Despite President Trump’s efforts to bring jobs back to U.S. soil, much of our labor is still outsourced, just like our prized commodities (hint: you’re reading this on one of them). But Americans do still have a stronghold on at least one industry: farming. But we’re not talking the bucolic imagery of happy hens, cows, and pigs frolicking on fresh grass that still populates many food packages. It’s quite the antithesis: Modern industrial farming, better known as concentrated animal feeding-operations (CAFOs), has become the norm in the U.S., and it’s a detrimental practice being adopted around the world at alarming rates.
“There are now more than 50,000 facilities in the US classified as concentrated animal feeding operations,” reports the Guardian, “with another quarter of a million industrial-scale facilities below that threshold.”
American livestock production shifted to the CAFO model in the last half-century -- thousands of animals housed mostly indoors in conditions that invite disease, cannibalism, and intense animal suffering -- to produce cheaper food faster, but the sticker price doesn’t reflect the real cost, experts warn.
CAFOs typically house tens of thousands of animals who produce unimaginable amounts of manure, which creates a host of problems including the recent news that it’s directly linked to the largest dead zone ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico. Large-scale livestock production is also linked to the increase in greenhouse gas production, according to a number of studies, as well as deforestation, water, soil, and air pollution. And it’s also using up most of the nation’s supply of antibiotics leading to a growing number of cases of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which kill more than 23,000 Americans every year.
“In 2000, there were an estimated 15 billion livestock in the world, according to the Worldwatch Institute. By last year, that had risen to about 24 billion, with the majority of eggs, chicken meat and pork produced on intensive farms,” notes the Guardian.
“According to the UN, globally CAFOs account for 72% of poultry, 42% of egg, and 55% of pork production.”
The Guardian points to at least 789 “megafarms” just in the UK, which is a little more than half the size of California.
“These are the biggest in a wave of intensive farms that has increased by more than a quarter in six years.” And Brexit’s looming reality may bring even more CAFOs to the country, to the disapproval of many British residents, including HRH Prince Charles.
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“British farm standards have been higher than EU-wide welfare practices in the past, and now are in line with the EU,” notes the Guardian, “but in future there could be pressure to lower standards in order to compete with imports.”
According to the Worldwatch Institute, while sales in some animal-based food categories are on the decline, particularly here in the U.S., “both production and consumption of animal products are increasingly concentrated in developing countries.”
“Between 1980 and 2005, per capita milk consumption in developing countries almost doubled, meat consumption more than tripled, and egg consumption increased fivefold,” Worldwatch notes.
“Approximately75 percent of the new diseases that affected humans from 1999 to 2009 originated in animals or animal products.”
As CAFOs spread across the globe, they’re being adopted by regions where standards for labor, animal welfare, and public health aren’t well-established, which could lead to increases in food safety issues, food fraud, and increased negative impact on the climate. Even the World Health Organization has warned of the potential public health crises if factory farming efforts aren't mitigated.
In the UK, at least, The UK’s Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, says it won’t allow environmental and animal welfare standards on farms to be diluted. “This should not be a race to the bottom.”
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