By Stephanie Ulmer, Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF)
Factory farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), house hundreds or thousands of animals in very small spaces. Many of the animals on factory farms live their entire lives in cramped, dirty conditions just eating and excreting. “They will almost certainly never walk out in a field, chomp on grass, or feel the sun on their backs.” Just think of that. There have to be consequences, right? But these operations don’t like to advertise what goes on there. After all, having that many animals in such a confined space cannot be good—for the animals or us.
I have to confess that up until recently I didn’t know much about factory farming. It is not like the farmers call attention to the fact that most of the animals on their farms never reach anywhere near their average life expectancy. Enter a very informative article in the November 2011 of O, the Oprah Magazine. It details one woman’s fight against such operations near her home in Michigan. After doing her research, Lynn Henning decried, “This is not farming.” And I have to agree—wholeheartedly.
The article discusses the many health implications not only for the animals but for the residents near such facilities. It also mentions the environmental concerns:
…CAFO waste isn't just manure, urine, and groundwater: It can contain birthing fluid; blood; hormones; chemicals like ammonia and heavy metals like copper (copper sulfate baths are used to clean the cows' hooves); antibiotics put into their feed, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria; pathogens like E. coli, cryptosporidium, and salmonella; milk house wastes, including cleaning agents and bad milk; and silage leachate, which is basically liquid runoff from fermenting fodder.
Yikes! Why hasn’t anyone raised huge, waving red flags about this?
When Henning did raise concerns, seeking answers, she and other nearby farm families faced scare tactics, physical intimidation, and legal threats. She has even had her mailbox blown up and her granddaughter's window was shot out. But she has persevered, spreading the word about the tragic consequences of these so-called “farms.” It appears that CAFOs are big business, and those seeking to curb operations in any way are seen as threats to their existence.
In Finland, two activists who shot videotape in 2009 of the appalling conditions at similar pig operations faced prison time for ten cases of disturbance of the peace and 12 cases of aggravated defamation. In the videos, “the pigs appeared to live in cramped and dirty conditions with little stimulus to their existence. Some of the animals had fight wounds and bedsores. Some dead pigs were also seen in the pens.” The prosecutor of the case asserted that Karry Hedberg and Saila Kivelä had implied that crimes had been committed at the sites. But after an investigation, it was ruled that no laws had been violated by the pig farmers. Thus, the pair faced charges. Kivelä and Hedberg insisted, however, that it was not their intention to suggest that any laws were broken at the operations. In fact, they hoped to show that the operations were legal in Finland, bringing to light the real reality and fostering open debate about the situation.
But just this week they were acquitted of all charges of aggravated defamation, and Hedberg, who was considered the main defendant, was only given a 20-day suspended sentence for disturbing the public peace because they had entered one farm through the owner’s front yard. Helsingin Sanomat reported that, “As it had not been asserted that the recordings had been doctored in any way, the court found that selective use of camera angles could not be seen to constitute false or suggestive information… freedom of speech needs to be considered, even though the pig farms were depicted in a negative light….” Earlier this year Kivelä and Hedberg were quoted as being “…satisfied if they have managed in some small way to alter people’s perception of domestic meat production.”
Wow. I know my eyes have certainly been opened. I used to be one of those people that Hedberg referred to in an interview as having “…fond ideas [from the 1970s] of how animals are kept.” I know it is easier for me to think of farming as idyllic and pastoral, with the animals all being treated kindly. “The reality is that the number of individual farms has dropped dramatically, and even in rural areas people no longer recognize animal production. It has become an industry that has little to do with the countryside, or with anything natural.” Without anyone speaking out, we’d never know that.