Factory Farms | Food & Water Watch - Part 7
Victory! Cleveland passes resolution against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. more wins »


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Blog Posts: Factory farms

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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December 22nd, 2011

Five Outrageous Food Stories of 2011

By Rich Bindell

Natural flavors in foodThere’s never a shortage of interesting and incendiary stories about food issues to choose from at the end of the year. This year is no exception. As we continue to build our campaign to improve the Farm Bill in 2012, we can see examples of why this work is so important just by taking a look at some of the most outrageous food stories of 2011…

1. Attack on Food Safety Budgets

2011 started out with a bang; our food safety programs got banged up by threatened budget cuts. In addition, we witnessed a number of food recalls due to contamination that threatened public health with serious illness and, in some cases, even death. It’s not a surprise that a large and complex food system such as ours requires an aggressive approach to food safety. Unfortunately, federal and state governments’ ability to use that strategy was weakened when food safety budgets were slashed. While the meat and poultry inspection program at USDA escaped relatively unscathed, the Food and Drug Administration didn’t fare as well. FDA’s budget only allotted about half of what it needed to put the newly passed Food Safety Modernization Act into action. In 2012, Congress needs to get their food safety priorities in order. Read the full article…

December 13th, 2011

Trading in India While Trading Away The Bay

Learn more about the Clean Water Act case against Perdue and one of its contract poultry operations.By Michele Merkel

Governor Martin O’Malley has spent an enormous amount of time talking about the successes of his trade mission to India. Meanwhile, he falters on an issue of importance to all Marylanders: the health of the Chesapeake Bay. And while he’s talking trade in India, back home he’s bartering the Bay’s future for the support of industrial agriculture. To add insult to injury, he’s maligning the environmental law students that are giving their time and expertise to help undo this calamity.

On November 14, Governor O’Malley sent out two letters just before fleeing to India. One was to his fellow governors across the country urging them to join him and his wife in taking a “Stop Bullying, Speak Up” pledge to end the bullying of students in schools throughout the nation. The second was to the Maryland School of Law in which he ignored his oath and tried to bully the students in the environmental law clinic into representing polluters instead of working to fulfill the Clinic’s mission to protect the Bay.

For a man who’s already anointed himself as the Democratic presidential candidate for 2016, the letter showed a complete lack of balanced leadership. For an attorney, it showed a total disregard for equity and the sanctity of the judicial process. For a man who prides himself on his environmental record, it showed an inexcusable ignorance of the largest threat to one of the most important waterways in the country. And for an anti-bullying crusader, it showed an inexcusable level of hypocrisy that has become all too commonplace among our political leaders.

The Chesapeake Bay is dying. Like many other waterways in the country, it’s being hammered by nutrient and sediment pollution from irresponsible industrial agriculture operations. A 2010 EPA report finds that pollution from agriculture is overwhelmingly the largest source of these pollutants to the Bay. Waste from factory farm operations account for a good portion of the nutrients poisoning the waters. Read the full article…

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December 6th, 2011

Just Say “No” to Corporate Bullying

By Rich Bindell

Bullying is usually discussed in the context of kids—misguided youth who don’t have the maturity to know better. But, what about the bullying that happens in business, perpetrated by adults? We certainly know of a few companies within our food system that would qualify as bullies. Instead of fists, they use expensive attorneys, lobbying power and—in a strange twist—even anti-bullying politicians.

For years, Monsanto has usually gotten their way. Their billions of dollars buys them serious lobbying power and lots of lawyers to take advantage of farmers by suing them for accidentally acquiring Monsanto patented genetic material in their fields through contaminated seeds or drifting pollen. Many farmers that end up on the wrong end of a Monsanto lawsuit usually settle because they can’t afford to fight it, which is why the story about Percy Schmeiser is so special. He counter-sued Monsanto… and won!

Schmeiser found himself face-to-face with Monsanto when the seed company wanted him to pay $15 per acre or face enforcement for patent infringement after finding “Roundup Ready Canola” in parts of his field. The problem is that he didn’t plant the genetically engineered crop; the seed was transported to his land via the wind from another canola grower using GE seeds.

As reported by Care2 blogger Michelle Schoffro Cook, Schmeiser decided to face-off against Monsanto by charging them with “libel, trespassing, improperly obtaining seed samples from his farm, callous disregard for the environment for its introduction of genetically-modified (GM) crops without proper controls and containment, and contamination of his crops with unwanted GM plants.” Read the full article…

November 21st, 2011

House Republicans Drive More Nails into Livestock Rule Coffin


The Obama Administration is caving to meatpacker interests and many Democratic members of Congress aren't standing up for independent livestock producers.

By Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch

[Originally posted at Huffington Post]

While the big news among good food activists has been the unsettling possibility that a secret farm bill could be snuck into the Super Committee’s recommendations and passed with no public input, Republicans have furtively dealt a crippling blow to family farmers and consumers. This week, House Republicans included language in a budget bill that gutted the fair livestock rules that have languished for more than 80 years. Once again BIG MEAT has derailed the commonsense protections that allow small livestock producers to compete and check the abusive practices of the poultry industry.

The 2008 Farm Bill included reforms to protect small and medium-sized farmers who raise cattle, hogs, and chickens from unfair treatment at the hands of meatpackers and poultry companies. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration proposed rules (known as the GIPSA Rule, after the agency) to protect poultry and hog farmers from unfair contract terms – like retaliating against poultry and hog growers who speak out about abuses – and ensured that cattle and hog producers could get a fair price from meatpackers for their livestock.

Nearly three years later, the fair livestock rules have been shredded and there is plenty of blame and shame to go around. The Obama administration failed to show leadership on this issue and reneged on President Obama’s campaign pledge to “fight to ensure family and independent farmers have fair access to markets, control over their production decisions, and transparency in prices.”

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack caved to meatpacker money and power by issuing significantly watered down rules – after nearly 18 months of foot dragging to issue the final rules at all. USDA’s final proposal indefinitely postponed any efforts to protect independent cattle and hog farmers and issued a much weaker set of protections for contract chicken and hog farmers. Many Democratic Senators on the Agriculture Committee – including Chairman Debbie Stabenow from Michigan – stood on the sidelines and refused to stand up for livestock producers in their states. Read the full article…

November 18th, 2011

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til It’s Gone

Food Safety at Risk By Rich Bindell

Right now, some members of Congress are pushing hard for “regulatory reform” that would make it next to impossible for the federal government to create any new regulations. Their anti-regulatory battle plan attacks on two fronts: the REINS Act and the Regulatory Time-Out Act. While their rhetoric conveniently claims these bills would address issues of money, jobs and inefficiency in government, their main goal is to kill all regulations, even those regulations that are tantamount to public safety.

The “reforms” that some members of Congress are trying to pass could strip federal agencies of their ability to update meat and poultry inspection, safe drinking water standards and even fair competition in the marketplace among food producers —basic functions of government that shouldn’t be tied into the political dysfunction of the past several years.

Remember the Food Safety Modernization Act that became law early this year? This recalibration of the FDA’s food safety program should enable federal regulators to catch up to modern challenges in food production, including provisions that protect against pathogens like Listeria and Salmonella in produce and processed food. We’ve had recent outbreaks of both, complete with massive product recalls. The Regulatory Time-Out Act would push these critical regulations off for another year.

Imagine, for a moment, that your drinking water wasn’t monitored or that food processors were no longer properly inspected for safety. Life without these protections in place would be very different, indeed. While the public would go unprotected, the powerful corporations would get to operate as they please, with no one reigning in practices that could damage the environment or public health. No matter what folks think about the budget deficit or job creation, most would agree that there are basic functions best performed by the government – and protecting common resources like food and water are pretty high on that list.

The claims made about creating jobs and saving money by deregulating powerful industries are rhetoric, not reality. We need regulations to safeguard our food, water and natural resources. These are basic protections that ensure public health and safety, not a source for savings.

November 16th, 2011

Who will be the Biggest Loser if we don’t fix the Farm Bill?

The Biggest Loser could be the Farm BillBy Rich Bindell

You know Jillian Michaels as the now-famous inspirational trainer (and former overweight consumer) from The Biggest Loser. Did you know that the main reason she has been able to maintain her healthy body is from eating organic foods and staying FAR AWAY from processed food products? It sounds like Jillian is well aware of the problems that burden our corporate-controlled food system, run by giants like Monsanto, Cargill, Tyson and Nestlé. If only the show could focus on that part of a better health strategy, it could really teach people about the critical importance of the Farm Bill in improving our food and our health as a nation.

Wait a minute… that gives us an idea!

America has already opened its collective consciousness to the lessons of The Biggest Loser. The show’s contestants are close to our hearts for good reason: they’ve allowed us to examine ourselves and how we view our own health. But, now it’s time to welcome a new group into the fold and follow them as they head down a path toward self-improvement and healing. Only this time, the contestants aren’t playing for themselves, but for everyone who depends upon a healthy food system.

Welcome to the Biggest FARM BILL Loser. Read the full article…

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