In the book Animal Factory (St. Martin’s Press 2010), David Kirby, an investigative journalist, chronicles the lives of three people fighting the presence of Contained Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) who have moved into their vicinity, effectively destroying the quality of their lives and putting their health in jeopardy. The subtitle of the book reads: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment. In reading the 452 page book, one quickly realizes that it is not a Looming Threat, but a clear and present danger.
In describing the fight of Helen Reddout of Yakima, Washington and Karen Hudson of Elmwood, Illinois, against large commercial dairies owned by outside investors, and Rick Dove’ fight against CAFO hog operations in North Carolina to keep them from destroying the Neuse River basin and its contributory watersheds, Kirby focuses on the political—the conflicts of interest between investors and politicians, and the almost universal refusal of bureaucrats and government agencies to enforce the laws unless they are forced to do so by the courts.
The easy to read and engrossing book quickly draws the reader in and holds their attention; however, the book, in the eyes of this reviewer, suffers from a number of major short comings which would have greatly increased its impact.
Kirby states at the beginning of the book that he focused on hogs, dairy and poultry because the animals were confined in the operations for most of their lives; whereas, cattle feedlots normally don’t retain an animal for more than three to six last months of their lives. Hogs and dairy CAFOs seldom contain more than five or six thousand animals, and poultry operations house many thousands of birds in a small area; however, Kirby fails to note that many of the larger feedlots gather from 20,000 to 120,000 beef cattle in one crowded location, thus producing much more waste and pollution, and generating more environmental damage. Also, by their sheer magnitude, feedlots can impact a much wider area.
Animal Factory concentrates its attention on porcine and dairy operations, and almost as an afterthought describes some poultry operations. A much better balance would have been achieved by describing a fight against a feedlot, a hog operation, a commercial dairy and a poultry CAFO.
Kirby shows convincingly how the farmers, who contract with the large corporations to raise animals in CAFOs become mere pawns and employees of indifferent mega-food processing corporations (who control the production of most livestock in this country), and assume most of the risk and liability, however, they receive little of the profit. Kirby details how some former contract CAFO operators have now joined the fight against them.
Towards the latter part of the book, Kirby makes a good argument that shows how the almost indiscriminate use of antibiotics in CAFO’s adversely impacts human health by creating super bugs resistance to almost all antibiotics. What truly weakens Kirby’s presentation here is that he never goes into how often, and how much is given to animals in confinement. He does not do this for antibiotics, pharmaceuticals or vaccines. Had he done so, no one could have failed to see the clear and present danger these uses represent.
The only real conclusion that Kirby draws is that as CAFOs keep proliferating and encroaching on people, better methods will be devised to control odor, pollution and manage animals slightly more humanely.
What Kirby inadvertently shows in this book is that to a very great extent, the family farm no longer exists, but rather it has become a highly controlled corporate enterprise that couldn’t exist without government welfare and the routine disregard and breaking of the law. The conclusion the reader really needs to draw, from the point of this reviewer, is that the laws governing corporations are in drastic need of major revision, if the country is going to be returned to the people, and corporations are not going to be allowed to poison and destroy the known world.
The book is well worth reading and hopefully will stimulate the reader to do further research, especially in what he or she eats.