Factory Farms and CAFOs


By Ronnie Cummins, National Executive Director, Organic Consumers Association

In 2013, the Organic Consumers Association will tackle the next big food labeling battle: meat and dairy products from animals raised on factory farms, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). We’ll start with a massive program to educate consumers about the negative impacts of factory farming on the environment, on human health, and on animal welfare. Next, we’ll organize and mobilize consumers to demand labels on beef, pork, poultry and dairy products derived from these unhealthy and unsustainable so-called “farming” practices.

Today, nearly 65 billion animals worldwide, including cows, chickens, and pigs, are crammed into CAFOs in unhealthy, unsanitary, and unconscionably cruel conditions. To prevent the inevitable spread of disease from stress and lack of vitamin D, animals are fed a steady diet of antibiotics. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (UDSA), nearly 80% of all antibiotics distributed in 2008 in the United States went to farm animals. The intensive use of antibiotics threatens human health by creating new antibiotic-resistant pathogens, and it destroys the environment when antibiotics expelled in animal waste spill into our lakes, rivers, and aquifers.

Factory farms produce staggering amounts of animal wastes–five tons of waste for every US citizen, according to the USDA. They also consume huge amounts of water, and contribute to water pollution from animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, and fertilizers and pesticides used to spray feed crops. And it isn’t just our water that’s affected. CAFOs contribute to climate change by releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere-more than the global transportation industry. The air at some factory farm test sites in the US is dirtier than in America’s most polluted cities, exposing workers and people who live nearby to concentrations of pollutants far above occupational safety guidelines, according to the Environmental Integrity Project.

There are also direct human health consequences of eating CAFO-raised meat from animals pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, and fed genetically engineered crops sprayed with pesticides. According to researchers at the London Metropolitan University, organic free-range chickens contain 25% less fat, and pasture raised beef contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, than meat raised on factory farms.

What about feeding the world? Contrary to popular arguments, factory farming is not a cheap, efficient solution to world hunger. Feeding huge numbers of confined animals actually uses more food–in the form of grains that could feed humans–than it produces. For every 100 food calories of edible crops fed to livestock, we get back just 30 calories in the form of meat and dairy–a 70% loss.

With the earth’s population predicted to reach 9 billion by mid-century, the planet can no longer afford this reckless, unhealthy, and environmentally disastrous farming system. We believe that once people know the whole truth about CAFOs they will want to make healthier, more sustainable food choices. And to do that, we’ll have to fight for the consumer’s right to know not only what is in our food, but where our food comes from.


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