Sustainable, Free-Range Farms and Other Tall Tales
Factory Farming's Not the Problem -- It's Animal Farming
|Already, most of the landmass of the contiguous United States is taken up by agriculture--primarily for resource-guzzling animal processing. Worldwide, the demand of six billion humans for physical space is vastly expanded as animals are bred into existence to be food commodities.
DISSIDENT VOICE by Lee Hall Nov 2005 11/18/2005
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health care corporations are doing it. Trendy groceries are doing it.
Environmental advocacy groups are doing it. Suddenly, it's all the rage to
tout animal-based farming that's sustainable and healthful.
Trader Joe's has announced plans to "improve
its laying hen welfare policy" by marketing house brand eggs that
aren't from "cruel cages." The implication is that there will be more
space for hens who lay Trader Joe's eggs. Male and worn-out female birds
don't get a mention; but competitive market value does. As CEO Dan Bane
says, "Customers looking for cage-free eggs will need to look no further
than the Trader Joe's label. We expect this change will help further boost
the proportion of sales of cage-free eggs at Trader Joe's."
The Sierra Club now
vaunts tours arranged by an organic dairy business
, and lauds
for "continually offering exceptional products" and
"encouraging our youth to be involved in agriculture and teach sustainable
methods that will leave future generations with a farm and family
lifestyle that will be attractive and profitable.
win praise that strongly suggests that health benefits
will accrue to customers. And the Sierra Club calls Larry
Sansom's grass-fed cattle
"a success" because Sansom has run out of
cattle every year.
What if we took such models of agribusiness seriously? We'd still be in a
heap of trouble. Of course, the heap would be spread about over a lot more
Already, most of the landmass of the contiguous United States is taken up
by agriculture --primarily for resource-guzzling animal
processing. Worldwide, the demand of six billion humans for physical space
is vastly expanded as animals are bred into existence to be food
commodities. These domestic animals now
outnumber us by an estimated factor of three to one. There is nothing
sustainable, let alone kind, about animal agribusiness.
Meanwhile, as precious time passes, the
other animals of the world -- those living on nature's terms, those who
might have a chance to keep their territory and thus their freedom -- are
pushed to the margins of the land.
Animal protectionism is often considered
separate from environmentalism, so such losses tend to go unnoticed. But
why? Why do animal advocates spend comparatively little time
intervening for free-living animals' interests in simple freedom?
A plain-speaking movement
If campaigners are too busy to supply
thoughtful answers, chances are they're busy negotiating concessions with
industries. Agreements with corporations can effectively promote both the
industries that use animals and those that advocate for welfare
improvements. Hence, many an animal advocacy group spends the better part
of its time focused on dreary details about the use of antibiotics, the
numbers of animals in a cage, the dimensions of a shed, an animal's age at
the time of slaughter, or whether an animal is properly stunned before
dying. An eerie aspect of the bulk of today's animal advocacy -- and it
grows bulkier each year -- is that it's primarily concerned about how to
treat animals once they're already under our collective thumb.
Environmentalists warn that the chemicals
and sicknesses which plague animal factories can also contaminate soil,
water, animal products, and our own bodies. These concerns about factory
farms are warranted. But ecological problems don't stop there. A cow with
access to fresh air and pasture is still a cow, and cows need plenty of
water and food -- in the industrialized world, about 70 percent of grain
is fed to domesticated animals
-- and somewhere to eliminate it all, once digested. The
rumination of cows produces methane gas, which matches the global warming
potential of carbon dioxide 21 times over.
And the animal-based farm uses
far more land than that taken by the growing of vegetable crops and the
use of sloped areas for fruit trees. Animal agribusiness is associated
with vast deforestation, the creation of monocultures, and reliance
on massive doses of chemical pesticides.
Which brings us to another reason that we
just cannot afford to waste any more time attempting to reform animal
farms: the exigency presented by the
biggest set of extinctions and the
most ominous climate indicators in modern history. Designing campaigns
around more space for animals destined to wind up on plates at trendy
restaurants and pricey grocers is environmental malpractice.
Joining their energies and educating relentlessly, the environmentalist
and the animal advocate could effectively shield what little pristine
environment is left in the world, and what freedom is still possible for
animals who call it home. Thinking and working together, they could
replace the fantasy of sustainable and humane animal farming with a
plain-speaking movement that gets to the point: We just don't need to buy
what animal agribusiness is selling.