By now we are all aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected a few Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (aka CAFOs or factory farms).
Four CAFOs — Cargill, Smithfield, Tyson and JBS (including a facility in Greeley) — are responsible for approximately 99% of the meat, dairy and eggs produced in the United States. The animals on these farms — primarily cows, pigs, chickens — live a miserable existence up until their slaughter, and often even their death is inhumane. They spend nearly their entire lives in close confinement, filth, and with little to no room to even turn around.
Even though standards exist for their humane slaughtering (See Humane Slaughter Act of 1958), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the nonprofit better known as PETA, has reported that this is not always followed. Slaughterhouses do not consistently stun animals before hanging them upside down and dismembering them, causing excruciating pain. These animals have thoughts, feel fear and care for their young (if given the chance) — yet the atrocious treatment they suffer at the hands of factory farms does not reflect any of this.
Other than the systematization of ongoing cruel treatment and slaughter of millions of animals daily, the factory farm is problematic for other reasons:
• Pollution — As of 2012 CAFOs produced 13 times more waste than the human population. The CAFOs do not always take responsibility for this waste — leaving it up to their contract farmers to figure out how to dispose of it. To make matters worse, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state governments have failed to regulate the environmental impacts of factory farms. When factory farms operate virtually unregulated, the environment and nearby rural communities pay the price.
• Human disease (bacteria) — Keeping farm animals in crowded unsanitary conditions prompts the widespread use of antibiotics. Over time this is largely believed to have contributed to antibiotic resistance. These drug-resistant bacteria can be transmitted to the humans who tend to the animals, as well as the humans who consume them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 2.8 million people acquire an antibiotic-resistant infection annually, and more than 35,000 Americans die annually as a result. Only recently has the Food and Drug Administration began to take notice and develop strategies to combat.
• Human disease (viruses) — COVID-19 is believed to have originated from bats, and jumped to humans initially from a “wet market,” where animals are often kept in unsanitary conditions in close confinement, and in close contact with humans. Swine Flu came from pigs, with outbreaks in 2009 and again in 2013. Avian or Bird Flu had outbreaks from 2014-2015.
What will be the next human pandemic that originates from animals ?
Smaller, often family-run farms exist that raise and treat their animals humanely prior to slaughter. They comprise an estimated 1% of meat dairy and eggs produced in the U.S. As the number of factory farms in an area increases, rural employment and income decline.
Purchasing your meat, dairy and eggs from the smaller farms, as well as pivoting to a more plant-based diet (generally accepted as a healthier diet) are both options to start making a difference — not only for your individual health, but also for the welfare of the animals and for the planet.
John Lieberman is a resident of the Broadmoor Bluffs neighborhood.