Since the 1970’s, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have existed as a more efficient means to grow livestock. These operations have the ability to raise livestock faster than other farming methods. Farms that operate using conventional methods use antibiotics and other methods to increase the number of animals that can fit on a lot. Proponents of this style of farming are saying that increasing the efficacy of their business that will eventually lower the price of animal protein. Conventional farmers also claim that they help in the feeding of underserved populations. However, parties that are against conventional farming say that the animals on these farms are treated inhumanely when compared to other types of farming. They also claim that the widespread use of antibiotics can translate into the flesh and milk of the animal and consumed by humans. Lastly, opponents of this farming system state that when a large number of animals gather in one place, storage and disposal of waste will be an issue. Many CAFOs store the animal waste in lagoons and will redeposit it in fields as fertilizer. Sometimes these waste overflow lagoons can leech into the natural ground water. Studies have shown that animal waste can affect the local water supply (Burkholder 308). There are alternatives to conventional farming, where the livestock are allowed to grow naturally, and antibiotic use is limited. CAFOs and other non-conventional farms are going to continue to exist and provide animal protein to the masses. It is up to the individual to know where their food comes from and educate themselves about the different farming practices and their consequences. After weighing their options, the consumer should be able to make a decision about the origins of their meat and dairy.
The United States Farmers and Ranchers Alliance have provided a series of videos called “A day in the life,” where they profile cattle, dairy, and other types of farms. This is to show that the typical American farm is not like what is described when CAFOs are profiled. When comparing the content of these videos (“A day on a cattle farm” and “A day on a dairy farm”) to the description of CAFOs, these farms do not appear to be conventional farms. The animals look to be humanely treated, and the farmers claim to use antibiotics sparingly. Overall, these videos show the idyllic description of what people think of when the first year the word “farm.” However, it is to be noted that these videos can be heavily edited not to show the most undesirable parts of the farm. There also is not much information about their particular farming practices.
Personally, I try not to support conventional agriculture. In my opinion, the meat from a conventional farm is not as flavorful or nutritious as meat from non-conventional farms. This is because that I believe that the type of feed that is used to massively bulk up these animals are not natural to their diet and produce blander meat. Also, the CAFO animals have higher levels of stress because of their overcrowding and leads to increased cortisol levels that will change the texture of the animals’ flesh. I do eat meat and try to buy from non-conventional farms. Recently, I have subscribed to a community supported agriculture (CSA) cooperative that links local farmers to the urban population. This lets the consumer know where their meat comes from and can observe the environment where the animal is raised. So far, I have never been to a farm before to see how their meat and dairy is produced. The videos by The United States Farmers and Ranchers Alliance start to paint a picture of that is vastly different than that of CAFOs. I hope that in the spring, I will visit the farm that is associated with my CSA and find out for myself about where my protein comes from and if it aligns with my values as a consumer.
Burkholder, J., et al. “Impacts of Waste from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations on Water Quality” Environmental Health Perspectives 115.2 (2007) 308-312. Print.