Every heard of CAFOs? No? Well, then you should read on. CAFO stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. These are large tracts of land filled to brimming with cattle, pigs, and fowl, where the animals are constantly ankle-deep in their excrement, never see a blade of grass, are fed an exclusive diet of corn and antibiotics, kept in such close quarters that the spread of illness and disease runs rampant, and where the animals are bred to produce the most usable meat in the least amount of time. The places where the animals are kept are often too small to allow the animals any form of natural exersize. This, combined with the selective breeding, ensures that the animals suffer from bone and muscle deterioration. Since the animals are given such high doses of antibiotics to encourage fast growth and disease resistance, viruses and bacteria have adapted to be resistant to almost all major antibiotics. A good example of this is the Escherichia coli 0157 H7 strain. (Here’s a link to the CDC page: http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/dfbmd/disease_listing/stec_gi.html )

These diseases are not confined to the animals, as fecal matter often finds its way to the meat during processing. Consumption of this tainted meat results in extreme sickness or death, and a recall is usually issued too late to have any beneficial effect. These diseases are also spread through the use of the manure slurry as fertilizer on crops, and through the drain-off of manure from the factory farms themselves. Do you remember all of the E. coli scares with spinach? It’s because diseased manure slurry was used to fertilize the dead earth where the spinach was being grown.

Another problem with CAFO’s is the fact that so much land must be devoted to the continual growth of one crop: corn. While we have many uses for corn (high fructose corn syrup, for example) the majority of U.S. grown corn is used to feed animals on factory farms. We are robbing the precious arable soil of our nation of essential nutrients by growing only one type of crop with little to no rotation. We are losing topsoil every year due to the constant tilling. We are polluting our rivers and water sources with the use of chemical and diseased pesticides and fertilizers. We are facing shortages of necessary crops like wheat because so much land is going to the production of corn. Did you know that the U.S. used to keep a two year reserve of wheat, but that now we are down to a 6-day supply on hand at any given moment? That is truly scary.

For an in depth look into factory farming, pigs in this instance, please follow this link to read about the top pork producer in the U.S.: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/12840743/porks_dirty_secret_the_nations_top_hog_producer_is_also_one_of_americas_worst_polluters/1

While these CAFO’s are a necessary evil in these days of fast food, there is something we can do. We can look for local co-ops where we can purchase grass-fed beef, pork, and chickens. We can buy pasture-fed, organic eggs. We can eat less meat. And above all… we can raise some of our own meat. I hope to someday be able to free-range chickens, pigs, and goats for eggs, meat, and milk. I’d also like to raise rabbits, as they are a fast and inexpensive protein source. To raise enough meat to feed our family, we would need no more than 5 acres. That acreage would be enough to keep the animals healthy through excersize and enough to grow the majority of feed ourselves. Yes, it is a lot of work, but I would rather work hard and know what I’m eating than be forced to eat something of unknown origin and content.

I’m anxious for the day my family can live a CAFO-free lifestyle. Until then, we’ll just have to be a bit more conscious of what we are consuming.