A Brutally Honest Look at our Industrial Food System

By Barbara Kessler, 19 October 2010

'CAFO' editor Daniel Imhoff talks about his new large-format book that reveals the ugly images behind factory farms

CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories, a large format book of essays and photographs exposing America's uber-industrialized animal food production system, presents a flurry of disturbing content.

There are pictures of pigs, cattle and chickens in degrees of distress, packed into facilities lined with mud, manure and dead or dying inhabitants.

The selected essays by noted agriculture experts, environmental activists and journalists delve further into this nightmare world for animals, as they peel back the curtain on the inhumane system of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The writers (Michael Pollan, Robert Kennedy Jr., Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, Anna Lappe, Tom Philpott and many more) outline the growing threats posed by modern CAFOs, examining how they damage waterways, abuse human labor, feast on fossil fuels, contribute to the loss of livestock diversity, fuel climate change and play health roulette with their dangerous reliance on antibiotics and growth hormones.

This CAFO system the essayists describe is cruel, foolish, dangerous and unsustainable.

You won't find the "other side" of this view in CAFO, whose raison d'etre is to counter Big Ag's message that such a revved up system is necessary to feed the planet and that the animals within are treated well enough.

Instead, CAFO (Watershed Media/Earth Aware, October 2010) puts these assumptions to the test, telling a back story of how concentrated animal facilities aren't even fulfilling their promise of efficiency, and beyond that, are threatening animal and human health in multiple ways. CAFOs are incubating superbugs that raise the risk of a pandemic; degrading the environment with mountains of fecal waste and loading our plates with hormones, fat and chemicals.

Where's the positive side? In the vision of alternative methods — also detailed in the book — that respect animal life and reconnect with natural processes, allowing livestock to feed on grass, reproduce and mature at a more nature pace.

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