Sunday, August 15, 2010

CAFO Alley

Driving from Kansas to New Mexico takes you through the Oklahoma panhandle and the very corner of Texas. It's not a lot of miles, but it takes you past almost half-a-dozen Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, usually abbreviated as CAFOs.

I've known about CAFOs since reading Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation almost 10 years ago, but I had never seen one until this trip.

First there was one belonging to a business called Seaboard Farms. Odd name -- since they're nowhere near the sea, have nothing to do with seafood, and are not a farm in anyone's usual definition of the word.

Green grass in foreground with expanse of animals along the horizon behind a fence
I know it's hard to see in this photo shot from a moving car, but beyond that inviting-looking grass in the foreground, there's a dirt expanse populated by thousands of cows, with industrial-looking buildings dotted along the way. This is only part of its length. And it wasn't the only Seaboard-operated CAFO that I saw.

Blurry but clear photo of a white cow from part of the larger photoSeaboard's website focuses on its products, which appear to be pork, so I don't know why this image at full size clearly shows cows in the foreground (partial close-up shown at right). Their sustainability report gives a lot of information on how they're working to limit environmental problems, but it doesn't include any photos that show what their CAFOs look like.

Cows in close quarters, no grass, no trees
Next was an even larger CAFO owned by Cargill, the giant Minnesota-based agribusiness. This one went on for over a half-mile, possibly as much as a mile.

Same photo showing more width, cows are harder to make out
I didn't have the luxury of taking a decent shot of this one either, once I noticed this sign:

Cargill sign warning that no photos are allowed of the CAFO because it is a Bio-Secure Facility
It's not hard to imagine why they want no photos taken.

Finally, I saw this CAFO, which I believe had a sign saying it was owned by CSS Farms:

Many cows in a dirt field behind a fence
More cows, standing or lying on dirt without a bit of grass, let alone shade from any trees. (It was about 100 degrees outside.) Looking at the CSS Farms website, I see no mention of beef as a product, just lots of potatoes and other produce, and photos like this:

Beautiful field of green plants with flowers, large mountains in the background
If I'm mistaken about the CAFO belonging to CSS, perhaps someone from the company will let me know.

The term CAFO was created by the Environmental Protection Agency. If you wonder why the EPA would care about CAFOs, it's because when such a large number of animals are kept in the same area, their waste creates an environmental hazard when it is either kept in lagoons or sprayed onto land. Eventually it ends up in the water table.

Cows kept this way are also more susceptible to disease because of their close quarters and the stress their bodies experience from eating corn instead of grass, which is the food their bodies are made to eat. ("Corn-fed" should not be an effective marketing buzz word -- in fact, it should be a marketing buzz-kill, if people understood the problems of feeding corn to ruminants.) All of this means the corporate farm operators want to keep the cows "healthy" despite conditions...ergo the cows are given antibiotics. And by now, we all know what that means.

And, of course, there's the question of whether this is humane treatment of animals in the first place.

I didn't go along this road looking for CAFOs. In fact, when I saw the first Seaboard Farms lot, I didn't even realize what it was right off the bat. But it didn't take long to see why this way of treating animals and providing cheap food has gotten such a bad reputation.

1 comment:

David Steinlicht said...

This post is making me hungry for a hamburger. Or perhaps a nice ham sandwich.

Okay, not really.

But it is great to see where stuff REALLY comes from, not just the supplied photos.

And you have a great point about the phrase, "corn-fed."

Thanks, D#3!