Photo: Calm Action
In an age where nearly 70 percent of antibiotics produced annually are given to some form of livestock and mass production of livestock has led to widespread animal mistreatment and serious environmental repercussions, it seems flippant to claim that factory farming is done for the safety of consumers.In a recent NY Times editorial, James McWilliams dismisses "free range [as] ultimately an arbitrary point between the wild and the domesticated" and claims that there are higher rates of salmonella in free-range pigs. According to the National Academy of Sciences, however, roughly 70 percent of the antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs used in the U.S. are fed to farm animals in order to promote growth and prevent rampant disease from striking animals that are kept in filthy, stressful environments. In fact, many common bacteria (such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and E. coli) have developed a resistance to these drugs. What's worse, according to Paula Crossfield over at Huffington Post, the study cited by Mr. McWilliams (Foodborne Pathogens and Disease) was funded by the National Pork Board, which determined that the parasite trichinia was "present" in two of the free-range pigs in that study because of the presence of antibodies -- no disease had formed at all.
The Overall Health of the Animal Sacraficed in Factory Farming
The limited consideration given to the editorial is best evidenced by its failure to address the fact that overall health is markedly better in free range pigs. This is the likely consequence of choosing not to pack fully grown 250-pound male hogs into tiny pens, so that they can trample each other to death in their own feces. Maybe free range pigs are just healthier because they avoid the temperatures inside hog houses, which often exceed ninety degrees and exacerbates the unbearable stench. That smell is a sign of the polluted air that can be lethal to the pigs.
Hogs produce three times more excrement than human beings do. Lloyd wrote about a Rolling Stone article entitled Pork's Dirty Little Secret which reported that an estimated 500,000 pigs at a subsidiary of pork giant Smithfield generates more fecal matter each year than the 1.5 million inhabitants of Manhattan. The kindest estimates put Smithfield's total waste discharge at 26 million tons a year. And this is toxic shit; the excrement falls into a waste bin under the pens along with broken bottles of insecticide, antibiotic syringes, stillborn pigs -- anything small enough to fit through the foot-wide pipes that drain the pits.
Factory Farming, a Greed Based Industry
Mr. McWilliams' most misguided statements might be that grass fed is just a gimmick for farmers to make more money and that factory farming wasn't just adopted because of it's lucrative nature. Smithfield, the largest and most profitable pork processor in the world, killed 27 million hogs last year. The business is profitable because it is inhumane. Factory sows live in a continuous cycle of impregnation. In fact, each sow has more than 20 piglets per year. After birth, factory hogs and sows are packed into tiny pens to increase marginal returns, regardless of the health consequences. Large pork producers figure that they can just innocculate their way out of any health concerns.
Can anyone seriously assert that ensuring that an animal eats better and has a little room to breath doesn't produce better quality pork?
While grass fed pork may be slightly more expensive, it is because the marginal costs are higher. For anyone to call grass fed farming greed-based seems no less than suspect. Greed-based or not, I'd rather eat pigs that roam freely, socialize, and engage in instinctive pig behavior like rooting, wallowing, and foraging; pigs that are not force fed hormones and antibiotics, or anything other than food you might eat yourself.