"Corporate Farming: A Threat to All"
College Writing 2, Dr. Richard Foss
Humans cause so much damage to the world in so many ways, and one that many members of society are mostly uninformed about is corporate farming. I have always been one who cared for the welfare of animals - I have been wanting to become a veterinarian since preschool - and so writing this essay was a good opportunity for me to educate myself and spread awareness on this problem that is truly damaging the world we live in.
Excerpt from “Corporate Farming: A Threat to All”
“The damage done to nature goes hand in hand with the damage done to society. We are the ones who breathe the polluted air; we are the ones who drink the toxic water; we are the ones who suffer the consequences as well. Because of the unsanitary and crowded confines the animals are kept in, disease spreads quickly and easily – and it does not simply stop with the animals. It reaches humanity as well. In the film, Food Inc., there was a case in which a two-year-old boy, Kevin Kowalcyk, died of E. Coli from a contaminated hamburger, a product of factory farming. Cows contract this disease from the toxic foods that are fed to them, foods that are not even meant for them to eat – it is not a part of their regular, healthy diet – and consequently, this disease is passed on to the consumer…. The fact of the matter is that corporate farming contaminates the communities we live in, harming individuals, families, anyone surrounding these dangerous factories. The health is threatened, not only of the animals, not only of the workers, but that of the individuals of society as well.”
Corporate Farming: A Threat to All
by Andrea Martinez
The average American consumes approximately 222.2 pounds of meat a year, as reported by the US Department of Agriculture – that is 98% of the American non-vegan population consuming around 220 pounds per person a year. This simple statistic does not even include the rest of the world. A simple question thus arises: how does the world produce that significant amount of meat? It does so by utilizing the techniques of factory farming, which provides the impoverished parts of the world with much needed food for a cheap price. Factory farming manages to sustain the millions of hungry individuals around the world in producing mass amounts of meat for those who cannot afford other alternatives. However, the methods factory farming utilizes are under much controversy. Animals are abused, treated inhumanely as though they are innate creatures; the environment suffers as well, with toxic fumes and chemicals being released into the atmosphere, which ultimately harm society and its inhabitants. Should factories using these methods change their policies, even if it means producing less for the hungry in the world, or should factory farming be abolished altogether? Though it does sustain the world with much needed food, it also harms the world in more ways than one. The one way in which it is beneficial does not outweigh the countless of other ways it is not. Because factory farming results in harming the world – its environment and its people – more than it helps it, it is more beneficial to reform these methods utilized – or convert to more efficient alternatives – to keep production maximized while also reducing the negative impacts made for the environment, for society, and for individuals.
The term “factory farming” is a relatively new concept that had grown prominent around the 1930s. The concept of a farm was not nearly as advanced or efficient as what it has become today – a factory farm. Farms, defined by Drew Leder, a professor of philosophy, are “a human construction designed to meet human needs,” which first utilized animals “to assist in labor, to manure the fields, and from whom to take meat, milk, eggs and other products” (74). Now the term has been combined with that of a factory, defined as “a building used for the manufacturing of goods” (Leder 74). Together, a powerful method has been achieved in using animals to mass produce large amounts of meat and foods – the sole purpose of this type of food production is to “maximize large-scale, efficient, and highly profitable food production” (Leder 74). The farm has become fully industrialized in this sense; all that matters now is the maximization of profit in the shortest amount of time – with no consideration of how to get there and the negative effects that arise because of it.
When factory farming had risen to dominance in the food industry, modern science had changed world-thinking; the natural world was now viewed through the lenses of physics and mathematics, no longer as “ensouled and purposive” (Leder 80). Nature was thought of as machinelike – a tool humanity can use for their own advantage. Anything inhabiting it was viewed as inanimate, thus the use and the mistreatment of these animals began in the factory farms. Mechanized slaughterhouses had become the norm due to its efficient techniques – more was grown in less space in a cost-efficient field that was replaced by technology instead of physical labor (Pearce 4). Because of the ever-growing profits, corporate farming has taken over the food industry.
However, it has done so, first and foremost, by depending on the abuse of the animals for its success. In his booklet, “Factory Farming,” Michael Fox, a veterinarian and author of several books advocating the rights of animals, explains the hundreds of ways in which animals suffer abuse and mistreatment in the cramped, confined, dirty, excrement-filled conditions they are kept in. As Fox explains, all animals are “raised as though they are mindless and emotional cogs in the complex machinery of factory farming” (2). They are treated as inanimate objects who do not have the capacity to feel and suffer, which of course is not true. Cattle, sheep, and chickens, for example, are kept in total confinement, not being able to stretch or see the light of day for most of their life. Animals are placed in a great deal of stress due to overcrowding, social deprivation, and restriction of movement. As the following image depicts, hundreds of chickens are enclosed, not having enough space to move without trampling each other. Several scenes from the documentary, Food, Inc., show such conditions, and also explain how they are overfed, which results in them becoming so overweight, their legs cannot sustain the weight of their body, causing them to break, and them falling to their deaths with the hundreds of other chickens trampling over them. This following image (Figure 2), taken from this same documentary, depicts the appalling way in which cows are fed. These cows, each kept in their own small confines, have holes carved into their bodies, in which the farmers insert the foods cows are not meant to eat, such as corn, wheat, and soy, right in their stomachs. These foods are filled with pesticides that later get transferred into the processed foods. Not only is the meat made harmful to the animal, but to the consumer as well. The amount of stress these animals have to endure places such a toll on their physical and mental health. The social deprivation combined with the restriction of space as well as a toxic environment causes these animals to behave in extreme ways: pigs bite their tails, hens pull of their feathers, while many resort to cannibalism (Fox 18). These are simply a few examples of how unfulfilled basic needs lead to the animals’ inability to perform natural actions and instead cause them to become mentally and physically ill. The extreme amount of animal suffering that occurs is simply one reason in which corporate farming policies need to be revised.
Because these methods, no matter how cruel, result in the mass production of meat, it is still the predominant way in which the world is fed. It has become normalized that animals are meant as humans’ tools; humans are seen as the superior species that can and should take advantage of the natural world around them. One should not feel guilty for treating them as such – that is the mentality corporate farming takes on; as Immanuel Kant states, “animals are not self-conscious and are merely a means to an end” (Leder 78). Thus it is “okay” for humanity to use them however they like – they are simply “resources for unconstrained human exploitation” (Leder 79). This immorality has been justified, as explained by Christopher Bobier, a professor of philosophy, in his article, “Varieties of the Cruelty-Based Objection to Factory Farming,” when he explains how an action is only immoral if there is no acceptable justification behind it. The truth of the matter is that corporate farming feeds the hungry – it feeds those who cannot afford cheaper alternatives. Some may agree: Because such methods of confinement, overcrowding, and overfeeding are able to feed the billions of people in the world, it is acceptable to keep these animals in poor conditions. However, these animals are sentient beings that have the capacity to feel the same amount of pain we humans do. The problem is not that of the infliction of pain, but that of the infliction of unnecessary pain. Bobier provides this example: A dentist pulls out a tooth; yes, it hurts, but it was done for the greater good in the end – one’s health is improved. In the case of corporate farming, animals are harmed ultimately to feed the world. However, they are harmed unnecessarily. There are plenty alternatives and other methods of farming that can mass produce meat without the mistreatment of the animals.
Not only does corporate farming harm the animals being used, but it poses several threats to the environment as well. In their article, “Factory Farming Versus the Environment and Society. The Analysis of Selected Problems,” Ignacy Fiut and Marcin Urbaniak explain the various aspects and examples of the ways in which factory farming damages the world we live in. As they state, “nowadays, nature is only seen instrumentally as a means to satisfy our needs and habits,” exactly how animals are seen, and so again, it seems acceptable to cause such harm, when of course, it should not be. Species of animals become extinct; the air, water and soil become polluted; food is wasted; these are simply a few of the main dangers that the environment faces due to corporate farming. The hundreds to thousands of animals kept in the farm produce unkempt and large amounts of feces that consequently, in addition with “the reek of excrements,” toxic fumes, insecticides, herbicides, and fumigants, and various other chemicals, end up in the air we breathe and the water and soil that surround our communities (Fiut & Urbaniak 145). Excess feces is filled with toxic chemicals that are fed to the animals, and thus when thrown into the environment, the waste is spread into natural ecosystems that harm the inhabitants as well. An incident, as explained by Pearce, occurred in which Smithfield, a Virginia-based hog producer, killed 31 million hogs a year, meaning that the amount of feces produced by these hogs was unthinkable. What Smithfield did with this waste was toss 20 million gallons of it into a lagoon. Consequently, the manure leaked into public waterways (Pearce 9). This is only one of hundreds of instances in which products of corporate farming damage the land we live in, which is the second of many reasons it needs to be abolished.
The extreme amounts of insecticides used is directly related to the critical increase in the number of deaths of certain species of birds, earthworms, butterflies, and honeybees. These chemical fertilizers damage the ground, killing a certain species of earthworms that are natural prey for birds such as the grey partridge, yellowhammer, and the house sparrow. Due to the sterile, impoverished habitat that is now deprived of their natural resources, several species of several types of animals are dying. These birds die of starvation; they die of inhalation of the predominant toxic chemicals found in the atmosphere; plants become toxic to the point in which bees, butterflies, and hundreds of other insects die because of it (Fiut & Urbaniak 147). Nature is being destructed, species are being killed, the air, water, and soil are being polluted, filled with toxic fumes – all due to corporate farming. Its detrimental effects are simply too great for it to continue to function as it is.
The damage done to nature goes hand in hand with the damage done to society. We are the ones who breathe the polluted air; we are the ones who drink the toxic water; we are the ones who suffer the consequences as well. Because of the unsanitary and crowded confines the animals are kept in, disease spreads quickly and easily – and it does not simply stop with the animals. It reaches humanity as well. In the film, Food Inc., there was a case in which a two-year-old boy, Kevin Kowalcyk, died of E. Coli from a contaminated hamburger, a product of factory farming. Cows contract this disease from the toxic foods that are fed to them, foods that are that are not even meant for them to eat – it is not a part of their regular, healthy diet – and consequently, this disease is passed on to the consumer. In the United States, “the percentage of big farms that use hormones to boost the gain of muscle mass of animals is described as 99%” (Fiut & Urbaniak 150). The addition of these toxic chemicals into their system results in the formed bacteria and viruses in the animals’ bodies escaping into the air and water, polluting the environment, which then leads to serious diseases of the respiratory system, including pneumonia and asthma. Fiut and Urbaniak report that the “average life expectancy of people who live close to factory farms is shorter by as much as ten years” (150). Diseases are contracted, contaminated air is breathed into the bodily system, “chemical sprays have reached houses, schools, parks, workplaces, or drinking water resources easily; thus the risk of miscarriage, hypothyroidism, allergy and cancer of stomach, testicles, liver, pancreas, and lungs increase seriously” (Fiut & Urbaniak 149). The fact of the matter is that corporate farming contaminates the communities we live in, harming individuals, families, anyone surrounding these dangerous factories. The health is threatened, not only of the animals, not only of the workers, but that of the individuals of society as well.
Because of the several reasons mentioned – inhumane treatment to animals, degradation to the environment, and consequences to individuals and society – along with several others that were not, the methods utilized in corporate farming should be changed. In her writing, “Meat and Morality: Alternatives to Factory Farming,” Evelyn Pluhar, an American philosopher specializing in the moral status of animals, speaks on three main alternatives humanity can turn to should the policies of corporate farming change: a vegetarian diet, humane animal farming, and in-vitro meat production. Pluhar explains that the dietary shift to vegetarianism will resolve many, if not all, of the problems that arise from corporate farming. In becoming vegetarian, the demand for meat will lessen dramatically, and thus the amount of pain inflicted upon these animals and the amount of toxins released into the atmosphere will be dramatically reduced. However, it is highly unlikely that most of humanity will switch their lifestyles after they have been used to eating meat – they are not simply going to give it up. That is why a more likely alternative – humane animal farming – was introduced and analyzed. Smaller family farms practice the humane treatment of animals who are able to roam freely in open pastures, freed from the stresses of intense confinement; natural foods are fed to them – no growth hormones or other toxic chemicals are added. These animals consequently shed less pathogens and the environment and consumers thus benefit from it (Pluhar 461). Lastly, the alternative of in-vitro meat production is analyzed. Pluhar explains that “laboratory cultured meat” is the result of “billions of cells fused into a solid slab of meat” (463). A one cell sample will be painlessly extracted from the animal’s system, and this in-vitro technique has the capacity to “produce enough meat to satisfy the annual world demand for beef from a single muscle cell extracted from a living cow” (Pluhar 463). Cultured meat also has several health advantages, with one example being the replacement of heart-threatening fatty acids found in most consumed livestock with beneficial fatty acids instead. In-vitro meat production eliminates the cruelty inflicted upon the animals as well as the pain, suffering, and fear they endure in the process of factory farming.
All three alternatives offer solutions in terms of the inhumane animal treatment, the damage done to the environment, and the harmful effects to individuals and society that corporate farming poses. However, none will be as efficient and produce the mass amount of product that corporate farming does. As Carlton Gyles, a distinguished professor of veterinary pathobiology, explains in his article, “Industrial Farm Animal Production,” a revised system to feed an ever-expanding human population is needed – “the rising demand for meat is projected to continue…increased productivity has been the answer to increasing demand. The centerpiece of this system is the concentrated animal feeding operation” (3-4). The constant demand for meat needs to be met, especially now when developing countries are able to afford it, and factory farming is the main provider. Corporate farming feeds the hungry, the impoverished, and those who cannot afford other alternatives – that is why it is still predominant in today’s society. However, it does so by feeding these animals with cereals and grains that are not a natural part of their diet to fill them up – as Fiut and Urbaniak explain, around one-third of the cereals and 90% of the world’s soybean crops serve as the feed for the animals (153). This food can and should be directly fed to the hungry and impoverished people of the world instead of providing them with the unhealthy and contaminated meat produced. It would be much more beneficial to the human population if the cereals and grains were consumed directly instead of converting them to meat. It is estimated that these resources would be able to feed up to 3 billion people (Fiut & Urbaniak 153). In combination with one of the alternatives, the world would be fed with healthier, better options that are not filled with hormones and antibiotics, animals would not be mistreated, and the environment would not suffer as much as corporate farming causes it to.
The human population is growing, and the demand for meat is growing along with it. Though corporate farming is the main practice utilized to supply the mass production of meat, it does so in manners of abusing the animals’ mental and physical state in extreme ways, in degrading the state of the environment by polluting the water, the air, and the soil with all the toxic chemicals released, and in harming society and the individuals within it. With all the alternatives available, corporate farming and its consequences are not worth it. If one could make the switch to vegetarianism, one should. Every person makes a difference; that is one less animal harmed, less chemicals released into the atmosphere, and less affected because of it. Humane animal farming allows the animals to live in stress-free, healthier environments – a happy, healthy animal in turn results in healthier meat and a healthier consumer. Once made available and affordable, in-vitro meat production should rise as the primary meat producer, for it is painless for the animals, painless towards the environment, and healthy towards the consumers. A change needs to be made – the environment and society is suffering along with all who live within it – and it should start with the termination of corporate farming.
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Food, Inc., directed by Robert Kenner (2008; Magnolia Pictures)
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