to operate at will, extracting private profits from public resources. Only after years of protests and a loud public outcry did British Columbia impose any limits on logging the Pacific Coast rain forests, even though the lands in question were in public ownership. A similar outcry is necessary to protect the waters. Until recently, opposition had not been well organized and certainly did not have sufficient funding to influence governmental decisions. As it stands now, according to critics, the British Columbian Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries acts as a lapdog for the salmon farming industry while ignoring the well-being of native peoples and citizens.



To the astonishment of supermarket purchasing agents, consumers are demanding such products. The free-range, humanely treated, and organically grown foods are the fastest-growing agricultural sector. Supermarkets are all about making money, and if money can be made from selling free-range products or organic products or locally grown products, then that is what they will offer. Don't patronize a nearby supermarket until it starts offering products from sustainable growers-and let the supermarket know your reason for not buying its products. Ask supermarket managers the tough questions:

"Where do you buy your pork, your beef, your chicken? Are your salmon raised in pens?" 6-

"Did you know that hormones, antibiotics, and appetite enhancers were used in growing these fish, hogs, cows, or chickens?"

"Why didn't you buy from local growers, who don't use this stuff? Why don't you stock wild salmon?"

Use the power of the pocketbook to convince supermarkets that agribusiness meats are unacceptable...

... certified organic" milk means milk produced by dairy cows that have never received any type of antibiotic ...

... the large agribusiness industries tried to amend organic certification rules to allow some of their definitely nonorganic practices to be certified as "organic." There was such an outcry that the USDA had to give in and rewrite the proposed organic standards by removing the offending sections. The secretary of agriculture stated that there were more comments received on the proposed organic standards than any other rule-making proposal by the USDA. The offending sections would have allowed irradiation of food products, application of human municipal sludge containing all sorts of nasty things to otherwise organic crops, and using livestock feeds that contained heavy metals and other dubious ingredients.

Having failed at taking over the organic standards, the industry, with the assistance of Rep. Nathan Deal, R-GA, tacked an amendment onto a totally unrelated bill having to do with Iraq and military spending that would have allowed nonorganic poultry feeds to be substituted for organic feeds when the latter was unavailable and the products still be certified as "organic." Representative Deal admitted that this was done at the request of a large poultry operation in his district. While initially passing both the House and Senate, this measure was repealed due to massive public protests to Congress.

Likewise, egg-laying companies such as Rose Acre Farms are attempting to cash in on the demand for eggs from free-range chickens. In midwestern supermarkets, Rose Acre offers eggs from "free-roaming" chickens, but what Rose Acre means and what the public understands are two completely different matters. The Rose Acre chickens do not roam free on grass and pasturelands but roam entirely within the confines of a huge building, along with several thousand other laying hens. In the minds of Rose Acre's public relations or marketing gurus, free-roam means simply that the hens are not confined in cages.

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