Thanksgiving is upon us, and for many that means a feast of
plenty shared with family and friends. When gathered around that
amazing spread, you probably don’t stop to consider where that
Thanksgiving ham and turkey came from. Perhaps a vision of happy
hogs running around in the sun — each tenderly cared for by the
kind couple running the farm that’s been in their family for
generations. And maybe Dorothy is out chasing rainbows with Toto in
Don’t kid yourself.
In the 1930s, there were close to 7 million farms in the United
States. Today, just 2 million farms remain. Of the remaining farms,
roughly 565,000 are family operations, farming just 44 percent of
total farmland. Those farmers who remain on their land often face
the prospect of working off the farm just to stay on the land
raising the food we put on our tables. The United States Department
of Agriculture reports that in 71 percent of farm households today,
the farmer, spouse or both work off the farm (www.farmaid.org).
This crisis in farm country is threatening the very existence of
the family farm in America. As family farms are forced out by
large, factory farms, the quality of our food and our environment
is in danger.
Factory farms, megafarms or Confined Animal Feeding Operations
(CAFOs,) are becoming the future of American farming. Higher
production levels, lower retail costs and greater efficiency are
all boasts of industrial agriculture, but at what cost?
Every new factory farm forces 10 family farmers out of business.
With every small family farmer that has to leave the farm,
communities lose access to fresh, healthy food and a thriving local
Factory farms deny animals many of their most basic behavioral
and physical needs, which can lead to stress and a variety of
potential illnesses. Many animals raised in factory farms do not
see sunlight and some do not even have room in their stalls to turn
around. Many poultry factory farms de-beak their birds to reduce
injury during the fights that occur because of the sardine-packed
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that manure
runoff from factory farm lagoons is a significant factor in the
growing problem of ground and surface water pollution and the
financial burden of cleanup for this environmental hazard is borne
by taxpayers. In 1995, North Carolina saw 25 million gallons of raw
animal waste spilled from an eight-acre industrial lagoon, killing
10 million fish and closing 364,000 acres of coastal wetlands for
Recent studies have shown that people living near hog factories
suffer from headaches, runny noses, sore throats, excessive
coughing, diarrhea and burning eyes – symptoms brought on by
noxious gasses and water pollution from manure lagoons. In more
extreme cases, people living near factory farms have developed
neurological diseases, suffered from miscarriages as a result of
water and air contamination. Employees working inside factory farms
have died from exposure to manure lagoons.
And you thought Greeley smelled to high heaven.
Inside factory farms, the overcrowded living conditions in
feedlots and factory barns make the spread of diseases, such as
salmonella, exceptionally easy. To fight disease outbreak and
promote unnaturally rapid growth, factory farmed animals are
routinely fed antibiotics: over 70 percent of all antibiotics in
the United States are fed to healthy farm animals. This
indiscriminate use of drugs has directly contributed to the
evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria, which the American
Medical Association considers an impending public health crisis.
The American public counts on antibiotics to cure countless
diseases and infections but if resistance continues to grow they
may no longer work.
But not all hope is lost. With a little bit of effort, you can
buy healthy food grown humanely and help support the family farmers
who struggle to compete against the factory farms.
Some easy steps are to make sure your poultry and eggs come from
“free-range” chickens. Also look for milk that is rBGH-free. Many
are now labeling their products as such so a quick scan of your
choices in the grocery aisle can make all the difference.
If possible, buy your food from local farmers markets
(www.localharvest.org), or buy organic when you can
(www.organicvalley.com). Alfalfa’s Market on Foothills Parkway, the
Steele’s Markets on Harmony and Main streets, Food Co-op of Fort
Collins on Mountain Avenue, Vitamin Cottage on College Avenue and
Wild Oats Market just off College sell organic, free-range and no
hormone/antibiotic fed foods. For more options about which farms
are family and which stores sell family farm foods, go to
www.eatwellguide.org, www.foodroutes.org and
Shannon is a senior majoring in journalism. Her column runs