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March 5th, 2014

California Factory Farms are No Chicken Shangri-La

By Wenonah Hauter

For the Presss: High Resolution Image of Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director

I wrote my book Foodopoly to take on the handful of companies that control most of the food we eat and also profit from factory farms. Poultry, dairy and eggs are produced in an industrialized system that values profit and “economic efficiency” over food safety, animal welfare or fairness for farmers. So, it was with a critical eye that I read the recent New York Times article about how good factory farmed hens in California have it because their cages are slightly more roomy than chickens raised in factory farms in other states.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that increasing the size of hens’ cages in giant warehouses where they never see the light of day and are forced to produce year long in their short lives is still a bad system. While the small boost in size is slightly better, we should be working hard for a different type of agriculture. We shouldn’t miss the larger point; it’s not just the size of the cage, it’s the size of the farm. Factory farms are bad, not only for animals, but for the environment, public health and consumers too. And this system of agriculture makes it impossible for smaller family run egg operations to compete. Let’s face it: California hens are still mostly raised on factory farms without access to pasture. A slightly better factory farm is still a factory farm.

Why do factory farms exist? Thanks to decades of agricultural and economic policy that helped companies swallow up other companies, a handful of huge corporations have become so big that they’re able to write all the rules (for example, just four companies process 80 percent of the beef sold in the U.S.) Their contract farmers (especially in the case of meat chickens) go into debt just to keep their farms thanks to the demands of Tysons, JBS and other mega-companies to produce more, more quickly, more cheaply. Their industry trade groups lobby congressmen so that they get what they want from Washington, for the most part. So the reasons these chickens are stuck in cages (whether they are in “economy class” ones in other states or “business class” sized-ones in California) is so that these few companies can grow their profits.

I have nothing against fair profits, but when it comes to our food system, some things are more important and it’s time for the food movement to force policymakers to regulate the industry, including the highly consolidated industry that brings us factory farms. We already know factory farms raise animals in ways that are bad for public health and the environment. Factory farms feed animals 80 percent of the antibiotics used in this country, and most of those are nontherapeutic—meaning that they are simply given to healthy animals to grow them faster or keep them from getting infections in the tightly cramped, unhygienic conditions. No wonder we now have a crisis of epic proportions when it comes to antibiotic resistance in humans. Factory farms also release obscene amounts of concentrated animal waste into nearby communities.

California law might have made things ever so slightly better for chickens, but those chickens are still raised without access to pasture, or room to roam freely and exercise natural chicken behaviors like running, foraging and perching. California factory farms are no Shangri-La for chickens. And they’re no picnic for the rest of us, either.

2 Comments on California Factory Farms are No Chicken Shangri-La

  1. Becky says:

    You let them off the hook too easily. The entire model is an abomination.

    Apparently the New York Times and Stephanie Strom don’t know a thing about the actual lives of chickens or any other animal, for that matter. “The good life” for an animal is not sitting in a wire box in a warehouse full of wire boxes under artificial lights. If it is, then that should also apply to Ms. Strom and the rest of us. Imprisonment as the new “good life”?” I don’t think so.

    How depressing that the profit incentive has led us to be able to deceive ourselves into thinking life in a tiny metal wire box is “the good life”. It is a total lie.

    The “good life” is out of doors in the sunshine, running through the tall grass and catching bugs, scratching and digging in a new patch of forest duff with your fellow hens and bathing in the dust on warm summer afternoons. It has nothing to do with this factory farm or its motivations. It is divorced entirely from this bastardization of animal husbandry that has overtaken our addled society as a way of producing something we euphemistically call “food”.

    Real food nourishes our bodies and our beings and is built on the elements of sunlight, fresh air, and natural open living systems. Systems where soil microbes, insects, invertebrates and a whole world of interactive living creatures exchange minerals, proteins, amino acids and elements in a complex dance we have barely begun to comprehend. It involves humates and fulvic acids and other complexities which exchange well being and health up and down through plants, microbes and animals in complex interactions still mysterious to the most advanced of our scientists.

    “Factory farming” has assumed that the assembly line model of human industrial production can be applied to this complex process we call “life” and achieve a passable result. In point of fact it is more closely akin to a concentration camp model.

    It is a farce. In reality it is a nightmare. For the animals, for the environment, for the people who work in such factory farms and for the people who eat what they produce.

    These death camps cannot produce life supporting food. They can only produce death. Wait and see – it is already visible to those with eyes to see, but eventually it will be obvious to everyone. Those who eat what these concentration death camps produce s become sick and die.

  2. Daniel says:

    It takes lots of space to grow chickens the way they want to live. This is how chickens want to live – outdoors and even having the chance to scratch for food along the shores of a pond:

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