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Down on the Factory Farm
Press release: August 1998

If you visit school classrooms to learn about life on the farm, you will likely see idyllic images of bright red barns with contented animals basking in the morning sun. But despite this simple picture we hold, the small family farm is quickly disappearing with the growing concrete and metal world of the "factory farm." Each of these enormous operations raises thousands of cattle, pigs, chickens, or turkeys, driving small family farmers out of business with their economies of scale. Growing numbers of Americans are concerned that farmers and consumers have become cogs in a corporate machine that pollutes our environment and values efficiency over humanity. That is why EarthSave International, a non-profit educational group, is drawing attention to this problem through its network of grassroots activists across the country. The group is urging communities, counties and states to place a moratorium on building new factory farms until the environmental and social impact of these operations is more adequately known.

The farming landscape has changed dramatically from just a few decades ago. Today, although there are 75 percent fewer hog farms, the remaining farms are given the burden of producing the same amount of hogs as 15 years ago. The beef industry has also consolidated dramatically, with just two percent of the feedlot firms accounting for 40 percent of all beef cattle sold in the U.S. And while chicken consumption in the 1970s and 1980s tripled, the number of broiler houses decreased by 35 percent. The image of a few animals playing in the barnyard is far from reality.

Scale and concentration

The enormous scale and concentration of modern farming operations is taking a toll on our environment – the most visible (and smelly) sign of which are mountains and pools of manure. "Animal waste is a national problem, and current Federal regulations are an inadequate solution," explains US Senator Tom Harkin, whose committee issued a report last December outlining the problem. According to the Harkin report, animal agriculture now generates an estimated five tons of manure for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. every year. The manure is often held in pools or lagoons, which can leak and pollute groundwater or seep into underground aquifers.

For most of us who hold on to pictures of small farms, it is hard to comprehend the scale of modern factory farming. To put this into perspective, consider the example of Circle Four Farms in Milford, Utah. This massive operation raises over 600,000 hogs, creating as much waste as a city of 1.8 million people. The state of Utah has only 2 million human residents and the city of Milford has only 1,164. Circle Four plans to expand to raise over 1,000,000 hogs.

From coast to coast and throughout the heartland, there is virtually no area of the U.S. unaffected by factory farms. That is why EarthSave International is urging citizens to support moratoriums on new construction at the country, city, and state levels. "We are just beginning to understand the environmental and social damage caused by factory farming," said EarthSave President Stacey Vicari. "As a nation, we need to measure those costs and ask ourselves whether they’re worth it. We also need to consider how our demand for a diet centered around animal foods has an impact on our farming system."