Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hell holes in Michigan - CAFO farming and the common good.

I read most of the November article in "O" about the Michigan CAFO farms last week while waiting with Dad to see his doctor. If I wasn't so poor right now, I'd go out and buy the magazine. I guess I'll just wait for it to appear online but it's a must read article in terms of government failure to protect the common good. Its obvious how that failure has negatively affected the people, animals and environment around the CAFO's and how government is either too inept to deal with the problem, or is in cahoots with those who make their living from this blight on the countryside. Many thanks to "O" for this article. My heart goes out to the Michigan couple and others fighting this fight. They are as honest as the day is long and as right as rain in all they do .. yet they get nowhere.

As advocates, we must do a better job because if our government coddles and protects the CAFO system, then how can we help the horses? Clearly we must change our tactics. How to be more effective is the question and I have no idea what we need to do differently but still stay within the very narrow confines of the law and believe me, those confines get narrower every day. Why does a Colorado citizen claim that the BLM employees feel like they are targets when they have all the guns at the roundups and are constantly threatening the advocates if "we" speak too loudly or demand the right to a free press. I guess I'm tired of getting blown off by my duly elected representatives, especially the ones that should have a conscience but just can't figure out where they left it.

The following is reprinted (without express permission) from Dawnwatch:

O Magazine has done it again. Last month we read a column from the editor in
chief explaining that the magazine would never include fur on its fashion pages
-- and we saw a fur and leather-free fashion spread. This month the magazine
features a gripping tale of a woman's fight against factory farming.

I know many animal advocates don't want to see the end of factory farming alone
-- we look forward to the day when we no longer have to hear the word "protein"
used euphemistically to describe parts of animal bodies on plates. So I include
in this alert, below, a link to a thoughtful piece from the Atlantic Magazine
titled, "Only When Meat Is Stigmatized Will Factory Farms Stop Thriving." Yet
that stigmatization must be begin with awareness, and the O Magazine article is
bringing awareness to its millions of readers. Such awareness leads to dietary
changes. Media coverage of factory farming has been shown to reduce the public
demand for meat. (See
for more on that.) As I was brought into the animal rights movement not by
discussions of life and death but by photos of sows living in gestation crates I
understand the power of publicizing factory farming practices. The O Magazine
story focuses less on the an
imal cruelty and more on the environmental impact, but that is useful as
environmental issues are currently of great public concern. Our letters to the
editor can focus on the animals.

The magazine's monthly introductory column (p 20) by editor in chief Susan
Casey, opens with:

"When was the last time you read a story that stopped you in your tracks? That
inspired you to act? Or think differently? This month we have just such a tale,
starting on page 170. 'This is Not Farming,' written by journalist Kathy Dobie,
is an eye-opening look at a relatively recent development in American life, the
'concentrated animal feeding operation' or CAFO. Sometimes called factory farms,
these sprawling compounds can pack thousands of cows or pigs or chickens into
the tightest possible quarters; pumped full of antibiotics and hormones, they do
nothing all day but eat and excrete. Obviously this is a cruel existence for
any animal -- but the toll these facilities take on the people who have the
misfortune to live near them is equally brutal. Which is where Lynn Henning
comes in."

Kathy Dobie's story on Lynn Henning's efforts is gripping reading. Henning lives
in an area of Michigan where the factory farms have befouled the water and air
to the point that Dobie describes driving with Henning down a road past the
farms where the stench causes "that panic that sets in before vomiting or

We read:
"One elderly couple who lives across from a CAFO called Lynn to tell her that
they were considering suicide. Their well was contaminated, they couldn't go
outside, couldn't open their windows. They had to wear face masks. Their
children wouldn't visit because the stench was so bad, and they couldn't sell
their house because no one else wanted to live there. 'They felt they were worth
more dead,' Lynn says."

As for the Department of Agriculture's policing of the area we learn that Lynn's
husband, Gerald Henning, tried to complain, "But when Gerald called the
Department of Agriculture's complaint line, he swore, and was charged in a local
court with making obscene calls."

While focusing on the hideousness of human life in the area, the article also
reminds us what life is like for the animals. Dobie writes,
"The cows are kept inside steel structures that look like low-ceilinged airplane
hangars. There they eat and they excrete. They will almost certainly never walk
out in a field, chomp on grass, or feel the sun on their backs."
She later continues:
"CAFO cows die young. A dairy cow can live about 20 years but most CAFO cows are
slaughtered for beef at around 4, when their milk production declines or they
become too ill to be profitable."

The article is not yet available on line but you can pick the magazine up at
your newsstand, or, for animal advocates who subscribe to magazines, it might be
time to consider adding O to your subscription list. The magazine is clearly
going out of its way to make animal issues part of its regular conversations.
Reader appreciation influences such choices so please send an appreciative
letter to the editor. O Magazine takes letters at

As I noted above, a great companion piece of sorts to the O Magazine article is
the Atlantic Magazine article, by James McWilliams, titled, "Only When Meat Is
Stigmatized Will Factory Farms Stop Thriving."

This paragraph sums up McWilliams' strongest point:
"As long as we eat meat factory farms will be the dominant mode of production.
In other words, as long as humans deem it culturally acceptable to consume
animal flesh -- that is, as long as eating meat is an act that's not considered
taboo -- factory farms will continue to proliferate. The reason for this strikes
me as intuitive: An unfettered demand for meat, in conjunction with basic human
choice, provides political, technological, and scientific incentives to produce
meat as efficiently as possible. Unless you have a plan to displace capitalism,
density of production will rule, billions of animals will suffer, and our health
will continue to decline."

You'll find the full article on line at

I am not in love with whole piece as I have little patience for people who seem
to suggest that alleviating suffering is meaningless. There is a section in
which McWilliams describes the efforts of a farmer to spare a pig from any pain
or even emotional suffering -- the stress of a journey to slaughter -- before
the pig's death. When we are told that he kills the pig with a swift shot to the
head McWilliams snidely asks, "What am I missing?" Well, he is missing the
acknowledgement that all living beings will die, and many of us reading his
piece would have a strong preference for a quick, painless and unanticipated
death as opposed to a long drawn out period of emotional and physical torture
preceding death. If we would want that for ourselves it seems without empathy,
or simply speciesist, to suggest that it would make no difference to the pig. I
write that as somebody who does not condone killing the pig; we don't need to
kill animals to thrive so why would we? Yet I think
McWilliams implication that degrees of cruelty are irrelevant, and that being
spared from immense suffering would make no difference to a doomed animal,
weakens his credibility. It would be far better, I think, to acknowledge that
the farmer who wishes to spare the pig suffering is on the right track, then do
our best to move him further along that track, persuading him to open his heart
even more widely and question his need to kill the pig at all.

McWilliams would be on stronger ground if he would acknowledge that the farmer's
efforts made a huge difference to that one pig, then bring us back to the
reality that such efforts will never be made for the vast majority of animals
killed for human food. Indeed his argument that only making meat-eating taboo
will end factory farming is interesting -- though it is not flawless: The
imminent release of invitro meat, grown from cloned muscle tissue for which no
animal need die -- or burp, fart, shit and otherwise pollute the earth -- could
spell the end of factory farming. Yet flawless or not, McWilliams raises ideas
well worthy of consideration.

That's why I think McWilliams' Atlantic piece is a great one to read alongside
the O Magazine article about the impact of factory farming. Together they might
influence you to send letters that express gratitude to O Magazine while
reminding other readers that it is plant based diets, rather than better
regulation, that will solve the problem of factory farming.

You can also express appreciation for McWilliams' Atlantic Magazine piece in the
comment section right below it.

I send my thanks to Paula Fitzsimmons, Annoula Wylderich, Christine Cook and
Nina Borin for making sure we saw the O Magazine piece. I hope I didn't miss
anybody -- those tips are truly appreciated.

Yours and the animals',
Karen Dawn

(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the
media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can
learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at You may
forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts only if you do so unedited -- leave
DawnWatch in the title and include this parenthesized tag line.)

Please go to to check out Karen Dawn's book,
"Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way we Treat Animals," which in 2008 was
chosen by the Washington Post as one of the "Best Books of The Year!"

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