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Let Us Count the Ways

How Factory Farms Make You Sick

by RUSSELL MOKHIBER

Factory farms makes you sick.

Let us count the ways.

Just last week, more than half a billion eggs recalled.

Why?

Salmonella poisoning.

More than 1,300 people sick.

Just last week, a recall of more than 380,000 pounds of deli meat products distributed nationwide to Wal-Mart stores.

Why?

Possible contamination with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.

The bacteria can cause listeriosis – a rare but potentially deadly disease.

Move over Animal Farm.

Here comes Animal Factory.

And the animal factories are dominating the agricultural landscape.

Making us sick and poisoning the environment.

The Obama administration, which ran on a platform to confront factory farming, has done little to confront the problem.

“They don’t have the stomach to take on the factory farms,” David Kirby, author of the book Animal Factory (St. Martin’s Press, 2010), told Corporate Crime Reporter last week. “They are gun shy. I’m disappointed.”

While the Justice Department and the Department of Agriculture are holding hearings on concentration in agribusiness, Kirby see the exercise as a glorified listening tour.

He doesn’t anticipate federal intervention to prevent a disaster.

But he says what needs to be done is clear – move from factory farms to family farms.

How?

Ban non-therapeutic antibiotic use in animals.

Bust up the processing cartels.

“There are so few processing plants now and they are so centralized and big they want to process only factory farm animals,” Kirby says.

Cut the billions in subsidies to agribusiness.

“And by the way, why aren’t the tea partiers out there screaming about the billions of dollars we give away every year to these massive farms?” Kirby asks.

“And then take some of those subsidies and give them to small independent farmers who can really use it to compete.”

He says that the Obama administration ran on a platform to do some of these things.

But it refuses to take on big agribusiness.

Kirby says it will take a disaster to change the system.

“You can pass all the laws you want, organize all the boycotts,” Kirby said. “But ultimately when you cram thousands of animals into a single confined space without access to fresh air, outdoor sunlight, pasture, natural animal behaviors – you are asking for problems in the form of diseases that attack people.”

“Mother nature will have the last word. Mad cow disease was a warning. Swine flu was a warning. MRSA was a warning. The egg recall was a warning.”

“But we haven’t hit the big one yet.”

“Things are changing. Consumers are waking up.”

“I understand that there are lines around the block at farmers markets where eggs sell out by noon.”

“Demand for sustainably grown eggs right now is huge. That will make companies sit up and take notice.”

“Things are changing. But for a massive shift away from factory farming, it will probably take some new super-virus combining the killer bird flu and some killer swine flu.”

“And that could happen. These chicken farms in Iowa are just down the road from the hog farms.”

“And birds and rodents and insects are moving in and out of these places.”

That disaster would force public action. But what about preventable public action by the Obama administration.

“It won’t be enough to have a serious impact on the structure of the factory farms,” Kirby says. “We are awash in apathy in this country.”

[For a complete transcript of the Interview with David Kirby see 24 Corporate Crime Reporter 33(10), August 30, 2010, print edition only.]

RUSSELL MOKHIBER is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter.