CAFOs spread to the UK — industrial farming goes global
Unsettling news from the United Kingdom, where the first industrial dairy lot has being established, and 8100-cow facility in Lincolnshire. Local residents and humane societies have heard about CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operations) in the US, about the confined, daylight-deprived conditions stressed animals must endure, and about the lagoons of animal waste that neighbors of the lot have to put up with.
According to The Economist:
Transatlantic tales of overflowing lagoons depositing industrial quantities of waste into local rivers and waterways do little to inspire confidence (one spill in 2005 killed 375,000 fish and contaminated a 20-mile stretch of a river in New York state). A study carried out by Johns Hopkins University for the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production found evidence that those living near such farms suffered from asthma and other respiratory complaints…
Others fret about the welfare of the cows. Compassion in World Farming, a lobby group, fears that crowded-in heifers will be stressed and unhappy. Such objections may prove more potent than worries over pollution. The British are famously sensitive to animal welfare—similar concerns a decade ago led to tougher rules on pig husbandry…
While the British, who dote on their dogs and cats, may ultimately reject the factory farming model, England is not the only place where rapidly expanding demand is bringing an industrial approach to livestock management.
In 2005, the World Bank's released a report entitled of a Fast-Growing Sector. The thrust of the study was that there was "spectacular growth" in the demand for animal products (likely driven by expanding levels of affluence in emerging economies) in developing countries. The consumption of pork and chicken, for instance, shot up 150% between 1983 and 2002, with growth expected to expand still further in the years to come.
And, the report noted breezily, "
That is in fact exactly what's happening.
Brazil has expanded its meat and poultry production dramatically in the last decade, and Tyson, one of America's two largest poultry producers, has now established a Brazilian subsidiary, Tyson do Brasil. The industrial agriculture-watching blog Down on the Factory reports that Tyson planned to invest more than $160 million in operations by this summer — which in Tyson's case mean extremely confined, high-volume, high-efficiency, enclosed factory facilities.
"Large-scale, intensive, meat-producing enterprises are therefore the main source of growth in meeting the increased demand for meat in the developing world," says the World Bank.
Now, that's bad enough on a strictly numerical level. Just when we may be seeing some progress in establishing more humane and environmentally sustainable standards for factory farms in the US, the model may expand logarithmically across the globe.
My great fear, however, is that whatever difficulties we have had in uncovering inhumane practices, environmental threats and health risks connected with factory farming here in the US are going to be infinitely greater in developing economies. Where governments are corrupt or less efficient than our own (and our own is getting bad enough at regulation-enforcement), where mores and ethics about the treatment of livestock are less sensitive, and where economic and physical survival are primary concerns, you may find fertile soil for CAFOs to spread rapidly — with potentially even greater environmental and health effects.
All of which sets up, as the World Bank report notes, "The extraordinary proximate concentration of people and livestock, pos[ing] probably one of the most serious environmental and public health challenges for the coming decades."
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