I was giving a talk at a conference in Oklahoma about the public health dangers of industrial animal farming, or “factory farming” as it is commonly called.
Each year, more than 64 billion animals are raised and killed for food globally. In the United States alone, 1 million animals are slaughtered every hour. Largely because of increased demand for cheap animal products, intensive animal operations have replaced most traditional farming practices world- wide.
The transformation of animal agriculture is so dramatic that it has been dubbed the “livestock revolution.” This unprecedented change in the human relationship with animals has led to not only more animal suffering than ever before in human history but also to devastating harms to human health.
At the conference, I presented data showing how animal agriculture (and the resultant high consumption of animal products) causes more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector. It also pollutes our land and water and increases our risks of cancers, obesity, strokes, and infectious diseases like salmonella, E. coli, and bird flus. Throughout my presentation, a solemn-looking woman with short, auburn hair and glasses kept shaking her head in disagreement. When I ended my talk and opened the floor for questions, the woman went on the attack. She disputed everything I said. There are no environmental hazards, no infectious disease risks, no animal welfare problems.
“Have you ever visited one of these farms?” she demanded, with evident anger.
I told her I had not because these places are not open for the public’s viewing. But my data came from reputable studies published by institutions like the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The evidence is so strong, the American Public Health Association called for a moratorium on factory farms.
The woman, Jean Sander, was dean of the Oklahoma State University’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences. “You need to visit our farms,” she replied. “They are nothing like what you say.”
Three months later, I take Jean up on her offer. The farms are worse than anything I’ve read.
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