Arguing Cause Emilie Brouse

I found this research to be particularly interesting: I found the topic in general that I chose for the Arguing Cause paper particularly interesting. It was interesting to learn more about the methods of industrial agriculture and uncover some hidden truths.

This part of my annotated bibliography was surprisingly difficult: I didn't encounter any particular difficulties during this assignment.

Next time I would do this differently: Next time, I would try to begin with a stronger base to work from and give myself more time.


The Life Behind the Livestock— Industrial Agriculture's Lethal System

Modern industrial agriculture is an intensive method of farming that uses modern equipment, structures, tools and techniques for large-scale production. With this large-scale production comes certain advantages, but there are also many drawbacks. There are an alarming amount of factors that have contributed to the harmful effects incurred through the practices of industrial agriculture. Some of the causes of these effects are clear for everyone to see— chemical fertilizers that produce runoff into our ecosystems, the use of fossil fuels' contribution to ozone pollution and global warming, and continuous disruptive land use, to name a few. But some ultimate causes of the issue are not so blatantly obvious. There is detrimental indirect cost in the actual livestock production methods used in industrial agriculture. The use of a small number of very large, confined animal feeding operations plays a significant role in this indirect cost. These methods are often overlooked, but contribute heavily to global warming and ozone pollution, which in turn have a hugely negative impact on agriculture and the rest of society.

Confined animal feeding operations are characterized by a large number of animals crowded into a confined space. This is an extremely unnatural and unhealthy living condition. These operations allow minimal room for normal animal behaviors and little or no access to sunlight or fresh air. The animals are mutilated to adapt to factory farm conditions through horrible acts like cutting off the beaks of chickens and turkeys (de-beaking) and amputating the tails of cows and pigs (docking). Pens and cages restrict the natural behavior and movement of these animals— in some cases, the animals can't even turn around. The concentration of large amounts of manure in small areas is a problem for storage and disposal and contributes to water and air pollution. Technological "fixes" like antibiotics are excessively used in livestock as well and have been proven to cause human disease. Although confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) comprise only about 5 percent of animal operations in the United States, they produce more than 50 percent of our "food animals". They also produce about 65 percent of the manure— almost 300 million tons per year.

An increasing number of "food animals" that were once raised on pastures are now raised in feedlots. These animals are kept indoors for the majority of the year and given feed formulated to speed their growth to market weight, all while minimizing costs to operators. These grain-based diets can produce serious, sometimes fatal problems in the digestive tract of "food animals," whose stomachs are better suited to digesting plants like grass. Additionally, studies have shown that the chemical additives in feed can accumulate in the animal's tissue and expose consumers to unhealthy chemicals and heavy metals. Consumers must stop and consider how these conditions can affect animal health, and thus the health of people who consume these animal products.

Policies enforced on farms have been shown to favor these large operations. Federal policies encourage the production of inexpensive grain for CAFOs. CAFOs rely on cheap inputs like feed, water and energy to run their operations. Meat processor's production contracts and animal ownership regulations have also provided means of economic control over these operations. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, "The predominance of CAFOs is not the inevitable result of market forces; it's been fostered by misguided public policy. Alternative production methods can be economically efficient and technologically sophisticated, and can deliver abundant animal products while avoiding most of the problems caused by CAFOs. However, these alternatives are at a competitive disadvantage because CAFOs have reduced their costs through subsidies that come at the public's expense, including (until very recently) low-cost feed. CAFOs have also benefited from taxpayer-supported pollution cleanup programs and technological "fixes" that may be counterproductive, such as the overuse of antibiotics." These CAFOs shift the risks of their production methods onto the public to avoid the costs of the harm they actually cause. Additionally, the fact that the meat processing industry is dominated by a few large, powerful companies makes it difficult for any other producer to market their product. This intense market concentration is allowed by lax enforcement of laws put in place to prevent competitive practices.

The Center for Science and Democracy agrees. They argue that the impacts of industrial agriculture on the environment, public health, and rural communities make it an unsustainable way to grow our food over the long term. Better, science-based methods are available. In the Center's article titled "Industrial Agriculture," it states: "In the industrial system of meat production, meat animals are "finished"—prepared for slaughter—at large-scale facilities called CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations), where their mobility is restricted and they are fed a high-calorie, grain-based diet often supplemented with antibiotics and hormones to maximize their weight gain. Their waste is concentrated and becomes an environmental problem, not the convenient source of fertilizer that manure can be for more diverse, less massively scaled farms." To me, this quote serves as solid evidence from a reliable source that the current agricultural practices in place are all wrong.

Though the hugely negative impact these methods are inflicting on our environment may be clear to see, some choose to simply reap the benefits of the system. Many people of our society adhere to the harmful practices of industrial agriculture rather than oppose them, and see it as a productive and beneficial practice. These are people who argue that the benefits of industrial agriculture have been things such as cheap food, an increase in the country's export market, local productivity, a transition of labor on the farm to employment in other sectors and profitable chemical and agricultural industries. The biotechnology and modern farming methods of industrial agriculture have made it possible for more food to be readily available at lower prices than ever before. And because food has become cheaper to produce, farmers can grow or raise a large variety of plants and livestock. Advancements in biotechnology have resulted in things like hybrid varieties and disease resistant plants that can be grown in more places. Farmers also have greater access to water due to irrigation. The access to fertilizers and other technologies, such as greenhouses, have lengthened the growing season and allowed places that were previously unable to grow crops to now be cultivated into farm land. Advancements in shipping and storing technology have also proven beneficial in the eyes of those who argue for the continuation of the current system of industrial agriculture. There have been great advancements in the methods of packaging, preservation and delivery of the products of agriculture. These goods are being delivered to markets and grocery stores at a more time efficient pace than ever before. Large commercial industrial farms run by corporate giants like Tyson, ConAgra and Cargill account for the majority of these farm sales in the country. According to the Alberni Environmental Coalition, since 1993, only 6 percent of all US farms accounted for 56 percent of farm sales. These farms are industrial giants and, in the eyes of corporate, extremely beneficial to all of society. But what about the lives of the animals?

There is a large degree of corporate involvement in the lives of animals used for industrial agriculture. Corporations enforce livestock contracts with the farmers that raise the animals. The corporation controls the variety of breed and inputs (like feed) until the animal is raised, then the company collects, processes and distributes the product. According to Sustainable Table, while this style of contract farming may be efficient and is satisfying the demand for product, it's an extremely harmful means of production. Industrial agriculture of today forces farmers into debt, supports farming practices that harm the environment and abuse animals, and compromises the quality of the food we eat as well as the soil on which it is grown. It is only a small piece of the grander scale of corporate ownership in agriculture. In addition to contracting with farms to raise their crop or livestock, corporations will own a seed or feed company, a farm supply company, or a processing and distribution company. This ownership allows them to profit from every level of food production without actually investing in the permanent naturally producing assets like the land or the animals themselves.

This system of production is often referred to as "vertical integration"— a management style that brings large portions of the supply chain not only under a common ownership, but into one primary corporation. And while in some areas of industry, this system is acceptable, it has many awful consequences in the case of agriculture. With this current system in place, the farmers are taking all of the risk and the companies are receiving all of the benefits. Vertical integration and contract farming forces farmers into debt, supports practices that harm the environment and abuse animals, and lowers the quality of the food we eat and the soil on which it's grown. Though the current system may appear to be working for us, we must consider the many negative components of the system of agriculture here in the U.S. and try to rid ourselves of the long held corporate-owned agriculture mentality. This attitude of acceptance and turning a cheek toward these harmful practices provides perpetual support for such an inhumane system's prevalence in our world.

Works Cited:

n.p. USCUSA. Union of Concerned Scientists, 2012. Web. March 2014. http://www.ucsusa.org

Halden, Rolf U. MS, PhD and Schwab, Kellogg J. PhD. National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, 2008. Web. March 2014.

n.p. Sustainable Table. Grace Communications Foundation, 1997. Web. March 2014. http://www.sustainabletable.org

Clunies-Ross, Tracey and Hildyard, Nicholas. The Politics of Industrial Agriculture. Florence: Routledge, 2013. March 2014. Print.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License