factory farms | Food & Water Watch - Part 7
Victory! Farm Bureau case challenging EPA’s right to share factory farm data dismissed. more wins »


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Blog Posts: Factory farms

May 17th, 2012

Why Did O’Malley Cross the Road? Because Big Chicken Told Him To

Scott Edwards, co-director of the Food & Water Justice project

By Scott Edwards

This originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Just last week Food & Water Watch broke a story about extremely close ties between Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley and the poultry company Perdue.  O’Malley’s closeness to Perdue was evidenced in 70 pages of emails acquired under a state freedom of information request; they are largely between O’Malley and Perdue’s general counsel, Herb Frerichs. As revealing as the emails are, subsequent disclosures indicate that the relationship may be even more of a tangled web than was originally thought. 

Maryland is home to the Perdue chicken empire, a multibillion-dollar industry that has managed to game the system to avoid responsibility for its waste in a way that few companies have achieved. Proper disposal of the hundreds of thousands of tons of manure from its very profitable enterprise is critical given that agriculture, including Perdue’s chicken farms, remains the largest source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and many other waterways across the country.   Read the full article…

May 7th, 2012

Emails Reveal Cozy Relationship Between Gov. Martin O’Malley and Perdue

By Wenonah Hauter 

Image By: Maryland Office of the Governor, Maryland State Archives (flickr.com/MDGOVPICS)

*Updated May 9

During the 2012 Maryland legislative session, the burning of pollutant-laden chicken poop was embraced as a Tier I renewable energy resource, while readily available, clean wind power was dead. In Maryland, chicken is truly king. Or, as a series of emails obtained from Martin O’Malley’s office to a Perdue official indicate, it’s at least Governor. 

Food & Water Watch obtained the emails through a Public Information Act request for all correspondence between the Governor’s office and the giant Eastern Shore poultry company. 

In one back-and-forth between O’Malley and the Perdue representative from March 2011, the Governor acknowledges that wind energy may cost the poultry industry “18 cents to $2 additional per month at the outset,” but suggests that the cost is well worth it because “kids keep dying in the middle east.”

Eighteen cents a month to keep kids from dying in the Middle East was, apparently, a price too high to pay for the industry; Perdue responded by complaining of the additional costs to the integrators and stating that wind “is not high on [its] list of concerns.” Perdue, however, did buy into the chicken manure-to-energy scheme as a way to offload some of its mountains of waste in the state. And thanks to companies like Perdue, today in Maryland chicken crap is renewable, and wind is not. 

The 70 pages of emails we obtained were almost exclusively between O’Malley and Perdue’s General Counsel, Herb Frerichs. Mr. Frerichs is also a partner at the law firm that represents Perdue in the Clean Water Act suit bought by environmentalists for pollution coming from one of the company’s contract growers’ facilities. The emails depict a very close and personal relationship between the Governor and Frerichs, who were classmates at the Maryland School of Law in the mid-to-late 1980s. Read the full article…

May 2nd, 2012

Banking on the Bay

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

It used to be that unscrupulous salesmen would try to sell you the bridge; nowadays, they’ve climbed a rung lower – they’re trying to sell you the public trust water flowing under the bridge. A recent website, thebaybank.org, has planted a giant “For Sale” sign on the Chesapeake Bay and the stage is now set to create a marketplace out of this sacred common resource, with the Bay being sold off credit-by-credit.

So what exactly do you get when you buy a credit on Baybank’s website? You don’t actually get a cup of Bay water. The water bottling companies have already figured out how to commoditize our water resources by pouring it into containers and selling it in the supermarkets. Baybank actually promotes a much more insidious way to market our waterways – they’re facilitating the sale of the right to pollute the Bay with more of the same contaminants that are already threatening the very future of this important watershed.

Here how water pollution trading—also known as water quality trading—is supposed to work: instead of recognizing that waterways are owned by everyone as a public trust and enforcing the prohibition on polluting our water, these market-based approaches allow some polluters to claim they’ve decreased their pollution and then sell that alleged decrease, in the form of pollution credits, to other polluters who want to increase their pollution. Read the full article…

April 27th, 2012

5 Reasons a “Global Cattle Drive” to China Is a Bad Idea

By Wenonah Hauter

The Wall Street Journal reports that China is importing 100,000 heifers — 25 ships’ worth — to boost domestic dairy production in the wake of melamine and other milk-powder scandals that have decimated China’s relatively small dairy industry since 2008.

Where to begin? There are so many problems with this scenario, but here are just five reasons why this is a terribly bad idea:

1) The cows are destined for factory farms. China may be importing the cattle from Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand, but they are importing the model for factory farming from the U.S. The animals’ long nightmare starts on a harrowing journey overseas in ships, where they are confined tightly and face multiple health issues that may result in death. Those buried at sea might be the luckiest cattle, because once the animals get through the 45-day quarantine, they will continue their confinement in “football-field-size sheds” that resemble electronics factories more than farms and are milked three times a day on “bovine merry-go-rounds,” according to Wall Street Journal reporter Alex Frangos. Read the full article…

Farm Bill Update

Food Policy Director Patty Lovera

Patty Lovera, Assistant Director and Food Policy Director, Food & Water Watch

By Patty Lovera

Yesterday, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed its version of the 2012 farm bill. The next step in the process is for the bill to go to the Senate floor. We do not know when that will happen, although the Chair of the committee, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), says it will be in “a few weeks.” 

Overall, this is not the fair farm bill we have been fighting for, although there are a few bright spots (mostly on existing programs that were threatened but survived.) The Senate bill cuts support for nutrition programs that feed the neediest families, fails to provide an adequate safety net for farmers when prices are low and costs are high, and does nothing to address the power of big agribusiness over farmers and consumers. While it increased funding for some local food systems and organic farm programs, the funding for these programs remains about one out of every thousand dollars spent by this bill.

The Senate Agriculture committee kept the bill secret for months and only released it to the public less than a week before it was passed out of committee. Over a hundred amendments were listed when the committee met to consider the bill, however many of them were never introduced for a vote. Some of the potential amendments would have been dramatic improvements to the bill, such as Senator Grassley’s packer ban amendment and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-New York) amendment to fund research into non-GE seeds and animal breeds, but these were not put up for a vote. Read the full article…

April 24th, 2012

What Is Mad Cow Disease?

Food & Water Watch talks about why we can do more to prevent mad cow disease.Today, the USDA announced that a dairy cow in California’s Central Valley tested positive for Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), otherwise known as mad cow disease. Mad cow disease is spread among cattle when their feed contains infectious material from other cattle or sheep, which get a similar disease called scrapie.

While the U.S. has strengthened some rules to protect the public from mad cow disease, they have not gone far enough. Practices are still allowed which can spread mad cow disease, such as allowing cows to eat waste from the floors of poultry houses, cattle blood, and processed leftovers from restaurants. Testing for the disease should also be expanded.

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April 19th, 2012

Walmart Gets an A on Greenwash but an F on Actual Sustainability

by Patty Lovera

It’s been a busy week for the folks who work hard to put the green sheen on Walmart’s public image. To counter the spin, Food & Water Watch and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance have put together the Top 10 Ways Walmart Fails on Sustainability for a little reality check. Check out my blog on Grist for an explanation of why it’s important for all of us to let Walmart know we see through their green smokescreen.

April 16th, 2012

I Did Not Get the Job

Tony Corbo, senior lobbyist

By Tony Corbo

Late Friday afternoon, I heard a knock on my office door. As I opened the door, a courier handed me a lengthy letter from Mike Brown, the President of the National Chicken Council, denying my request to be a company chicken sorter in a plant operating under the privatized inspection model that USDA has been running since 1998.

Mr. Brown explained that not anyone can walk off the street to be a company chicken sorter. He claimed that company employees receive extensive training before they can be assigned to the slaughter line. The letter stated:

“Company sorters must learn not only the technical requirements of the job, but must also be trained to comply with all relevant USDA and other government agency regulations. Most company sorters will have spent considerable time in training to recognize defects and deficiencies on chicken carcasses, and companies will have made substantial investments to ensure each employee performs competently…In other words, what you are requesting – a quick assignment on the evisceration line of a chicken processing plant of your choosing – is simply unrealistic.”

Mr. Brown never offered to show me the training materials that company employees are given to make them proficient to work on the slaughter line or how the training compares with that required of USDA inspectors before they are assigned on the slaughter line.

This morning, I received an email from a USDA inspector who works in a poultry slaughter plant.  She made the following observation:

“By their own admissions, many (company employees) have stated that they don’t have a clue what they would be looking for if they had our job. They also have indicated that they do not believe they would receive the proper training to perform the duties of an inspector and, if the lines were sped up, there would be no way of keeping up. I have also heard (company employees) make comments to the extent that they don’t feel it would be right for them to do the job of an inspector without getting the same pay so ‘why should I care what goes down the line?’” Read the full article…

April 13th, 2012

“Pretty Please” is Not Enough. Why FDA Should Ban Subtherapeutic Use of Antibiotics in Livestock

By Sarah Borron

For decades, farmers have given livestock low doses of antibiotics in their feed to speed growth and prevent infection. And, for decades, scientists and public health officials have warned that this practice, known as “subtherapeutic use,” leads to the creation and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have grown more common both in people and in meat at the grocery store. Doctors encounter patients with infections that are harder to treat and last year, we saw a massive food recall—the third-largest recall of meat in USDA’s records—thanks to antibiotic-resistant Salmonella in ground turkey.

The FDA acknowledges there’s a problem, but has done little to actually rein it in. The agency tracks antibiotic resistance in bacteria in meat and has created regulations to limit subtherapeutic uses in two classes of antibiotics, but has mostly focused on voluntary initiatives, citing lack of resources to implement enforceable rules.

Finally, the warnings from a vast chorus of science, health and consumer experts and the evidence that subtherapeutic use is a serious health concern could no longer be ignored. The last three weeks have brought about promising movement towards curtailing the dangerous practice, but we still have a long way to go.  

First, on March 23, the FDA lost a lawsuit. A federal judge ruled that the agency must act on a proposal it made in 1977 to prevent two antibiotics important to human medicine – tetracyclines and penicillins – from being given routinely to healthy livestock. After citizen petitions in 1999 and 2005 and a lawsuit filed last year, FDA finally took action—quietly withdrawing the proposal just before Christmas—but the federal judge ruled that FDA actually had to address the concerns it identified over thirty years ago. The drug manufacturers will have a chance to make their case that the drugs are safe to feed to livestock routinely. But if they aren’t able to (and science indicates they won’t), the FDA must withdraw its approval of subtherapeutic uses of the drugs. Read the full article…

February 2nd, 2012

Meet Carole Morison

Crossposted from Ecocentric

by Chris Hunt

Download the podcast.

When I first met Carole Morison in 2006, she and her family operated an industrial poultry facility on the Delmarva Peninsula where they’d been raising chickens under contract with agri-giant, Perdue, for two decades.  In her spare time, Carole was an outspoken critic of factory farming, a staunch advocate for farmworkers’ rights and an effective organizer intent on exposing the ills of the industrial livestock production system in which she was so deeply involved.

Purdue couldn’t stand Carole.  I liked her immediately.

It was clear to me from the start that Carole wasn’t a follow-the-crowd sort of person; indeed, she demonstrates the classic characteristics that make the American farmer great: fierce independence combined with a strong dedication to community, a steadfast commitment to justice and the unwavering resolve to voice her beliefs.

In 2008, Carole was featured prominently in Food, Inc. In it, she described her experience as a contract poultry producer, telling one of the most compelling – and heart-wrenching – stories included in the landmark film.  The same year, Purdue terminated the Morisons’ contract, leaving them with empty single-purpose industrial poultry barns in which they’d already invested hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The American farmer has always been known for the ability to solve problems through prudence, resourcefulness and innovation – and Carole Morison is no exception.  Ultimately, she and her husband repurposed one of their old industrial chicken barns and transitioned the facility into a humane, sustainable farm for laying hens.

But the American farmer has always been known for ingenuity and the ability to solve problems through prudence, resourcefulness and innovation – and Carole Morison is no exception.  Ultimately, she and her husband repurposed one of their old industrial chicken barns and transitioned the facility into a humane, sustainable farm for laying hens.  The fruit of their labor, Bird’s Eye View Farm, was recently certified as the first Animal Welfare Approved farm on the Delmarva Peninsula.

An effective shift from the industrial food system of the past to the sustainable model of the future will require widespread implementation of exactly this sort of agricultural transition. Ultimately, Carole’s is a story of hope and triumph, not just for the Morisons and sustainable food advocates, but for all of us.

In this Our Heroes podcast, Carole discusses her own transition to sustainable agriculture, the challenges currently facing other industrial producers hoping to make similar transitions, the impact of her involvement in Food, Inc.and the joys of raising Rhode Island Red hens.

Listen to the 34-minute interview by clicking on the audio player (above left), download as a podcast or read a PDF transcript. Find an excerpt from the interview below.

You can learn more about Carole’s transition to sustainable egg production (along with her outstanding insights into the food system) by reading her blog, Food for Thought.

Q: For those who are unfamiliar with the poultry industry and with your involvement in it, can you give us some background?

We raised chickens under contract for an international corporation for 23 years.  It was industrial production… I married into it. When I first started, I was under the impression that that’s the only way you raise chickens. Throughout the adventure of raising the chickens under contract, it became more and more evident that there were a lot of things wrong with the whole system of industrial production. And that kind of led me to speak out about the industry practices… I didn’t like what we were doing, and chickens were like a number. We just counted flock after flock of chickens.

So that led me to speak out about things: environmental issues, public health issues, worker issues. I mean, the industry is just rampant with all kinds of issues and it’s a system that I finally came to understand is not sustainable. I think the biggest problem is that there is no care about how the animals are raised, how they go to market, just as long as we mass produce. There is no concern for the farmers, or the workers, or their welfare; they’re just another cog in the wheel that’s going to move these chickens to market… And to me, it’s driven by greed. The corporations that dominate the industry, their bottom line is the dollar, and nothing else matters… There were really no scruples or morals within when it pertained to anything. I think that’s what bothered me the most, was the lack of care for anything.

Q: How did you make the transition from industrial farming to sustainable?

Between 2010 and 2011, I had the opportunity to see a lot of different ways of farming. And you know, it started giving me ideas. Well, maybe we could do this on the farm, or maybe we could do that on the farm. We wanted to do meat – chicken, pasture raised. However, the infrastructure here on the Delmarva Peninsula doesn’t exist to support independent production; everything is owned by industry… So then we came up with the idea of laying hens. There is not a lot to the processing; we do everything right here on the farm. And transportation – we’re working that out now; we’re going to piggyback with someone who is hauling another load to where our market is. And that way we can cut down on costs.

We were able to retool one of the chicken houses using some of the equipment that was already in there. The major thing was taking off the curtains that were on the sides; they were what they call “dark-out curtains,” which made everything inside really dark. So we took them off and put clear on so the chickens have fresh sunlight and air all the time, unless it’s really cold out. But they still have the sunlight with the clear curtains, which I love.

And we cut access doors so that the chickens could roam in and out freely as they want to during the day. We do put them up at night for predator control; we have a lot of foxes here. So yeah; it was fairly simple. First I kind of looked at it as a real daunting task, but it was fairly simple to do.

Q: Do you get the sense that there are many other industrial producers who would like to make a similar transition?

Definitely…We’ve already had farmers come to visit individually and take a look at what we’re doing. Yes, there’re definitely farmers out there who would like to get out of the system they’re in. And right now they’re stuck simply because, like I mentioned earlier, there’s no infrastructure to help the independent farmer or that the independent farmer can use. There’re no government programs that the farmer can go through to get up and running, and there’re just a whole lot of roadblocks there.

Q: How did the experience of being featured in Food, Inc. affect you and your work?

I think it made me seek out answers instead of always pointing out the problems. For a long time, even before Food, Inc., I worked on problems within the poultry industry, whether they were environmental, worker related, public health, whatever. However, after Food, Inc. and being in touch with so many different people around the country, it was kind of like, well, yeah, there’re problems there; they are not going away. But let’s see if we can’t find some solutions that will give both farmers and consumers choices, instead of being stuck in one system of producing food.

Q: What can people do to support sustainable chicken production and sustainable egg production in the US?

I think the biggest thing that people can do is to support their local farmer – your small farmer who is producing locally… And when you’re in the grocery store, if they are not carrying a product, talk to the manager in the grocery store and ask, “Why not?” Or say you’d like to see that product on the shelf. Consumer demand is what’s going to be the ultimate drive…  And without the support from the community and the consumers, it’s not going to happen. That’s just point blank the way I see it…

The biggest thing that I’m hearing from potential buyers is that the supply can’t meet the demand. They need more farmers; they need more people producing food to be able to carry the local foods. So we need to find farmers. And I think there’re more and more people who are doing it, getting into it on a smaller basis. You can produce a lot on five acres, believe it or not. It doesn’t take hundreds or thousands of acres to be able to do it. So I just think that we’re going to see it moving forward, rapidly.

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