Beautiful beaches, a culturally diverse melting pot, and the leader in our nation’s agriculture industry – the golden state is truly an ideal destination. California is the land of opportunity, providing the potential for one to gain fast wealth and fame. However, over time the so called “California Dream” has slowly begun to deteriorate. What started as a fantasy has finally hit reality hard. California has come to face a crippling budget crisis with debt in the billions of dollars. The prestigious UC system, recently received cutbacks in funding and a steep increase in tuition prices. Even California’s food system, which has led in agricultural production for the last fifty years, is receiving dramatic cutbacks as a statewide drought is crippling farmers. According to the US Census Bureau, California’s growth from 2000 to 2010 has been the slowest since 1850, proving to be the largest population slump in California’s history. What once was envisioned as a paradise situated on the west coast, The Golden State overtime has begun to tarnish.
Although California may have fallen on tough fortune in recent years, its illustrious lifetime cannot be overlooked. For decades, people have made the arduous and formerly hazardous journey across North America seeking a greater chance at the good life on the West Coast. Although the age of pioneers and covered wagons is over, in many ways California continues to be an ideal place in the minds of many. Great universities, beautiful landscapes, and plenty of job opportunities in the Silicon Valley and Los Angeles all work to continue California’s legacy as a place of hope. Furthermore, the rise of organic, vegan, and vegetarian food movements in the state also show that the California dream is still alive, inspiring many to better themselves in the Golden State. From the lush year-round farmers markets to large, national organic brands like Kashi foods, California has set the precedent for conscientious eating and made it a national issue, setting the standard in many cases on what was and wasn’t okay. This same mentality was present in the minds of those who started to factory farm in California, but it was greed alone that forced them to begin cruel treatment against animals.
Despite the utopian vision set out by factory farmers, we are still searching for Eden. In fact, we have a system that is wrought with violence, pain, inefficiency and disease. It is safe to say that none of this was the original intent of the farmer pioneers who went West to the future. This is however, the reality today. Like Frankenstein’s monster, a dedicated narrow pursuit of a goal backfired and became a horrific nightmare that could not be controlled. The violence in the factory farming system was started by good people with a noble dream that got out of hand. Like all others who have chased Eden before such as Dr. Frankenstein, Jim Jones, and Vladimir Lenin, a good intention became the only goal, and evil entered into California factory farming.
Domestication, the process of manipulating organisms through selective breeding for human purposes, began around 10,000 BCE. Initially, the domestication of animals was used as a means of protection, companionship, and food. It is an integral part of modern civilization and helped humans move away from hunter-gatherer societies and revolutionized farming. With the introduction of domesticated livestock, which gave rise to a dependable food source, people were able to establish permanent homes and focus on other endeavors. Our household pets, such as cats and dogs as well as farm livestock like cattle and chickens, have all been results of selective breeding. Each trait was carefully selected in order to tame the natural state of wild animals. Raised in captivity, the types of meat that we purchase at the supermarket are a result of artificial selection. It should be noted that the domesticated plants and animals that we have today are vastly different from their ancestors in terms of genetics, which gives way to their appearance and behavior; many domesticated animals, including livestock used in factory farms, wouldn’t be able to survive on their own in the wild and are almost completely dependent on their human owners. Not only are these domesticated animals more tame and easier to work with, but they have been manipulated for human benefit including one spectacular benefit: food (“Domestication”).
One of the greatest beneficiaries of the process of domestication is the agribusiness industry. With the help of artificial selection, the industrial poultry farming community created the modern chicken. In 1873, the American Poultry Association (APA) was founded and went to standardize the poultry industry. Before the establishment of the APA, farmers selectively bred chickens themselves; almost every farmer had his or her own breed of chicken. Multiple technological developments, such as the advancement in incubating techniques and infrastructure, revolutionary findings in vitamins and feed, and the separation between broiler and layer farming played a role in the rise of industrial farming (Gordon).
With the domestication of animals and the establishment of the APA, the farming industry grew. More and more family farms appeared across the United States, especially in California. An honest business bloomed and these farmers’ lives were dedicated to feed the nation, unlike factory farming. Family farms are defined as being owner-operated: “The rights and responsibilities of ownership are vested as a property right in the farmer. In a family farming system, farms rely on family labor and management skills. There are no division between home and work” (Strange 34). These farms also followed the seasons. They plant, then harvest, then breed, followed by birth and nurture. Family farms follow this order according to the biological requirements of plants and animals, harvesting the most natural produce. Family farming also uses technology, but not in the same way factory farming does. They believe that new technology is to enhance the work of the family, not to eliminate work for the people on the farm (Strange 34). With these guidelines, farming used to be a modest, honest business with farmers that had dignity. They treated their animals with care and all was well.
However, after the Great Depression, farmers started to apply for food stamps and sell their farms. Family farming could no longer supply for these farming families. With the rise of industrial farms in California, family farms could not keep up. Some family farmers started looking for other jobs to help make money, such as turning to “agritourism” and “agritainment,” which were farms converted to appeal to tourist, offering hayrides, petting zoos, mazes, and gift shops (Turning Farms). These farming families were reduced to doing these tasks as factory farms increased in number. This is due to factory farming not having the same limitations as family farming. While family farms followed the biological clocks of animals, factory farms treat their animals as machines, expecting them to work and provide year round (Strange 38). Families who moved to California to start a farm on new and luscious land, chasing the “Californian Dream” were crushed by factory farms, killing the dream. As a result, factory farming took over the industry, causing the number of family farms to decrease.
The factory farm started as a promising idea, but eventually morphed into a controversial system of agriculture production. There are 1.7 million dairy cows, over 500,000 beef cattle, over 100,000 hogs, 50 million broiler chickens, and 20 million egg laying hens on factory farms in California. The untreated waste produced from farm animals in our state is more than what the US human population creates. Three dairies in Stanislaus County were fined for 8 different violations of clean water rules between 1999 and 2007, allowing manure-tainted wastewater to leak into waterways, irrigation canals, and local rivers. What initially was intended to quickly produce protein for our nation, eventually morphed into something completely different.
If factory farms started off with intentions to not hurt animals and to treat animals properly, that has not held up in society. These rules and regulations that were created never meant to intentionally harm or endanger animals. In society, money can change someone and this is what happened to the meat industry. The process of factory farming turned into an industry driven by profit. Animals are kept in enclosed living conditions and are injected with growth hormones and various types of antibiotics, that not only endanger the animals, but also the humans consuming the meat. Companies are thinking about consumers and profits. Therefore, beginning to sacrifice health for profit. If meat companies really did care for animals and the health of their consumers, there would be a change.
Farming now belongs to corporations. Today, only two companies make up forty percent of the poultry industry, one of which is Tyson Foods. Tyson has been around since the 1930s and started as a single farmed operated by John Tyson who raised chickens and made a lot of profit shipping them off to the Midwest (“Tyson Foods: Heritage”). Tyson expanded his company in the 1970s. He used the term “convenient chicken for everybody” during his company’s expansion in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, Tyson is worth $34 billion and continues to grow and expand, as you can see in the figure to the right (“Is Tyson Foods’ Chicken Empire A ‘Meat Racket’?”).
Christopher Leonard dubbed the term “chickenization” in his book The Meat Racket (Leonard). What he means by chickenization is simply that Tyson has taken over and almost monopolized the chicken industry. The company has developed a business strategy where they have basically vertically integrated every aspect of the industry (Leonard). The company now owns and operates everything from the feed mills to the slaughterhouses to the trucking line. In doing this, Tyson has made the farmers virtually powerless. The farmers are ordered around by Tyson and have little autonomy on how they run their farms. Tyson Foods also bought all of its 33 competitors, including the company’s most recent acquisition, Hillshire Farms, which Tyson bought last year (2014). Every time Tyson acquires more companies and expands their monopoly, they make more and more money. This was evident in 2002 when Tyson merged with IBP. Tyson is not alone in this industry. Many other companies have done almost the exact same thing that Tyson has done. One such company is Zacky Farms located in California. Like Tyson, Zacky Farms started off as a small family farm in Los Angeles in 1928. In 1955, Zacky farms incorporated and began to buy smaller companies based in California, like Balfour Guthrie. With the acquisitions of more companies, Zacky acquired a feed mill, and soon after, more ranches, a hatchery, and a processing plant. Zacky Farms soon operated close to every chicken farm in the Fresno Valley (“The Zacky Farms Story.”). Zacky Farms took over all aspects of the operations, just like Tyson did, which goes to prove that Tyson serves as a model for many other companies. Companies have pushed out most of the traditional family farms we have seen in history. Everything is now chickenized.
In a utopian California, there would be several small local farms easily accessible to all consumers or at most, efficient factory farms that treated animals humanely before slaughter. People would be able to confidently purchase farm raised meat from a variety of sellers. In reality, however, most of the meat that people consume daily is from a few main companies that have a oligopoly over the meat packing industry. There are four main companies that control 85% of the production of beef in the United States beef. These companies are: Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill and Smithfield Foods. The oligopoly of meat is a secret that most consumers are not exposed to. Tyson, for example, makes up 25% of the U.S. market share and has immense power in the meat industry (Ostline), but it does not seem apparent because of the variety of names and brands used to label these meats. In the book The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business, investigative reporter Leonard speaks about his experiences and opinions on the meat industry after visiting the midwest in Waldron, Arkansas to observe the chicken business. The book writes about how these meat companies monopolize the food industry. It used to be the case where more than 36 companies produced chicken, but as of today, it narrows down to only 3 main companies. Having so much control in the meat industry, these companies do not have much of an incentive to change their inhumane methods of preparing their meat. With these inhumane companies taking over the industry, it is harder for consumers to choose other small brands over ones such as Tyson.
An argument can be made for Whole Foods supermarket, which is known for its natural and organic products, its humanely raised meat and its fair accessibility to consumers (“Which Companies Use Humanely-Raised Meat”). In a visual chart from the Business Insider page regarding Whole Foods supermarket distribution throughout the entire United States, it is evident that there are 2.0-2.5 Whole Foods per 1,000,000 people in California (Kiersz). However, the price difference may be what discourages the purchases of humane meat. In the article “Whole Foods’ High-Priced Reputation May Finally Be Catching Up With It” from the Huffington Post, Jillian Berman focuses on the Whole Foods Company reputation for being expensive. She states that competitors such as Walmart or Sprouts have lower priced healthy offerings, providing the statistics and bar graphs comparing Whole Foods price against several other grocery stores.
Whole Foods’ Prices versus Prices Elsewhere. Digital image. The Huffington Post. Wolfe Research, 22 Sept. 2014. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.
There is a clear difference in the prices with Whole Foods being the more expensive. Because of this, consumers with a budget have incentive to purchase from cheaper yet inhumane brands contrary to the utopian goal of affordable and humane food.
Sacrificing a large portion of money is necessary in order to consume healthier and cleaner meat, thus making high quality meat only available to high-income families and individuals. In a news article written by USA today nutrition specialist Nanci Hellmich, it costs $146 week for the average family to eat healthy food, not including healthy and quality cuts of meat (Hellmich). A $146 price for an average family is relatively low for food; however this is the bare minimum, especially when it includes factory farm-grade meat rather than actual prime cuts of beef. It is evident that factory farming allows the meat industry to cut its prices to make healthy eating seem impossible through the violence of its processing system. Just as Nicholas Jones, a British broadcaster shows the growing price gap between healthy and unhealthy foods by comparing categories of foods from 2002 to 2012 showing the huge price jump of healthy foods relative to the small increase in unhealthy foods. This huge jump in healthy food makes it harder for Americans to eat healthy, which makes it much easier to turn to factory farming to fulfill consumers daily dose of meat. Just in 2012, healthier foods containing ingredients like whole grain or whole wheat were three times more expensive per calorie than foods that contained processed and inorganic ingredients (Jones). This is related to the good intentions that factory farms sought to provide, which was cheap food for all. However, the gap between healthy food and unhealthy food demonstrated the much needed effort to move back the primary goal of feeding a nation while balancing nutrition and health.
In California, there is a combined effort being made by scientists and smaller companies like Grounds For Change and Frontier Natural Products to move away from factory farmed meat by substituting alternatives that are actually meatless. However, is this truly solving the price gap, or is it just adding to it? In the article “The Incredible, Hypothetical Egg” by writer at the Co-Exist foundation Sydney Brownstone, Brownstone evaluates the development of the meat and animal product alternatives that are available in the market in California. She focuses on the San Francisco based food technology company Hampton Creek Foods, whose goal is to eliminate all factory-farmed eggs in the US with a program called “Beyond Eggs.” This offers the solution of a plant-based egg that contains no true animal product in it (Brownstone). However, this program requires a large input of money that makes this alternative expensive. Thus, it doesn’t contribute to the solution, but rather continues to add to the price gap between organic, all-natural meat, and the meat acquired from factory farming due to its expensive artificial creation process. Even though factory farming had this vision of feeding an entire nation appropriately, its violent and cruel processes became a necessity to satisfy demand, make a large profit, and overcome competitors such as Hampton Creek Foods with alternatives. The inexpensive meat still continues to triumph the market and feed American bellies today.
Why do we still demand inexpensive meat in California? The average salary for somebody living in California is $51,910 (“Average”)! It is because the cost of housing is 237% the average cost of living in the United States (“Cost”)! California is considered a dream land. California is known to carry a numerous amount of high paying jobs, being the most proactive in changing society as with political issues such as gay/lesbian rights as well as agricultural issues, being one of the first states to do reverse farming, going out of the means of factory farming to family farming. And, as I almost forgot, it holds my vote for the best weather.
We live in America—aka the land of opportunity—and, for most Americans, California is presented as their land of opportunity. But California’s extreme costs of living has its consequences. It has led us to make sacrifices in the food processing industry in order to alleviate some of the extreme costs in California.
People look at meat-and most foods you find in the grocery store–as as an opportunity to get a filling meal at an affordable price.
The beef value, as shown with the table below, has been increasing by roughly $10 to $20 per year per hundredweight and people have been furious (“meat price spreads”). People can’t believe that they are being forced to buy less and less meat every year. However, California isn’t disappointing its customers by much as the meat value remains significantly less than other countries. Other countries have higher prices for their meat and their meat is of higher quality. By higher quality, I mean that the meat is regulated much more by the government, where there is less harm caused to animals as well as cleaner/longer distribution process (Wright). For example, a pound of whole chicken in the U.S. is about 3/4ths the price of Spain and about a fifth of the price in Germany (“Food Price Comparisons Around The World”). But when we, American citizens, look at food prices we generally aren’t comparing it to prices of other countries, but the prices we have grown up with. We expect more, because we live in an environment—the California environment—where everything needs to be better than other places; therefore, if we do look at other countries prices, we expect our prices to be at a lower.
We don’t see that when we expect meat to be cheaper it has its consequences. As mentioned earlier, producers, in order to meet the price demand of customers, try to get everything done “as fast as possible.” This leads to a lack of care of the animals, producing major issue at hand of violence in the food processing industry.
|Date||5 market steer price||All fresh beef retail value2|
|Annual Averages||Annual Averages|
What can you do when it’s just so cheap?
People look at meat—and most foods you find in the grocery store—as an opportunity to get a filling meal at an affordable price. If we were to look at an organic egg and a regular egg, there isn’t really much of a difference. They might have a slight variation in the yolk color and significant difference in nutritional value, but, in the grocery store, when we look at the shell it is simply white. The average price of an organic egg is $4.18/dozen, while the average price of the conventional egg would be $2.59/dozen (Pillsbury). The price is almost double! For half the price, it is extremely hard to put nutrition value as a variable that can overcome this cost.
The reason behind this price variation is due to the packed cages to fit more chickens in less area; therefore easier movement of chickens, less land costs, etc. (Foer). Instead of transporting these chickens carefully, it is easier for the producer to throw—and just do whatever it takes—to bring chickens to and from of vehicles. This gives the consumer the satisfaction of purchasing meat and eggs without complaining about the cost too much.
This is how it all got started and even with consumer’s education of the violence in the production of meat, most consumers still continue to purchase the meat all due to the fact that it is cheaper; therefore more affordable.
Fast food chains all use different methods to lure in consumers. Bright colors, catchy theme songs, fun characters and kid’s meals grab America’s attention. It makes them forget about what’s in the food they’re buying and all the concentrate on is the fun aspect of these restaurants. For example, In-N-Out uses bright red and yellow to attract traveler’s attention as they drive by the restaurant. Also they use a fun, their animals fries show up on commercials promoting this restaurant. Another way fast food restaurant such as McDonalds lure consumers in is their use of kids and kids meals. On commercials, they show happy kids eating their food and playing with kids meal’s toys. This persuades children to want to go to that restaurant. These tactics are a large reason why people are so drawn to fast food.
It’s a Process
The grandest of California’s views is outspread before us. Olema Valley – a rolling landscape of grassland lined with oak trees, redwood forests, and a handful of small farms – is an ideal territory for cattle grazing. In fact, the Olema Valley played an instrumental part in the development of the dairy industry in California: the Valley was home to the first large-scale and high-quality dairies in the state. In the 1800s and 1900s, local dairymen stayed at the forefront of the industry. The Olema Valley was a great dairy mecca – it possessed a gentle beauty that spoke of a good life. The Olema Valley was a gem.
In 1995, Douglas Livingston published A Good Life, a book that explains the history of dairy farms from the mid 1800s to the late 1900s in Olema Valley, California. In this text, Livingston quotes R.G. Sneath, the author of Dairying in California: “Dairy farming is one of the most important industries in the civilized countries of the world, and health, wealth, and prosperity of a country is largely denoted by the extent and condition of its activity” (Livingston 39).
The health of cows and the overall conditions of dairy farms were incredibly valued in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Dairymen placed their cows in large, hygienic environments, thereby demonstrating their utmost care for their animals: “Unless it was raining, milking was done outdoors, in a well-drained central corral reserved for the purpose…During bad weather the milking was done in the barn. Here, cows entered the barn from one side, were secured into a stanchion, and milked by hand. The floors were wood, increasing the cleanliness, and the barn was washed out after every milking” (Livingston 54). This quote takes into account the practices of twenty-two farms in the Olema Valley. These dairy farms refrained from cramming cows together in confined spaces, nor did they keep these animals indoors, typically on hard, concrete floors, frequently connected to a milking apparatus. In 1862, a correspondent from The California Farmer visited the Olema Valley ranches and, in glowing terms, singled out one of the ranches discussed in Livingston’s book as “the best and most successful in the area” (Livingston 243). The writer continued to commend the managers of the ranch:
We do love to praise well doing. We admire to see animals well cared for, neatness and cleanliness in a dairy, and yet upon a little reflection, all men of good common sense, men that love their business, KNOW their own interest is best promoted by such means; therefore, having enjoyed the courtesy and hospitality of the proprietors of this ranch, we will say, that they have manifested a large share of wisdom and sound common sense, added to judgment and knowledge, in the management of their Dairy business, which is in most prosperous condition. (Livingston 245)
Douglas Livingston captures the sudden migration from positive to negative feedback in regard to dairy businesses. Observers used to see a great deal of integrity within the people that dealt with our milk. They were praised for caring for their animals and maintaining a clean business.
This, however, is not the mentality of those operating modern industrial dairy farms. Calves born into the industrial grip of today’s dairy industry have a short and unmerciful road ahead of them. Unlike the humane treatment of cows in the old days, current factory farm operators are nothing short from vile—their profession is consumed with unethical behavior.
Nina Planck, the author of Real Food: What to Eat and Why, uses her book as a call for the return to old-fashioned foods. Planck grew up on a farm in Virginia, and as a result describes herself as having a relationship with a long line of family cows. As she reflects on her family’s experiences, along with her time on a farm, Planck claims:
Modern industrial milk and the milk we drank ten thousand years ago – even the milk most Americans drank fifty years ago – are different…Most industrial milk comes from cows treated with a genetically engineered bovine growth hormone called rBGH to boost milk production. Industrial cows are milked three times a day. Unfortunately for the cow, the hyper production stimulated by rBGH increases her risk of mastitis (udder infection) and shortens her life dramatically, from about ten years to five. (Planck 69)
Breeding cows for this unnaturally high level of milk production, combined with damage caused by milking machines, contributes to the nutritional depletion that cows must endure, and further results in physical pain from swelling. Copious milk production causes a cows’ bones to become severely deficient in calcium, making them more prone to fractures. This results in an increase in the number of “downed” cows – cows that are unable to stand, and as a result, workers are granted permission to kill them.
Industrial dairies are not only hazardous to the health of the cows that are held in these facilities, but also prove to be detrimental to humans: “Robert Cohen is one of milk’s fiercest critics. The milk carton on the cover of his book, Milk: The Deadly Poison, bears a skull and crossbones, with the ingredients listed in large type: ‘Powerful growth hormones, cholesterol, fat, allergenic bovine proteins, insecticides, antibiotics, virus, and bacteria’” (Planck 54). Cow blood and pus are two additional common contaminants within dairy products. These alarming facts highlight the downhill shift in the production of milk.
The idyllic dairy atmosphere of the Olema Valley no longer exists. Rather, this California area is flooded with factory farms. Very few of Olema Valley’s century-old ranchers are still in operation. In his book, A Good Life, Livingston explains that after the death of several farmers, many of these territories faced demolition. Others who retired ended up selling their land to the National Park Service. What once used to be an ethical and highly praised business has now transformed into a savage and untrustworthy field dominated by factory farms.
Similarly to the dairy industry, the meat industry has changed drastically over time. Today drugs play an important role in the production of meat. They were first used on chickens in 1940’s. The primary use of drugs when they were first introduced to the food industry was to relieve any animals of disease or pain. Over time companies began to justify harming the animals and then feeding them drugs to make them numb. In addition, companies began to look for a way to produce a larger chicken to meet consumer demand and it was soon discovered that these drugs would allow animals to grow at least three percent larger than animals who had no drugs in their system (Hamilton). Today, companies use drugs on their animals for three main reasons:
- To treat cuts and abrasions
- To enhance growth
- Fight parasites (National Research Council 4).
Factory farmed animals often sustain injuries from abuse and or due to their confined living environments. Companies solve this problem by using drugs to prevent infection; or, in other words, prevent loss of product. Modern breeding for broiler chickens began in the 1920’s. Back then, it took around four months for chickens to become full grown. Today, they reach that size in half the time and with half the feed. This is made possible with the use of antibiotics, hormones, and other technologies such as genetic modification (National Research Council 29). It has allowed companies to produce more products in less amount of time and thus increase profit. But not only is this practice unnatural, it is inhumane. Chickens’ bodies grow faster than their legs can support. Their hearts and other organs struggle to keep up with their accelerated growth (National Research Council 29). Furthermore, parasites are common in crowded living conditions, which are common in factory farms. Factory farmed chickens are packed into buildings by the tens of thousands. They sleep where they eat, eat where they defecate, and defecate where they sleep. Thousands of chickens doing all three actions in the same space with no fresh air spreads parasites. Parasites can kill chickens, which lowers profits for companies. Therefore, companies have invested in using drugs in order to prevent loses, promote growth, and to justify their inhumane treatment of animals.
The use of drugs in the food industry has led to much controversy due to the potential risks towards consumer health. Factory farmed animals are fed antibiotics to prevent parasites and bacterial infections. In fact, around 70% of the antibiotics produced in the United States are administered to food animals (Schmidt 398). Over time, “resistant genes are passed between bacteria” which neutralizes the effect of antibiotics in humans (Kirby 70). Many people believe that antibiotics will always be around to save them from illness and thus do not consider antibiotic resistance to be a major problem. However, this is not the case. In the United States alone, two million people contract antibiotic resistant infections each year (Frieden). This problem of drug resistance has become so severe that the governments of many countries have banned the use of antibiotics in food animals. The United States is not included in that list and the use of antibiotics is still legal in the country (Hamilton). The use of drugs on food animals is a perfect example of how humans have solved one issue by creating others. Drugs helped prevent disease in animals, prompting companies to use even more drugs. Over time, the increased use had consequences on the health and wellbeing of both food animals and humans.
Animal waste can contain “pathogens, antibiotics, drug-resistant bacteria, hormones, [and] heavy metals…” (Kirby xv). On factory farms, waste is dumped into large cesspools, often as big as several football fields (Facts about Pollution from Livestock Farms). Not only do these cesspools contribute to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria, these cesspools can leak and pollute land areas and water sources. There have been several documented instances of ghastly cesspool leaks. For instance, in 1995 an eight-acre hog cesspool in North Carolina burst and spilled twenty-five million gallons of manure into the New River. As a result, about ten million fish died. More recently, in 2012 a California dairy polluted nearby waters by leaving over fifty manure covered cow carcasses rotting around its property (Facts about Pollution from Livestock Farms).
With the advancement of factory farming, negative environmental impacts have risen from the technology and methods involved. As factory farms have grown both as a whole and individually in size, their impact on the environment has increased dangerously. Factory farms produce gases that lead to smog and particulate pollution. Dairy counties in California, such as Tulare and Bakersfield have some of the highest rates of ozone and fine particulate matter in the United States. That means counties containing factory farms, like Tulare and Bakersfield, are filled with polluted air full of harmful particles, like smoke. Ozone and fine particulate matter induce and aggravate lung diseases in humans (Wang). In 2004, a medical study was done and the results found that twenty-five percent of children in Tulare and Bakersfield have asthma (Wickens). Other fumes and particles that radiate from factory farms include animal’s natural gases, which are also harmful to humans and high in quantity. Thirty-seven percent of the methane produced in the world comes from factory farming, which contributes to global warming (11 Facts About Factory Farms and the Environment).
Originally, factory farming was seen as a solution to America and the rest of the world’s growing demand for cheap food, specifically meat. Today, hundreds of thousands of people are involved in producing our food, many of whom are mistreated by their employers. Their jobs range from working in offices, to shipping to actual care of the animals in the factories. Working in the a factory farm is a horrible job. The tasks that they are responsible for carrying out are both disgusting and unethical. Because the basic feeding and watering of the animals is done mainly by machine, the jobs of these workers is to take care of the animals. While this seems harmless at first glance, taking care of the animals can mean a lot of things: injecting them with harmful antibiotics, taking out or trimming down their teeth, cutting off tails, and castrating male animals. They often also have to kill the sick or injured animals and pack the ones (presumed to be) healthy enough to be consumed to be shipped to a slaughterhouse (Factory Farm Workers). “Workers in the meat industry make an average of $23,000 a year, work 10+ hours a day, are pushed so hard they often defecate in their pants to avoid slowing down and suffer a repetitive motion injury rate 30 times the national average,” (Spanghter). Chemicals used to sterilize the areas where the animals live, as well as the antibiotics that are injected into the animals, give off chemical odor that causes cancer and acute poisoning. The conditions aren’t right for an animal to live in, let alone a human to work in. But because finding work is so tough, the laborers have no choice but to continue working at the farms.
When farms started producing for more than just the local town, workers needed to group together. In UCAPAWA, Chicanas, and the California Food Processing Industry, Ruíz talks about how the laborers in these farms and other parts of the food industry came together to form unions. Those unions protected the workers’ rights from those in charge. Nowadays, when workers are mistreated, they don’t have many options. Almost 40% of laborers in factory farms are undocumented immigrants (Spanghter). Because they are undocumented, they can’t complain to a governing organization or union. Workers that are documented, like the ones in the UCAPAWA, have a better chance of making change, but when 40% of the workforce isn’t able to join a union, they are forced to work through the bad, and even illegal conditions. They also can’t report sexual harassment or other work-related illegal activity. Because the working conditions are so unregulated, underage working is also an issue. “In 2008, Iowa State labor investigators identified 57 under-age workers who were employed at a kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa.” Most of these children were undocumented and from Guatemala (The Human Cost). Regulation of wages, worker safety, and reduction of chemicals used in making food would greatly help the workers of the factories. Injustice is everywhere in the food industry, but the only ones that can stop it are the corporations that own or employ the farms.
The image of an idyllic, pastoral vista still continues to be deeply associated with farming. Today’s farming industry fails to live up to the idea it was meant to represent. Under the constraints of pumping out large product yield and trawling in significant profits, the form the Victors of California aspired to create was doomed to become a deformity: cold, metal walls; exposed, lesioned flesh; and stiff, mechanical movement; a looming entity that taxes the biosphere and threatens us with the consequences of its existence.
Good aims and brilliant ideas stop justifying results when they become antithetical to their original intentions. We must now be ever wary of our monster’s presence, but can we succeed in ending what we began and find a new path to Eden, or will it die posthumously of its creators?
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