Picture it: A lake the size of four football fields filled with pig feces and urine. That’s the scene outside of thousands of factory farms across the United States. As shown in this spy drone video, the world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods factory, is no different. The lakes, which some call open toxic cesspools, can hold as much waste as a medium-sized city.
Waste Disposal: Where Does It Go?
These factories house thousands of pigs, and it is clear that all of their waste has to go somewhere. Once it falls through the floors of the housing units, it is flushed out into these giant lakes where it sits until the lakes become too full. Now, this is where it gets sketchy, because the video doesn’t show exactly what happens to the waste at this particular factory. The video implies that the waste is pumped through giant hoses and sprayed into the atmosphere, causing the tiny droplets to be carried into neighboring communities, polluting private property and watersheds. If this is the case, then this particular practice is, at the very least, an environmental nuisance and a health concern for individuals living in nearby cities.
For decades, it has been a common practice to reuse livestock waste as fertilizer for surrounding crop fields. The practice ― specifically the smell ― has never been a selling point for living in the small, surrounding, rural communities, but nonetheless, reusing pig and cattle waste has been a viable way to repurpose the waste that, again, must go somewhere. If Smithfield Foods and other farm factories are spreading waste over fields as fertilizer, can they be vilified simply because the general population is now just becoming aware of such a practice that has been around for decades? Most likely no. Can they be vilified if they are simply spraying the waste into the atmosphere to be rid of it? Most likely yes. Again, more information than this particular video offers is needed to make that call.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
Ethics Blurred by Capitalism
Perhaps the bigger issue this video raises is the treatment of the pigs themselves, and what, if anything, can American consumers do about it. There have been many whistleblowers that have come forward over the last few years and painted a disturbing picture of the deplorable conditions these pigs (and other food animals) are forced to live and die in.
In these factory farms, pigs, who are known to be smarter than our beloved dog companions, are packed into small spaces and forced to stand for most of their lives on concrete floors. Mother pigs are locked inside metal cages that are so small, they quite literally can’t turn around for months at a time. For a nation that is, by and large, against animal cruelty, how are companies like Smithfield Foods allowed to get away with their cruel practices?
That answer lies in the age-old concept of supply and demand. As long as Americans want access to cheap pork, these pork factories will thrive and no doubt be allowed to treat the “cheap meat” anyway they deem necessary to turn a profit.
Some opponents of these meat factories claim free-range organic farms are the only option that makes sense, while others support an alternative somewhere between free-range and concentrated industrial animal production. And some, who are theoretically opposed to such horrendous treatment of animals, are equally opposed to paying over $5 for a pound of bacon. Then there are those who are certain that we are only years away from 3D printed meat. Maybe they’re right, and in the very near future, livestock will become domesticated, beloved pets.
For now, videos like these invite all Americans into the conversation and, if nothing else, make consumers aware of how their buying choices create a ripple effect.
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