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Coming out of the Shadows: Human Rights and Animal Welfare in the Industrial Model of Agriculture

By Nancy L. Utesch - Organic Consumers Association, September 3, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The burgeoning problems that the industrial model of farming present warrant the necessity to bring these issues out into the spotlight for discussion.  These problems have been brought to our communities, not problems citizenry has gone looking for.  These issues, super sized, along with the mega farms, have reached a tipping point in communities that can no longer shoulder the burden of this industry, evolving from the mom and pop farms of 20, 50 or 100 cows-and growing in numbers in the thousands-3, 5, 10,000 animals in the last decade.

The social implications for placing huge animal factories amid the rural populous with huge cesspools of untreated waste, also spread in those communities, is devastating.  The touting of progress and innovation, often voiced by this industry and its promoters, seems to be lost in the dark abyss of manure pits now containing as much as 82 million gallons of untreated lagoon slurry at a single site, displacing families from their homes and leaving those remaining with plunging property values, quality of life issues, and contaminated air and water.

While there are many issues to discuss on this model of food production, there are a few that others will warn you not to broach.  The first time I heard the term "third rail politics" was while speaking to one of the agencies designed to protect citizenry and the environment in the state.  It was the first, of what would become many times, that I would be warned to stay away!  The third rail "used to power trains, carries hundreds of volts of electricity, likely resulting in death by electrocution for anyone who comes into direct contact with it".  While a political term, the hazards of the rail are not limited to the political arena. The controversial "shock" of the third rail is warning enough. Don't Touch!   Safe to bet, most stay away from the hazards of the third rail. 

Two of the issues that that ride the rails include immigrant workers and animal welfare.   There are vast land mines that exist while dancing amongst these two topics, including the political forces that reign, and the potential social stigma of taking a stand on these two controversial topics.

As human beings, the one huge difference separating us from the animals we are caretakers for, lies in our ability to think and reason, and, if lucky enough, the endowment of commonsense.  With that ability to think, also comes the moral and social responsibility not only to each another, but to all living things and the shared community of the earth that we all inhabit.

When we chose to not discuss the problems that we face in our communities, we ultimately consent to its continuation.   The welfare of both human beings, and animals, in the industrial food model, must be addressed-- by the very individuals that seek nourishment from food products produced in this commodity style of food production.  This broken model has become embraced as the future of farming, and echoed as the "feeding of the world" by the industry.        

The only thing wrong with this idea, is, well, that it is just that-an idea.  The truth about food production is that 70% of food grown, globally, is done through subsistence farming, mostly by women. 

The practice of feeding the world, at all costs, must be stopped.  The soil, air and water where we live are precious resources that cannot continue the burden of monoculture farming that depletes and destroys.  The real challenges in feeding people tomorrow will result from depleted soils, depleted aquifers and the changes in our weather- pick your choice:  global warming  climate change  weird weather.

The second misconception often stated by the food industry is that "we all want cheap food"-and that this commodity style production delivers.   Remember the cheap food many supposedly desire, has already been paid for once already through the taxpayer- in the enormous subsidies and crop insurance payments given to  this broken model of food production.   It is also good advice to heed, that what is not spent on nutrient dense foods, will be spent in the doctor's office.

Choosing foods that have been grown in soils that are not dead, and by practices that are fair and just for humans and animals, must become paramount in the consumers mind, above and beyond "price".    

Many foods found in aisles 1-22 at the conventional grocery store contain highly processed foods that are quite expensive.  Many do not hesitate to buy the new slimmed down bag of chips for 4.29, while nutrient dense foods are considered too pricey to obtain.  That same, slimmed down bag of chips will buy you a whole bag of organic yellow or red potatoes.  

What our bodies crave are nutrient dense foods full of minerals and nourishment that satisfies.  The empty calories of much of the processed foods now on the grocer's shelf do not satisfy the inner needs of our bodies, resulting in continued grazing, trying to fill a hunger that seeks true nourishment for the demands of the body and mind.

Along with respecting the land, we must respect the hard workers in food production, embracing them as worthy of fair treatment and human rights that are currently devoid in the commodity food production model, held in the hands of a few agri-giants.  The treatment of farm workers has a long history of exploitation of a large segment of the population willing to do whatever manual labors-to survive-despite the unfair labor conditions and exposures to life threatening and health altering conditions.

Fair wages, benefits and overtime are necessary for these workers.  The future of farming must be one where people can realize its ownership, not be just mere cogs in the wheel of an industrial machine, workers on a grim landscape. 

Animal husbandry and humane animal treatment must also come to the forefront of these discussions.  "Cow comforts" that are exempt of the natural pastoral lifestyles of these ruminant animals do not make up for the lack of movement, pastures, and fresh air and sunshine that every living thing needs for health.   Animals kept in confinement, referred to as units,  & given artificial enhancements to increase production [BGH], have been reduced to a commodity easily manipulated for greatest profits and productivity.  Redefining a living animal, a cow, into a "unit", is wrong.   Units producing [cows]-- and units consuming  [people]-- become a mere commodity circulating much like the "cow carousal" in the milking parlor.  The   distancing of the reality of where our food comes from, unaware of the working hands, and working animals, producing these products, leaves one with the robotic feeling of units cranking out production; consuming units buying in; found in a detached land called the grocery store.

True nutrition can never be derived from sources where human and animal abuses have occurred.   Nutrient dense foods must come from living soils, clean water, and must include the humane treatment of men, woman, children, and animals.  Choosing foods that are nutrient dense and have been grown with kindness to humans, animals, and our Earth, is a better choice.   Support your local farmer or CSA, farmers market, or better yet, grow your own,  and become part of the hands on connectedness in acquiring foods that do not merely fill a hunger-but foods that nourish one's body both physically and spiritually.   Come back home to foods that actually have flavor again, and a taste that begets one to say."I remember when food used to taste like this!"  

Nancy lives  in Kewaunee, Wisconsin on 150 acres she and her husband raise grass-fed beef , with a small herd of  Shorthorn cattle, using rotational grazing methods.  

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