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The True Costs of Cheap Meat

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Message Suzana Megles

Kurt Friese wrote an article entitled "Biography of a Pork Chop: David Kirby's 'Animal Factory' and the Not-So-Hidden Costs of Cheap Food.'' You say you've heard it before? Well, obviously it hasn't sunken in yet, but if you would venture to join The Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (the oldest, largest, and longest non-competitive ride in the world) another sense will come into play --the sense of smell. Somewhere along this 465-mile ride you will pass long, narrow steel buildings with pairs of 6-foot exhaust fans on each end and large lagoons outside. Yes, these buildings imprison perhaps even a thousand poor pigs destined for your food "needs." I am grateful that they are not mine.

While "lagoon" may conjure up visions of those you saw on Gilligan's Island, these are very different. They are really cesspools filled with the effluent (wastes) from the Confined Animal Feeding Operations that are found throughout the United States. I suggest that all the people who think CAFOs are okay because they provide us with cheap meat take this bike ride where the methane and ammonia fumes will cause them to gag. Think of the people who may live in the environs or who make their living by tending the animals inside. Think of the poor pigs who also must suffer from this terrible smell and who will never breathe in fresh air. No living beings- including animals should be deprived of this basic right. And by the way- don't forget that you don't have to travel to Iowa to experience the smells connected with CAFOs as I believe they are found throughout the US.

Friese writes that we should all read David Kirby's "Animal Factory" if we truly care about animals and the environment because in this book we will learn much more about the horrors connected with raising animals in this intensive way. I don't know if Kirby speaks about "growing" animals in his book or not but I find this usage offensive. One "grows" plants and "raises" animals. We don't "grow" children - do we? If using the word "grow" in reference to animals is an attempt to make us forget that they our living, sentient, and breathing beings like ourselves- then I'm afraid it is working.

He notes that Kirby's ''Animal Factory'' book details the horrible impact these methods have had on the animals and on us and which will continue to have unless we make much needed changes. He ranks this book with Upton Sinclair's expose of turn of the 19th century meatpackers in "The Jungle" and Eric Schlosser's more recent one -"Fast Food Nation." Wouldn't it be great if "Animal Factory" and "Fast Food Nation" would be required reading for the President, his cabinet and every Congress person? I think changes would soon be made. It wouldn't be a bad idea to make this book mandatory reading for our young people in high school either. I've always believed that we put too much stock in our young people's ability to agitate for change. I now realize perhaps they are the only ones who can since so many generations of us have not been able to do this.

In his book, Kirby tells the story of Rick Dove, former US Marine and avid fisherman who finds that he needs to do something about the CAFO operators who have poisoned the Neuse River in North Carolina with their leaking and rupturing lagoons. Tragically, it even leads to his son's death.

Kirby also writes of other people's nightmarish accounts too as a result of CAFO dairies in the Yakima Valley in Washington and in Elmwood, Illinois. Karen Hudson of Elmwood watched helplessly as she saw brothers warring over the construction of another dairy CAFO, and then see her worst fears realized as pollution from the CAFOs spread from ruptured lagoons. However, she believes "The CAFO industry has lost the public relations game." I only hope she is right. Every day I become more and more disillusioned with Presidents and Congress who have allowed these Cafos to exist for so many, many years.

Rick Dove who lost his son from the pollution of the CAFOs said " I feel sorry for all the innocent souls who will be consumed in the fury of this storm," (the looming environmental catastrophe), "but I don't feel a bit sorry for the swine barons. They shall reap what they have sowed."

Cheap meat? A point is made that if these farms were made to bear the true cost of their methods, they would not be economically feasible. But as Friese notes: ....instead they are party to lax regulations and subsidized feed, without so much as a nod toward the future implications of their actions."

Shouldn't this knowledge make us all angry? Perhaps this paragraph may sum it up best as why we should be: "Readers of (Animal Factory) scarcely need glance past the introduction to see the impacts of these methods, the until-now hidden costs of taxpayer-subsidized cheap industrial food. Kirby points out the CAFOs in the US yield 100 times more waste then all US human sewage treatment plants. None of the animal waste is treated as the human waste is to kill pathogens. It is simply sprayed onto cropland, often while is is frozen and often with no regard to nearby waterways. It contains pathogens, antibiotics, drug-resistant bacteria, hormones and heavy metals."

I think the last line bears repeating: "....It (animal waste) contains PATHOGENS, ANTIOBIOTICS, DRUG-RESISTENT BACTERIA, HORMONES AND HEAVY METALS" and this is sprayed on our croplands.

I have always put a lot of blame on Pres. Reagon for my belief that the CAFOs started with him, but true or not, to my knowledge -every president since then has done absolutely nothing to stop them. Because of this lack of compassion and concern for the animals - in my opinion, none of them ranks high as a great president.

Even we vegetarians aren't protected against the bad and unhealthful practices of CAFO enterprises. The true legacy of CAFOs: people in surrounding areas and workers suffer from inhaling noxious smells, waterways are polluted, croplands are spread with untreated waste, and for me- the worst part is that poor innocent animals suffer daily until released by death from being confined in cages and crates- forced to endure the smell of their own excrement, and being denied companionship of their own kind. How terrible to never being able to see the sun or breathe in fresh air. In a sense we have placed and "iron" mask over each of them. How could we have ever let it come to this?

We have seen first hand in the Gulf how our obsession with oil has finally come to haunt us. The fish and birds are dying and found on once pristine beautiful beaches which are much less so now. Yes, we can see it happening and we will feel it in our pocketbooks, but it's part of our selfish and wasteful legacy. However, once this horror has been addressed, I hope we will address an even bigger issue - the detrimental effects of CAFOs to our land, waterways, and to our animals. I am ashamed of the US for letting this happen. I hope you are as well. If so, then letters to Congress and the President are in order.

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I have been concerned about animal suffering ever since
I received my first puppy Peaches in 1975. She made me take a good look at the animal kingdom and I was shocked to see how badly we treat so many animals. At 77, I've been a vegan for the (more...)
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