CAFOs linked to swine/H1N1/bird/gremlin flu?

Okay, only one of those is potentially made up. Recently, I have been scouring the world wide web in search of data which would support using factory farms as a sustainable way to feed our country and the rest of the world.

It is probably not good for business when you Google: “positive advantages to factory farms” and the results are all against factory farms. One particular website even detailed how the big swine flu epidemic from a couple years back that was supposed to implode the universe was actually more likely the result of contaminated swine from a Smithfield CAFO (scroll down on the website).

Yes, the same Smithfield from Smithfield, VA and also the same company which owns the world’s largest swine processing plant in Tar Heel, NC. They also own plants around the world including the one in question, Granjas Carrol (in Mexico), where it is believed that the surrounding residents and employees inhaled or came into contact with the swine flu virus from carcasses, feces, blood, or other bodily fluids individuals may have come into contact with.

Smithfield of course denies their involvement, as would be expected. The least they could do for the people of surrounding this plant would be to properly treat their water and sewage waste.

This is the contaminated water waste lagoon which “disposes” of contaminated water from the Granjas Carrol swine processing plant. Take note of the broken pipe and the resulting spillage on the left pipe. Water here contains partial pig parts, blood, feces, and rotting bodies. There are subsequent pictures here, where you can also read a short article.

According to the article, residents near the plant have been exposed to these conditions for years as a result of this contaminated lagoon. Residents including young children sighted health issues like respiratory problems long before the swine flu epidemic.

These residents do not have a lot of influence in the operation as Smithfiled has repeatedly suppressed any opposition to the plant. According to the aforementioned article:

“speaking out against the Granjas Carrol operation has, disturbingly but not unsurprisingly, led to various residents being intimidated, threatened, and arrested by certain officials tasked with protecting the company’s financial interests” (the company, of course, is Smithfield).

Clearly there is some very blatant, but shady dealings going on with Smithfield, and I assume other major factory farm corporations. Intimidation and threats? I envision some short guy out of the 1920’s with an enormous pinky ring just rubbing his palms together. So you don’t like our pollutants encroaching on your everyday lives? We’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse… Why don’t you all have some of these nice blankets, we swear they don’t have that H1N1 swine whatever…

Regardless of my historical analogies or not, there is no way in good conscious that large-scale factory farm and processing plant owners can tell the public that they are a healthy, rational, and sustainable way of feeding the world. Although this has only been going on for a short time, the social, environmental, and health effects may last through generations if we don’t change the system.

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Settlement for more info gathering on factory farms aka CAFOs

Last May, several environmental groups along with the EPA and other bureaucratic powers came to a settlement to gather more information from factory farms. This article gives all of the details and it sounds like they are moving at least in the right direction as far as monitoring CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). This bulk of the settlement involved gathering information on what CAFOs are doing with their waste.

The EPA defines CAFOs to contain one of the following: 700 dairy cows; 1,000 veal calves; 1,000 cattle; 2,500 swine weighing than 55 pounds or 10,000 swine weighing less than 55 pounds; 10,000 sheep or lambs; 55,000 turkeys; and between 30,000 and 125,000 chickens.

Sewage from factory farms has been linked to various “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay. Dead zones are oxygen-deficient pockets of water and factory farms have contributed to these due to sewage and waste runoff into streams, rivers, and eventually the aforementioned bodies of water. The dead zone in the Chesapeake Bay last year was estimated to be around 6,600 square miles, and runs from north of Washington DC and winds south for approximately 70 miles along the Bay. As for the Gulf of Mexico, the dead zone along with the oil spill have been a huge blow to their nearly $700 million fish and shellfish industry.

CHESAPEAKE BAY from 2010

GULF OF MEXICO from 2010

These sound like good measures that the EPA and others are enacting but I still wish we would move more towards locally grown, small scale farming operations.

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Sustainable farming

I have been reading a lot lately on organic and sustainable farming. It seems as though everything I have read indicates that we could very well sustain our food needs as well as those of the world as our global population is expected to reach 8 billion by 2030 with the use of sustainable or organic farming.

First of all, I have tried to find out if there is a difference, even a small one, that indicates if sustainable agriculture or organic farming are two seperate terms and methods. As far as I can tell, there is not. But while I’m thinking about it, to the lay individual, doesn’t the name “organic” seem to imply like a 60’s style commune? I feel like many people think of guys and girls wearing hemp and Birkenstocks but more than that they might think: inefficiency, expensive, inconvenient, insect-laden, and time consuming. I prefer to term sustainable farming because it conjures up a more positive image. Good work organic P.R. guys, I guess.

Organic/sustainable farming, as I have read just involves the (very) minimal use of fossil fuel resources, decreased use of chemicals and pesticides, increase quality of life for farmers and communities by providing varieties of resources, and the use (as much as possible) of natural, biological methods to fertilize crops. In many cases this would involve crop diversification and rotation as well as grass fed and free range animals. It would almost be like it’s the 60’s again only as you will see, much more productive.

There have been many advancements in sustainable farming in the past 50 years. Francis Thicke, the author of A New Vision for Iowa Food and Agriculture has placed sections of his book online and I read one of the chapters. He worked and operated on a family farm as a young boy in the 1960’s and continues to operate his own sustainable farm today. The chapter was fairly short, it only took about ten/fifteen minutes of my time and I was taking notes. Here it is if you would like to read it but I’ll give the meat and potatoes (semi-pun totally intended) here:

  • in 1960 Thicke and his brother worked for 1 hour to cut 1 acre of hay. Today with the technological improvements, Thicke can cut 10 acres/hour by himself
  • in 1960, Thicke and his family (totaled 4) could make 50 bales of hay/day. Today, he can make 50 bales by himself in 2 hours
  • sustainable farmers use “mechanical weeders and guidance systems” to control weed growth in their pastures and vegetation
  • 50 years of scientific inquiry has resulted in increased knowledge of: “the ecology of insects, weeds and plant diseases [that] are helping organic farmers manage pests through the use of crop rotations, beneficial insects, pest mating disruptions and other cultural practices that circumvent the need for chemical pest controls
  • the agriculture research budget for the USDA annually is around $2 billion; in 2002, only $5 million was devoted to organic research and in 2008, only $15 million
  • a study by the University of Michigan showed that in developed countries, the crop yields of conventional (large-scale) and organic farms were about equal (I have no idea why he didn’t give a date, but I’m looking into this research)

Clearly there have been advancements in technology since the days when Thicke and his family operated a family farm. It would be nice to see if future Food Bills place a heavier emphasis on sustainable farming research. I mean, I hate to point out the obvious but food is pretty freaking important. I think many of us often don’t even think about the work and resources that are involved with supplying us all with our food and apparently, the way we are prioritizing and practicing our farming on many levels is not sustainable or even very good for us.

As a wise man Tupac Shakur once said, “Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live… You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do what we gotta do, to survive.”

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Cornfields in Iowa

My brother got his graduate and masters degrees from the University of Iowa so I had the fortune at 17 of seeing what a cool place Iowa City was. Nice people, a lot of drunk college girls on friday nights (my favorite part), and a beautiful campus and downtown area. I even got into the 21 and over pool hall, which trust me, was a much bigger deal when you’re a baby faced junior in high school.

Believe it or not my brother and his (now) wife did venture out of Iowa City for portions of my week. I have never seen so much corn in my entire life. There were pretty much two roads in and out of the city, the one the went eas-west, and the other went north-south. And remember, this is Iowa. There aren’t exactly rolling hills and if there are, there rolling up or down to show your how much more freaking corn they have. I asked my brother, “is all of this corn?” “Yea,” he shrugged,”except for the huge fields of green you see, those are soybeans. They replenish the soil so you can grow more corn.” We must have drove 20 miles in any direction to get to the another town and it was ALL corn.

Now, I like corn. And sweet corn don’t even get me started. Especially with just a little butter and pepper. But seriously, can’t we just lay of the maize? Only 16% of the corn grown in the US goes to ethanol so what else are we using it for? Apparently we are making just about all of our’s, and our livestock’s food with it. Of the 37 ingredients (yes, 37) in the chicken McNugget, 30 of them come from corn.

I just find it amazing to think we have these enormous plains that used to be in the center of our country and have them not be devoted to grass-fed animals and maybe even the production of something other than corn. Based on world averages, the US produces 42% of the WOLRD’S corn.

The American government pays farmers like those in Iowa $19 billion per year to overproduce corn. $4 billion comes from taxpayers. We are also producing 10 billion bushels per year as opposed to 4 billion in 1970. Couldn’t these farmers grow anything else instead of corn. I know corn is very useful, but so are many other fruits and vegetables which could stop all of this waste and spending.

A possible solution: sustainable agriculture. Stay tuned…

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Avoid YouTube and my blog topic

So I had an interesting morning trying to find a pro-factory farming video on YouTube. I’ll do you a favor. Don’t. If you feel like trying, get ready to hate yourself but at the same time, I would gladly accept submission(s).

Anyway, this video is definitely viewable by anyone and shouldn’t make anyone’s stomach too queasy. It is a video obviously made by Lopez Foods, the supplier of beef to McDonald’s for the last 30 years. I’ll tell you the poultry plant I visited in Harrisonburg looked a lot like this one. There was no elevator music in the background though.

Notice in the video how you never see where the beef actually comes from. Not only that, you don’t even see anyone cutting any meat off of the bone of a cow. I imagine they wouldn’t want to post that on YouTube but they probably avoided that part of the plant altogether. Seriously, if I didn’t know beef came from cows I still wouldn’t know after this video. Also notice how few workers you see. For the size of the factory slaughterhouse, you would expect them to employ more people.

If you don’t think Lopez Foods cares about the environmental impact of their business, take a look at their message about sustainability found on their website. I like the one about recycling plastic and cardboard.

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so Wegmans is definitely messing with us, right?

Wegmans is a grocery chain which has been growing in the Northern Virginia area for the past few years. I think I first heard of them about 5-6 years ago as a kind of offspring of Whole Foods and Costco. Well, apparently, Wegmans is in the business of telling people they should grow vegetables that they could easily buy from Wegmans. Not exactly the best business plan, but apparently they think it is beneficial for their customers.

According to an article online, one of the store’s representatives said: “it might seem surprising that a grocery store that sells vegetables would encourage customers to grow their own, but it was a natural fit for us… We’re about making it easier to put healthy meals on the table and about supporting healthy lifestyles for families, and gardening speaks to both values. We’re also pretty excited by what our growers at the Wegmans Organic Farm are learning, and want to pass along successful techniques to our customers”

Since linking to this article is proving to be the bane of my existence and making my brain hurt, just google “Wegmans grow your own vegetables” and click on the first link.

I personally don’t like Wegmans very much. They have small aisles in a freaking enormous store and also carry too many weird oat/granola-based products for my liking. Everything also seems to be this dull shade of brown/tan/beige. Maybe it’s the energy saving light bulbs. They do, however, make a ridiculously delicious and enormous sandwich for like 4 dollars so that’s cool. This is making me reconsider my whole relationship with Wegmans. I hope it’s not too late because I feel like me and you, Wegmans, can make it in this crazy game called life.

How about it, you and me, Wegmans? Now that spring is upon us, lets both grow our own vegetables. If I need any granola clusters, I know where to find you

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the SCIENCE of sustainability

I have highlighted mostly some ethical issues with the American system  for growing our livestock. Personally, many of these reasons alone have altered where I buy my meat and other food items. I have even cut down my meat consumption considerably and I have to say, I feel more energetic in the morning and it hasn’t hurt my exercise regiment in the least. Anyone who says, “that’s because your wrist is broken” gets clubbed. Come on, daily cardio comes before breakfast as the most important part of the day so you’re crazy if I’m missing that.

I have found that many people really don’t care about how they get their food as long as it is cheap from the grocery store or restaurant. I have also found that a lot of people tell you to STFU when you try and tell them that they, and America in general, eats too much meat and we do it in an unsustainable manner. To all of you, here is some SCIENCE to maybe persuade you to change your mind about how Americans eat- from the pasture to the plate.

Check out this article here: 342 sustainability

How many read the article? Zero? That’s probably right. Come on, its only 3 pages with big graphs and charts; real good stuff, I promise. Anyway, for anyone whose head hurts at the sight of scientific data, here are the nuts and bolts:

  • the world has 6 billion people; only 2 billion live off a meat-based diet (guess which one we are?)
  • US population has doubled in the past 60 years and is expected to double again in 70 years
  • US food production uses 50% of our available land area, 80% of our fresh water, and 17% of our fossil fuels
  • A lactoovovegetarian diet requires half of the feed for livestock (450 kg/yr) to produce animal products (milk and eggs) as a meat-based diet (816kg/yr) despite providing the same caloric content for those who eat primarily vegetables or meat, respectively
  • every year, 90% of available farmland loses soil at a rate 13 times the average as a result of our farming practices
  • producing 1 kg of animal protein wastes 100 times more water than grain proteins
  • Annually we raise 5 times the meat and poultry products as our collective weight as a country

One final note:

the fact that we have to grow, process, and transport grains to feed our animals in order to have them slaughtered is problematic. We are essentially losing money on both ends here. We spend all of this money to raise corn and grain to feed to these animals who we also spend more money on to raise and then even more money to slaughter and process/transport these animals where they are most needed.

By cutting down on your meat intake, you can help alleviate the strain on our monetary and more importantly, our environmental resources

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