Atelier 3, article 2

© International Herald Tribune, April 20, 1999

"Earth Day and Pig Farms: Factory Food for Thought"
by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Washington --The Earth Pledge Foundation has asked Americans to consider, on Earth Day this Thursday, the exact meaning of "sustainable cuisine."

Arguably, the most sustainable food in the hot dog, since thatís where all of the stuff that would otherwise go to waste ends up. Itís like the Indians and the buffalo --they used everything. Buffalo hot dogs might be the best bet because, among all ungulates, Buffalo use the prairies without destroying them. But most hot dogs are neither dogs no buffalo but hogs, and, nowadays, that means industrial pork, which is one of the most unsustainable foods on earth.

North Carolinaís hogs now out-number its citizens and produce more waste than all the people in California. Some industrial pork farms produce more sewage than Americaís largest cities. But while human waste must be treated, hog waste, similarly virulent, is simply dumped into the environment. Stadium-size warehouses shoehorn 100,000 sows into claustrophobic cages that hold them in one position for a lifetime over metal-grate floors.

Below, aluminum culverts collect and channel their waste into 10-acre (four hectare) open-air pits three stories deep from which miasmal vapors choke surrounding communities and millions of gallons of effluent oozes into North Carolinaís rivers.

Such practices have created a nightmare that seems like something out of science fiction --but in this case, the effect is all too real. In North Carolina, the festering waste that escapes from industrial swine pens has given birth to Pfiesteria piscicida, a toxic microbe that thrives in North Carolina rivers.

This tiny predator, which can morph into 24 forms depending on its prey species, inflicts pustulating lesions on fish whose flesh it dissolves with excreted toxins. Scientists strongly suspect that Pfiesteria causes brain damage and respiratory illness in humans who touch infected fish or water. Two years ago Pfiesteria sickened dozens of people, including fishermen and swimmers.

Industrial farming is also for the birds. Some corporate poultry farms crowd a million beakless chickens into cramped dark cages where they soak up antibiotics and lay their guts out for the duration of their miserable lives.

But corporate farming isnít just bad for chickens, hogs and the environment --it is destroying family farms. According to Sierra magazine, billionaire chicken barons and billionaire hog tycoons have used their market power to drive a million family farmers out of business, including virtually every independent egg-and-broiler farmer in America. Each corporate farm puts 10 family farmers out of business.

Sustainable meats taste the best. This is a case where doing right means eating well. Like other Americans, I have reconciled myself to the idea that an animalís life has been sacrificed to being me a meal of pork or chicken. However, industrial meat production --which subjects animals to a life of torture-- has escalated the karmic costs beyond reconciliation.