Finding a life and good food beyond factory farms
by Nicolette Hahn Niman
Having read and researched, googled and agreed with so much on the benefits of free-range and organic produce, not only for our personal health but also from a humane point of view, I still found this book to be challenging, life changing and a real eye opener. While previously I would still have sometimes been prepared to compromise, and buy whatever meat I needed when I could not find what I wanted in the free-range section, or if it was not readily available, I now strictly ONLY buy free-range, organic and hormone free meat and dairy. Obviously this is not always easy, especially if you are invited out for dinner and don’t want to question or upset your host, but when personal choice allows, I make what I call the right choice!
The author of this book, a lawyer, was hired by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., to head up his environmental organization’s “hog campaign”. Her role was to investigate the water and air pollution caused by such factory farming in the United States. The fact that it can even be called farming is a joke, considering that many of the animals never see the light of day or get to breathe fresh air, while being raised. If the electricity fails, and they do not have generators to kick in to aerate these factories, the pigs would die from the toxic fumes emitted from the build up of their own manure.
She also touches on poultry, fish and dairy farming in this book, bringing to light so much that I had never heard or even thought of before. The fact that fish farming not only is a large culprit in the depletion of wild fish stocks with fish being a huge portion of fish food pellets, but also water contamination by fish manure, and most probably antibiotics. You can read up a little on fish farming on the SASSI site, where they talk of the pros and cons of this. How the use of ‘sea cages’ contaminate the sea with too much manure and can cause algae bloom. Antibiotics are also routinely fed to animals in factory farms, as a precautionary measure against sickness because of the unnatural environment in which they are raised thus increasing their risk of disease. It has also been found that antibiotics put weight on the animals, and they are used for this too. The fact that cows are breed to produce much more milk than they were born to produce that they end up with udders that are disproportionately large when full thus putting a strain on the cows’ hind legs, plus the added strain of being kept on concrete floors, their knees give in at a very young age. This is just a touch on the inhumane ways in which animals are treated, all in the name of food.
Nicolette’s fight is also to support the small, local farmer, who is trying his/her best to produce humane, good livestock, but who finds it very difficult in the corporate world of factory, industrial farming to keep their heads above water. In America, apparently the industrial farmers get support from the government, thus helping them to reduce their costs. She reckons that that is one of the reason in the USA why organic, free-range is more expensive, whereas in fact kilo for kilo, it is cheaper to raise free-range rather than factory farmed animals. Apparently in South Africa the farmers are not subzidized anymore, but I have not confirmed this. Personally, either way, I am prepared to pay more, eat less, and have a clear conscience. One of the areas she touches on is the huge amount of meat that is consumed in her country. The meat boards have done a good job on their marketing, in making people believe that they need to eat more meat than they actually do. I am not sure if we as South Africans as a whole consume as much, especially with the huge income contrasts in our country, but I’m sure in the higher income bracket this could be the case.
An excerpt from WWF, South Africa:-
Meat production has a very high environmental impact, and is also an emotive issue. What’s the GreenChoice take on it?
“We can’t all be vegetarian but there are better ways of choosing meat and we should eat vastly less of it,” says Tatjana. “We don’t even know the levels of growth hormone, heavy metals and antibiotics in the meat in South Africa. Many South Africans think ‘free-range’ is a marketing gimmick. They are wrong. Beef in South Africa is mostly produced in feedlots or factory farms: ‘grain fed’ is another way of saying ‘feedlot’.”
“Free range” cows are farmed on veld or pasture. Factory-farmed cows are fed grain. Millions of acres of land have been converted to grow that grain, despite the fact that rumens are designed to eat grass and suffer nutritional problems from eating grain.”
I have contacted our local office of Compassion in World Farming, Animal Voice, on the farming methods in this country. Battery chickens for eggs and meat are definitely still raised in this country, while in the EU this method of farming has been banned. Factory farming of pork is also used in this country, and there is footage of these methods online. As for beef, they say that while much of our beef may be raised free-range for a big part of their life, the final months are usually in a feedlot, where they are crammed in, standing in their own waste, while being feed an unnatural diet of corn and who know what. Cattle, while if allowed to forage in an already harvested corn field, will obviously eat corn in with the rest of the silages that remains, but they are not designed to eat corn in large quantities. Apparently these cattle can end up with perforated guts, which cause great suffering and which they may die from. I have even heard of cattle being fattened on anything from potato crisps to M&M’s, meat products and other animal by-products, linking this to Mad Cows Disease. And of course anti-biotics and other drugs and hormones, which are then passed onto us, causing things like antibiotic-resistant bacteria’s. I have also just recently read an article about the residue of anitbiotics in cow manure being found in soil where the manure was used as compost! Our South African lamb I think is mostly free-range, but here Animal Voice is working with the farmers in the area of the protection of predators that cause a huge problem for farmers, due to stock losses. There are farmers that still use gin-traps to catch these predators. Although there has been much progress in this area, it probably still has a long way to go.
This book really pricked my conscience with regards to the choices that we as consumers make. While free-range beef and lamb are easier to come by, pork is not. I have managed at times to source free-range pork and I could tell the difference. I did a ‘taste test’ with my family on a pork roast and some pork chops, and we were all in agreement that the taste was better, moist and not stringy, and the crackling crunchier and more edible. In fact the pork chops in particular were by far the best I have ever tasted, full of flavour, and not like dried sawdust as were my previous experiences with factory pork. As people are becoming more educated and aware, thankfully there are now quite a few producers and suppliers of good organic, free-range, grass fed meats, and cured products, including bacon, so there is no excuse. There are also many other online shops. Surely if we start questioning our supermarkets and restaurants about the source of our meat and the conditions under which it has been produced, and only buy free-range instead of mass produced, inhumanely treated, factory farmed meat, that is not even good for our health? Surely it is all about supply and demand? I would like to think that as people educate themselves on these matters, then surely for their own health sakes and for the sakes of those animals with no voice, there will be change? If we as educated people have heard the truth, how can we pretend that it isn’t happening, or that it doesn’t matter? When we know, then we need to choose to make a change, however small, one step at a time.
Unless we vote with our fork and our purses, there will never be change. Inform yourself on what you are buying. Try and put a face to that animal on your plate. Ignorance is not innocence. In this day and age we have no excuse.
Having recently attended the book launch of a new book ‘Farmageddon – the true cost of cheap meat’ by the CE of Compassion in World Farming, Philip Lymbery, it has once again brought to the fore the plight of farm animals. Philip shared some of his findings on his travels while doing research. What they are also trying to do is educate people of the danger of factory farming to the environment, and their own health. I am still wanting to read this book, but am sure that it will only further cement my views and feelings on the subject of factory farming.
For a list of shops and markets where free-range/organic produce is available, check out the Urban Sprout. I too am going to do a post on the various shops etc that I have managed to actually buy produce from, and give you my opinion on these, but for now remember this quote and do something!
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)