One Little Piggy on Our Farm Didn’t Make It.
This is not a defense of Confinement Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) also known as Factory Farms. On a blog I like and others around the web they’re making sensationalist posts along the lines of linking CAFOs to the A/H1N1 flu. At this point there doesn’t appear to be any link, people are giving it to people and the only known cases of pigs getting it involves them getting it from people. Whether there is a link or not it would be best to stick with facts rather than sensationalist reporting based on emotion. I do not usually reply to other blogs but the disinformation is too intense. The following is in response to a series of photos that are being used to misrepresent.
20100211 Update: – As usual, time brought forth truth. Humans were the source of this round of pandemic, transmitting to other humans around the world and occasionally to a few pigs, chickens, turkeys, dogs and cats. Our governments inspired great fear mongering. Lobbyists got rich. Pharmaceutical companies made fortunes, rushed vaccines to the market without sufficient testing and had to recall millions of doses. The CDC said it doesn’t matter. Fortunately this time we appear to have dodged the bullet and A/H1N1 did not kill off a large percentage of humanity or anything else.
The blog in question with the photos is sensationalism. They provide some out of context photos with erroneous titles and text to shock people. Let’s take a look behind the obvious shock value…
(I don’t post the photos because they are not mine – you can see them at the link above if you like.)
The broken pipe is literally nothing. The entire pipe leads out into, not a lake, but a waste lagoon. The idea is to put the fluid waste material into the lagoon and water evaporates so it condenses and can be managed better. (I won’t argue here about the toxic sludge of antibiotics in CAFO waste – we all know that.) The pipe is disconnected at one point but the disconnect is out over the lagoon so it is still dumping in the lagoon. Calling that a lake is simply more sensationalism – it is a waste lagoon just like used by cities to handle their waste. Nothing to see there folks, let’s move on.
Barrels full of bacteria? Huh? What I see in that fuzzy photo is a crushed soda bottle along the concrete block wall which gives size reference. Perhaps he had another distorted grainy photo he meant to use but that is a pretty clear photograph of a pop bottle despite the blow up – Sprite perhaps? Maybe he meant barrels we can’t see. Well, then why the photo of the soda bottle? Speaking of bacteria, I hope everyone does realize that good bacteria are a vital part of breaking down materials, like in compost, into nutrients that plants can use? That photo was pure emotional sensationalism. I’m not impressed. Next slide please.
Three(?) dead pigs in a pile waiting to be moved. In a CAFO of 1,000,000 pigs a year this isn’t shocking. Some pigs will die every day and need to be removed from the pens. Nothing wrong. We’re looking for some thing really bad, not merely a little gross.
Eleven(?) dead pigs being moved on hand cart. Well, you need to move them somehow. Is this the process of collecting the three above and some others? Looks like their on their way to composting or methane digestion. Yes, it is grosses if all you’ve ever dealt with is ‘clean’ cities but there’s a misnomer if there ever was one. Again, nothing wrong.
A few dead pigs in the methane digester. Well, yes, of course, that’s the responsible place to put the dead, in a compost pile or methane digester. Better than feeding them to the public or pets like they do with downers. Again, nothing wrong. Let’s move along.
Dead pig out in the lagoon. Yeah, that one stinks, literally. These things happen though. So the company produces 1 million pigs a year and the photographer managed to find that dead pig out of place. Kind of hard to tell it is a pig. I wouldn’t have guessed from the photo but I’ll believe the blogger. Yet, what is the “dead pig” doing there in the waste lagoon? Decomposing perhaps? Yup. Not really that big a deal. Of course, it should be in the compost pile or in the methane digester. Perhaps the photographer was helpful and went and reported it to management so they could properly take care of the situation.
So, of all those photos nothing was actually wrong except maybe one pig in the wrong place. Out of a million pigs there are going to be a few dead ones. This is reality, not Disney Land. This is not Park Place or Boardwalk. The numbers don’t impress me. This winter we lost five of our sows. They were old. They had begun as a group, were all the same age and all died the same year. No surprises there. Others from that same age cohort are still alive but getting on in years. Death happens whether I like it or not. I composted their bodies with fitting ritual – pigs are Mudamists – They return to the Earth from whence we all came. Dust to dust and all that good organic stuff. The compost will fertilize fruit trees I will plant. The cycle of life continues.
We raise 200 pigs on our small pasture based farm – Five sows died. At the Smithfield plant in Mexico they raise 1,000,000 pigs a year. If the ratio held true and they were doing as well as a small farm we all say we want emulated then they would have 25,000 pig deaths a year. Yowsa! That puts the numbers in perspective. There were only a few dead pigs in those photos, not 25,000 dead pigs. Remember, they’re producing about a million hogs a year. That’s a major city. That’s almost twice the population of our entire state. Even if you divided 25,000 by 365 days in a year you’re still talking 68 dead pigs a day. There weren’t 68 pigs in the photos so it wasn’t a day’s worth by the math. I count maybe a maximum of 20 pigs in all of those photos, maybe even half that. Your count may vary, slightly, but not by much. It is hard to tell if perhaps some of those photos might be multiple shots of the same pigs which would reduce the count. In any case, we’re not talking a 3 fold or order of magnitude difference so it is moot.
There is death on the farm, be it a CAFO or a small farm, livestock, fruit or vegetables. Even if you grow vegetable or grain crops you kill large numbers of insects, worms, snakes, rabbits, birds, mice, deer and other animals when you plow, till, harvest and otherwise work the soil. If you raise livestock there will be some who will die – not 100% are going to make it to the plate. The bodies should ideally be composted to return the nutrients to the soil. A methane digester is an alternative some places now also use to generate electricity and gas to produce their own energy. This is well and good.
The big thing that this whole episode emphasizes is that it is important to look critically, to question, to understand the evidence being presented. Someone posted a series of “Shocking Photos” but when I look carefully at the photos and run the numbers it really isn’t nearly as bad as they are making it out to be. Instead it was simple sensationalism like we see in the tabloids. Bah.
By now perhaps you think I’m here to defend Big Ag. I’m not. I’m defending rationality. I’m trying to put some perspective on this, especially for city folk who deal with death in shrink wrapped packages under bright florescent lighting. In the city one has the paramedics, hospital and undertaker to handle death. On the farm its all done by the farmer. I am not defending CAFOs in the slightest – I do not like factory farms at all. I am not defending their pollution of the water supply, the air, the horrible way that they raise animals, their worker conditions or anything they do. But let’s do accurate reporting rather than sensationalism. Sensationalistic articles like the ones I cited at the top just cause a loss of credibility and lose the focus on what really matters. Focus, focus, focus.
So, what can you do? Don’t support factory farming. As much as you can avoid buying food that came from Big Ag be it vegetables, fruit, dairy, meat or grains. Buy locally. Support your local economy, your neighbors. Make a little difference every day.
Outdoors: 63°F/38°F Sunny
Farm House: 50°F/49°F
Tiny Cottage: 65°F/61°F Torn weaned Friday