The Truth About “Factory Farms”

The term “factory farm” is being used more and more in our world, and the connotation just gets worse and worse. Many companies would like consumers to picture their competition’s food raised in cold, lightless buildings, being abused and neglected by the “big ag” companies.

Most definitions inclFactory Farming ude the size of the farm as a deciding factor in whether a farm is considered a “factory farm.” Here is one definition, “characterized by a dense population of animals raised on limited land and requiring large amounts of food, water and medical inputs”

But instead of size, the USDA classifies farms by the amount of products sold per year. So the main practice associated with “factory farming” is not even a description used by the USDA, there is no top limit on amount of sales for a family farm; they can make millions in profit and still be considered a family farm as long as they fit these requirements.

Chipotle, HSUS, PETA, and countless other animal rights activists would love if they could convince the nation and world that these factory farms dominate the United States, but the truth is they do not. Here is another animal rights group’s definition of a “factory farm.

This website states that “factory farms dominate U.S. food production,” but that is not the truth. According to the US Department of Agriculture, USDA, 97.6% of farms are family farms, and they account for 85% of production.

This website also states that the animals undergo “debilitating and painful conditions and deformities.” From personal experience I know anything that is broken is more difficult to sell, this includes animals. If we look at this from a purely economical standpoint farmers want to care for their animals because then they can make a larger profit.

But farmers also genuinely care for their animals, they spend countless hours checking cows that are about to calf, or treating a sick animal. Whoever said farmers don’t care for their animals, has probably never met a true farmer. I was recently working bulls with some of the biggest names in the cattle industry in Alabama, and before lunch these men gathered together and prayed, not only for our food, but also for the bulls we had just worked: for their safety, health, and growth.

Family FarmAnother characteristic people associate with “factory farming” is confinement in a barn; some people assume these walls are made to hide the torture we have planned for the animal, but what they do not realize is that these barns actually protect animals.

I live in Alabama, where 100 on a summer day in the middle of July is nothing new. I know people that farm in South Dakota where a few feet of snow can be constantly on the ground in the winter. Our barns provide protection from these extremes, no the animals may not be out grazing the pastures 24/7 but at least they aren’t freezing to death or dying of heat stroke. (this mostly pertains to smaller livestock, not cattle)

This blog does a great job of explaining why these Minnesota farmers house their hogs in a barn.

The main practices that consumers associate with “factory farming” and “big ag” are just large scale family farms that are run humanely by a family that is trying to make a living just like you or me. I once had a lady tell me that someone was not a “real farmer” because he ran a large operation, I do not think that the number of livestock or acres you have should determine if you are a real farmer. I believe the way you raise and treat your animals should determine if you are a true farmer.

The Truth About Antibiotics and Hormones in Beef

The use of hormones and antibiotics in the beef we eat is being questioned individually and on a large scale. An example of this is Steve Ells, Chipotle’s founder, chairman, and co-CEO, who stated the chain was going to import beef from over 8,000 miles away in Australia, because the supply of antibiotic and hormone free beef has dwindled recently. That is his opinion, and he is entitled to it, but I just wanted to help spread awareness about how antibiotics and hormones are used in the beef industry.

The different antibiotics used in humans and beef cattle

Top antibiotics in humans vs. animals

Most people do not realize that the main antibiotics used in production agriculture are different from the main antibiotics used for human treatment, so the formation of “superbugs” from agricultural use of antibiotics is unlikely. This is helped by farmers following the prescription regiment better than human patients do (mostly because the cattle can’t tell us they “feel fine, they don’t need anymore medicine.”)

People that do not take/finish their antibiotic prescriptions from the doctor are more likely to contribute to the formation of “superbugs” than farmers who administer antibiotics to their sick cattle to prevent a loss.

Another protection protocol is that all antibiotics come with specific labels about the length of time (between 14-22 days) from the final administration of the antibiotic and harvest of the animal. The time span provided depends on the antibiotic, the dosage, and the length of the prescription; this time frame allows for enough time for the antibiotic to leave the animal’s system.

Now for the next thing Steve Ells said that US beef couldn’t provide, hormone free beef. The US can’t provide it because it is impossible, all living things have hormones so there is no such thing as “hormone free” beef. But we’ll just assume he meant no added hormones. It is true, some farms use added hormones to aid in raising their cattle, this is perfectly legal unlike in the poultry and pork industries. Hormones in cattle are administered through an implant under the skin on the back of the ear and are released slowly over time. Since the ear is one of the few parts of the beef carcass that we discard the implant never enters the food industry.

Now for the part everyone is worried about, the amount of hormones that actually end up in our food. Research has shown that a 3 oz natural, non-implanted steak has 1.39 nano grams of estrogen. A 3 oz hormone implanted steak has 1.89 nano grams of estrogen. In comparison 3 oz of cabbage has 2,017 nano grams, one birth control pill has 34,000 nano grams, and a normal adult male has 136,000 nano grams of estrogen. All of these numbers are well and good, but how much is a nano gram? It is one-billionth of a gram, in other words not a lot! To put that in a visual perspective if you took a paper clip and then tore it into 1 billion pieces, one of those pieces would be about equal to a nano gram.

While Steve Ells and Chipotle choose to source beef from over 8,000 miles away, I am perfectly satisfied with my American raised beef, because I know the truth about antibiotics and hormones in beef.