|From the Executive Director
"We know, at least, that this decision will help prevent deforestation, curb global warming, reduce pollution, save oil reserves, lessen the burden on rural America, decrease human rights abuses, improve public health, and help eliminate the most systematic animal abuse in world history." Jonathan Safran Foer in his 2009 book Eating Animals on his decision to eschew factory-farmed animal products.
In America, an astonishing · 99.9 percent of chickens raised for meat,· 99 percent of turkeys,· 97 percent of laying hens,· 95 percent of pigs and· 78 percent of cattleare raised on factory farms, also known as CAFOs or confined animal feeding operations.
The public libraries in Fairfield, CT are sponsoring a "One Book One Town" community-wide reading of Eating Animals this March. In addition to encouraging townsfolk to read the book, there will be a writing contest and several lectures including one by the author.
This book is a brave choice. The factory farm system is very powerful financially and politically. And, the stakes in the decision that Foer is asking his readers to think about are very high, as indicated in the quotation.
Just drawing attention to the issue may have good effects. Recent research, published by Kansas State University, US Meat Demand: The Influence of Animal Welfare Media Coverage, shows that media coverage (of just the animal welfare issue) causes consumers to eat less meet. As Foer points out, eating less meat is one of the best things Americans can do for their health, for the environment and, of course, for animal welfare.
I first heard of this book about a year ago when an old friend left me a message saying she had read the book and needed to know how to connect with local, sustainable meat producers. I referred her to the CT NOFA Guide to Farms and Food on our web site, www.ctnofa.org and to the local meat brochure on the CT Department of Agriculture’s web site. As far as I know, in our state, factory-farming methods are used solely for caged laying hens and some dairy cattle. See this Factory Farm Map.
There is another problem: cost. Connecticut farmers, including CT NOFA members, do raise some cattle, chickens, turkeys and pigs in more traditional ways that value the animals and their needs and don’t externalize so many environmental and health costs. Yet that meat is often very expensive. For example, just before Christmas, I saw a pork loin roast for sale at a butcher in Bridgeport for just over $3 a pound, while a pork loin chop from a heritage pig raised on a Connecticut farm cost over $13 per pound at a Litchfield County health food store. Paying closer to the real cost should make it easier to eat less meat, too.
Late last year, the Fairfield Public Library contacted me about giving a lecture as part of this community reading event. They sent me the book to read for background. I’ll talk about Raising Animals at the library on March 15, 2011 (**date change from original date of March 10th**). Here are a few notes I took from the book.
• In the past 50 years the average cost of new house is up nearly 1,500 percent, of new cars is up 1400 percent, but the price of milk is up only 350 percent and eggs and chicken meat have not even doubled (they’ve risen less than100 percent ). So that price for the local pork chop may be more in line with true prices.
• On average, Americans eat the equivalent of 21,000 entire animals in a lifetime.
• Americans consume 27-28 birds annually. If China and India did the same, they alone would consume as many chickens as the whole world does today. (I learned from someone else that the average American consumes as many eggs in a year as one chicken produces. That makes backyard flocks seem very sensible and the 3.5 million chickens in cages in eastern Connecticut a bit excessive.)
• We are breeding creatures incapable of surviving in any place other than the most artificial of settings. This is especially true of turkeys and chickens.
• In the past ten years alone, the number of farms raising pigs fell by more than two thirds. (Four companies now produce 60 percent of hogs in America.)
• The only jobs produced by the factory system are either bureaucratic desk jobs (few in number) or unskilled, dangerous and poorly paying (plentiful). There are no farmers on factory farms!
• The factory farm has succeeded by divorcing people from their food, eliminating farmers and ruling agriculture by corporate fiat.
• Food is not so much a symbol of freedom as the first requirement of freedom.
I’ll put together a resource list for my talk in March, but here are some resources for now from one of my favorite sources, Grist. The first details the problems with antibiotic use on factory farms and the second offers encouragement and resources to move away from meat gradually with Meatless Mondays.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.
Photo: laying hens at White Gate Farm, one of Connecticut's certified organic farms