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The Food Machine

Agriculture "Gag-Laws" Covering Up Factory Farm Horrors

By James Donahue

After getting caught with their pants down by investigative reporters posing as workers on corporate-owned factory farms, big business interests are striking back. Legislators in at least six states have caved to corporate pressure and passed laws making it illegal to take entry-level jobs to document the food safety and animal welfare abuses that are going on.

Since the concept of "factory farms" has swept the nation, undercover investigations, mostly by food safety and animal rights activists, have led to massive meat recalls, the shut-down of several slaughterhouses and disclosures of cruel animal handling practices.

The source of this movement is reportedly the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which is providing legal representation for the corporations that own and operate these massive farming operations.

To date, six states have adopted laws making it illegal to enter these farms under false pretenses, to photograph, or report such abuses without permission from the owners of the farms. Those states are Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and Utah.

According to a report by Truthout, three other states, New Hampshire, Wyoming and Nebraska are considering similar gag-laws. Consumer and animal welfare activists successfully blocked such laws from passing in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York and Tennessee.

But the pressure is on. The idea is to hide from public view the way America’s food is being mass produced. And it isn’t the way many of us that grew up on family-owned farms remember.

I grew up on such a farm. That was a time when families could make a good living on farms no larger than 160-acres. Dairy farmers with herds of 10 to 20 cows milked the animals by hand. All of the animals were treated well and on some farms, they were given names by the family members who fed and cared for them.

We worked our fields with tractors just large enough to pull a two-bottom plow. It took us a day or two just to get a 40-acre field prepared for planting. A good yield of wheat was about 30 bushes of seed from an acre of land.

Things have changed in a big way since I left the farm. During my years on various Michigan newspapers, I never forgot the farm life and watched with interest as the small family farms got bought up by the more prosperous area farmers. Farms got larger and larger in size. And these new farm operators, forced by tighter pricing, reduced profits and rising operating costs, eventually turned farming into a highly mechanized business. Only the best and most aggressive operators survived.

They bought more and more land, expanded the farms into hundreds if not thousands of acres, tore down fences, cut down trees, bulldozed over the little ponds, and farmed with massive machines capable of plowing, conditioning and planting hundreds of acres in a single afternoon. Instead of knowing the joy of working with the land, these "modern farmers" turned to giant tractors with air-conditioned cabs, built-in radio systems, and they used chemicals that killed bugs and weeds. The chemicals were often applied by crop dusters flying over the fields, getting the job done in a few swipes.

Eventually these farms were snatched up by the corporate farming operators. Instead of having a few animals in the barn, they introduced the feedlots where they kept thousands of animals. They fed them chemicals designed to make them grow quickly, and antibiotics to keep them healthy in such a closed environment. This then, is a description of the factory farm.

My wife and I were born and raised in a rural farming area of Michigan and when we retired, our hope was to buy a small home with a few acres of land on which to garden and live out the golden years of our lives. But the stench of these factory farms was so terrible, there was literally no place to live that folks in that area weren’t suffering from the noxious smells. Living downwind from a 2,000 head beef farm is bad enough, but we had similar farms keeping hogs, chickens and dairy cows. We retreated to the Upper Peninsula of the state where the soil is rocky and the seasons too short to attract industrial farming.

Imagine the cruelty of keeping an animal locked in a constrictive cage where it barely has room to move, and feeding it chemicals to make it grow fat in a short time before it is butchered and sent to our grocery store meat counters. People who can do this share no love for the animals or for nature. The waste from these farms gets in the water supply, and works its way into local streams and eventually the Great Lakes.

The process of killing and butchering these animals is done on an assembly line, with no regard for the suffering of the creature. And careless practices have brought about the spread of such terrible bugs as salmonella, listeria and E-coli. The exposure of such practices has linked these diseases to the crass new era of farming.