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Our Food


OVERVIEW

 

 

 
 

Overview

Vegetarianism & Veganism

Factory Farming

Contaminated Food

Animal Agriculture & the Environment

Animal-based Diets & Human Health

Opposite Trends in Agribusiness

Humane Animal Husbandry: A Myth

Humane Slaughter:
A Contradiction in Terms

Selected Bibliography

 

 


Judaism & Animals:  Vegetarianism

Islam & Animals: Vegetarianism

Christianity & Animals
Vegetarianism

 

 


How Long Animals Live

Who Controls the Food Supply

 

 

 

    What's the reality for veal cows?

What Is Industrialized Food Production?

Who Are the Major Food Producers?

Who Really Owns the Factory Farms?

What Is the Role of the U.S. Government in the Development of Factory Farming?

What Is the Effect of Regional and International Trade Agreements?

Is There Factory Farming in Israel?

 

Called the New Agriculture, it is the result of the determined, thirty-year evolution in animal production that applies all contemporary business, processing, and marketing practices to the delivery of pork, beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, and fish to the consumer. Since the early 1970s, life on the farm has changed radically, and identically, all over the world.

 

What Is Industrialized Food Production?

Today's farms closely resemble industrial factories, fine-tuned to meet the demand for its production "units" — animals. Sophisticated mechanization is the cornerstone of contemporary farming, including automation of feeding, watering, and climate management, along with intensive indoor confinement. Premiums are set for cost efficiencies, such as the most profitable ratio of caregivers (a typical 5,000 pig operation often has only one day-worker on the premises). Modern business concepts are applied to every phase, from the breeding station to the slaughterhouse, from butchering to packaging, and from marketing to consumer sales.

 

To achieve this, the animals have been moved from the fields to feedlots, and now to shrinking indoor pens. Not long ago, our livestock grazed; today they struggle for enough space to turn around. Crowded conditions create stress and a prime atmosphere for disease, so preemptive antibiotic programs are essential. Genetic modification helps to meet the trends of the marketplace, producing lower-fat beef and limited-cholesterol pork.

 

In addition, animal agriculture has been devastating for the environment. For example, the United Nations has cited animal agriculture as the number two cause of global warming, just slightly less destructive than energy production. According to a 2006 United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization report, animal-based agriculture emits more greenhouse gases than all the world's cars and other means of transportation combined.

 

Living and dying in overcrowded environments with no natural light, almost never attended to by veterinarians, brutally handled in transport, callously slaughtered on killing lines, and frequently skinned and butchered while half-alive, the mass-production approach to farming has become institutionalized animal cruelty on a global scale.

 

The average chicken lives 6 weeks, a pig 8 weeks, a goat 16 weeks, cattle and sheep 13 years. Almost no animals survive to maturity — they all die as juveniles.

 

Who Are the Major Food Producers?

The food industry is dominated by a small handful of massive, international conglomerates. In only a few decades, leading companies emerged through consolidation, aggressive expansion, mergers with competitors, acquisitions of independent farm holdings, and buy-outs of East European state-owned farms. In order to survive, the traditional or family farm can only become a subcontractor. Some unique businesses have managed to develop, such as organic produce suppliers and vegetarian packaged foods, but even though they operate in a niche market, their success attracts the interest of industry giants who can offer far greater profit and much better distribution. In the U.S., Silk, a supplier of soy milk and other dairy substitutes, is now a division of Dean Foods (one of the largest dairy corporations). Lightlife Foods, a successful manufacturer of vegetarian convenience foods, is now part of ConAgra (one of the world's largest factory farmers). The Boca Foods Company, famous for creating and popularizing frozen vegan patties, is now a subsidiary of Kraft Foods (an international manufacturer of processed meats and dairy items).

 

It is estimated that 80% of the world's food supply is controlled by only a few multinational enterprises. Among this elite group are: Tyson Foods, Inc., Smithfield Foods, Inc., Swift & Company, Hormel Foods Corporation, Sanderson Farms, Inc., Cargill, Inc., Archer Daniels Midland Company, and ConAgra Foods, Inc. The number of animals processed is staggering; for example, Tyson Foods kills 6,000,000 chickens, 30,000 cattle, 48,000 pigs every day.

REALITY CHECK: Who Controls the Food Supply

 

Who Really Owns the Factory Farms?

It may be you. Do you participate in a pension fund or other retirement investment account through your employer or union? Institutional investors (large private and labor investment funds), as well as individual, private mutual fund companies, invest heavily in the food industry. It is this funding from the private sector, like stocks or bonds, that fuels growth in any corporation. You may be surprised to discover that you are a part owner, through your shares in a mutual fund, of a company like Smithfield Farms. Are you comfortable knowing that the welfare of your family though insurance plans, your children's tuition account, and your own future retirement are derived from investment plans that support and strengthen factory farming? A very large percentage of the shares in food conglomerates are owned by the public through institutional investments and mutual funds — for example, 60% of Smithfield Farms (SFD) and 41% of Tyson Foods, Inc. (TSN).

 

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What Is the Role of the U.S. Government in the Development of Factory Farming?

Three critical pieces of federal legislation in the United States form the underpinning of government sponsorship of commercial agriculture: the Morrill Act (1862), the Hatch Act (1887), and the Smith-Lever Act (1914). The Morrill Act, also known as the Land Grant Act, provided a substantial grant of land to a state as a means of establishing a university that would embody open access and promote practical education. The Hatch Act created the agricultural experiment station for the benefit of students and farmers, supporting basic and applied animal research. The Smith-Lever Act extended these services into the community through the establishment of the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES). The cumulative accomplishment of these federal efforts established a strong support base for the farming community at the local level, where a well-endowed, large state university offers advanced agricultural research and training to citizens and businessmen alike. Outreach initiatives extend training programs to children, parents, and teachers. At the university level, extraordinarily high-quality agricultural institutions now exist.

 

All of this enormous enterprise is dedicated to the improvement of the larger community — and that includes each New Agriculture corporation. In fact, the expertise of all these institutions is available as a free, publicly funded, pragmatic, agriculture-oriented, research and development resource of enormous benefit to the animal industry. As the intensive farming system expands, challenges continually occur:

  • What new diseases might appear when our pigs are more crowded?

  • Where can we order gestation crates for pregnant sows?

  • How can we minimize mastitis now that our cows produce more milk?

  • What standards do we have to meet to qualify our veal as organic?

  • What techniques are available to make our cattle more cooperative in the slaughter chute?

  • How much blood can we draw, and at what intervals, from our horses?

  • How frequently should we force-feed our geese to bring them to market quickly?

  • What licensing is necessary to add an alligator operation on our chicken farm?

  • How can we limit bacterial diseases at our rabbit-breeding center and improve survival rates?

  • What design should we implement for our sheep feedlot?

  • What kind of shelter do we need for emus, and how small can we make the paddocks?

The relationship between these publicly-funded state universities and the business of farming is not limited to animal research, breeding, and production. It extends into every aspect of the animal corporation and includes information and training in business management practices, staff development, technology systems, data collection and statistics, farm architecture, feed requirements and distribution, food safety, marketing, legal regulations and compliance, export opportunities, transportation issues, insurance, disaster relief, farm economics and government subsidies, and strategies to influence public policy.

 

The Cooperative Extension Service describes its mandate as furthering consumer-driven agriculture. The most powerful consumer is, of course, the individual agriculture conglomerate itself (like Tyson Foods) and therefore this vast network of practical research institutions is not animal-centric but remains focused on the business needs of New Agriculture.

 

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What Is the Effect of Regional and International Trade Agreements?

The overwhelming priority of international trade agreements is to foster free enterprise through trade liberalization. Signatories to the agreements of the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiate and commit to a system of rules meant to assist producers, exporters, and importers of goods and services, so that they will participate equitably in the international marketplace. From the perspective of animal protection interests, agreements of this sort are more likely to have a damaging impact on animals and impede the development of more humane treatment of livestock. It is extremely difficult to enact, and maintain, animal protection laws when another country will register a challenge at the WTO based on the law's unfairly limiting foreign competition. In this way, some countries that have succeeded in banning the exploitation of certain animals cannot prevent import of that very product. In spite of this, some countries have taken a bold approach in certain cases, for example when the U.S. maintained a ban on kangaroo hide imports for 30 years in the face of a WTO challenge. It is reported that the EU, on the other hand, is reluctant to deny entry to products that locally could be outlawed, out of fear of a WTO challenge. In 1994, a new agreement was reached, through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), to correct trade imbalances, but it doesn't address growing animal exploitation.

 

The Common Agricultural Policy of the EU (CAP) is an example of a regional approach to trade, especially as it applies to agriculture. Finalized in 1957 at the Treaty of Rome, this policy follows a broad protectionist agenda, sustaining European farmers and associated industries through worker support, export subsidies, and the storage of surpluses. The European taxpayer foots the bill. Its mandate is to ensure a standard of living for the farm community through greater technical progress and agricultural productivity. This local approach encourages changes in farming practices to produce more and so pursue bigger financial support, and this leads to the intensification of factory farming (increasing animal suffering) as a way to meet foreign competition. CAP incentives are considered responsible for the severe decline in traditional farming as well as the loss of open farmland. Non-EU countries consider this to be extremely unfair competition and have exerted pressure for serious reform.

 

Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), some animals considered protected wildlife end up in intensive factory farms with the complicity of, and under the supervision of, CITES authorities. The snake farms along the Vietnamese border with China are an example of how this can occur. CITES prevents natives from capturing listed animals; however, it has accommodated these same hunters by helping them circumvent the agreement. The wild snakes are captured indeed, used as a seed generation to establish breeding stock, and eventually returned to the forests. The next generation is also not exported but held as captive breeders. All succeeding generations are reared in intensive-confinement systems and killed, skinned, butchered, or exported as legitimate livestock. CITES does help to prevent the extinction of these snakes, but at the same time it is responsible for creating a factory-farm industry where none existed before.

 

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Is There Factory Farming in Israel?

Agricultural trends in Israel closely parallel those in the rest of the world. The Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development reports that local livestock production is "characterized by very intensive use of technology. As a result, very high yields are obtained in many products. For example, average milk production has increased two and a half times since the 1950s." With the help of an advanced, and subsidized, agricultural research infrastructure long established in Israel's university system, the relationship between scientific investigation and practical application on factory farms is identical to that in Europe, the U.S., and other developed countries. Geographic limitations, like a scarcity of water resources and limited grazing land, ensure that farmed animals will be bred and raised in close quarters. Business requirements (convenience, low overhead, limited staffing, profit margins) demand ever-shrinking living space and, therefore, close confinement solutions and poor care.

 

As in other countries, there are government bureaucracies that set regulations for animal management and food safety. However, as elsewhere, animal welfare regulations are inadequate by humane standards, and government inspectors cannot provide the necessary oversight. Typically, interests of farmers and breeders influence any effective change to their own advantage, and the rare, hard-fought victories on behalf of animals are never a guarantee that they will survive legal challenges and be implemented. For example, the Supreme Court ban (2003) on force-feeding geese and ducks for foie gras finally went into effect in 2006, but the farmers are considering getting around the law by moving their operations across the border to Jordan.

 

Oded Nir, the Chief Veterinary Officer of the Israeli Veterinary Services at the Ministry of Agriculture, reported in March 2001 that no cases of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow disease) had ever been diagnosed in Israel. In his discussion of the background and threat of BSE, he states that the potential for this disease to enter the Israeli food chain is negligible and the threat minimal because clinical monitoring at the Kimron Veterinary Institute is "among the most efficient in the world." This takes the form of random sampling, sufficient only in his opinion. In May 2002, however, a case of BSE was diagnosed in a dairy herd on the Golan Heights. Dr. Nir filed an emergency report to the Office International des Epizooties (World Organization of Animal Health), and, in a briefing for journalists, he assured the public that the threat was very small. When cases of BSE do occur (as they have in the UK, Canada, the U.S., and now Israel), not enough emphasis is placed on contaminated animal feeds, whereas this is acknowledged to be the critical vector for BSE.

 

Israel participates in all aspects of animal-based agriculture:

  • Importing livestock for breeding and slaughter (in 2002, over 100,000 goats, calves and sheep were shipped live from Australia alone), as well as frozen meat (mostly from Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay)
     

  • Producing and slaughtering cattle, camels, chickens, ducks, fish, geese, goats, pigs, sheep, turkeys, as well as buffalo and ostriches (a local industry worth over $2 billion dollars, reflecting a significantly large animal-based factory farming industry)
     

  • Exporting a broad range of animals and animal products like bees, ducks, geese, ostriches, chickens, turkeys, and poultry breeding stock, as well as prepared and packaged foods (a dynamic industry with over 25 major exporters)

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Israel's imports and exports of livestock and animal products is valued at more than $150 million dollars annually. All forms of slaughter are practiced: kosher, non-kosher, and halal.

 

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