A Better Factory Farm?

A few weeks ago, I asked When is a Factory Farm Not a Factory Farm? I suggested that the problem with some factory farms (including especially the ones that played a central role in the recent salmonella outbreak) is that, well, they’re just not enough like real factories. They’re not clean, they’re not efficient. And sure enough, when egg producer, Austin J. DeCoster testified before Congress a few weeks later, that’s roughly the excuse he gave — he had been operating an industrial-scale operation as if it were an amateur gig.

Descriptions of what the FDA found when they inspected DeCoster’s farm — manure, rodents, maggots — disgusted just about everyone. “Is that really what factory farms are like?” many wondered. “Wow, they’re even worse than I thought.” Well, for a look at a different kind of factory farm, see this piece by William Neuman, writing for the NYT: Clean Living in the Henhouse

In Henhouse No. 1 at the Hi-Grade Egg Farm here, the droppings from 381,000 chickens are carried off along a zig-zagging system of stacked conveyor belts with powerful fans blowing across them.

The excrement takes three days to travel more than a mile back and forth, and when it is finally deposited on a gray, 20-foot high mountain of manure, it has been thoroughly dried out, making it of little interest to the flies and rodents that can spread diseases like salmonella poisoning….

Interestingly, the description of this factory farm suggests that it really is very much like a real factory:

Visitors are made to dress in head-to-toe white coveralls made of a disposable material — evoking images of workers on the sterile floor of a semiconductor factory, only here there are downy feathers in the air and the racket made by hundreds of thousands of birds in cages stacked to the ceiling….

Now, I realize that the kinds of steps taken by the egg operation in this story don’t come close to eliminating all objections to factory farms. But given that just about everyone agrees that changes are needed in the way food is produced, it seems to me that it is important to understand the full range of models.

Of course, we in the egg-consuming public ought not be misled into thinking — based on a single story about a single farm — that all is rosy in the world of egg production. But then, that’s hardly a risk, given the publicity the industry has had over the last few months.

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
This entry was posted in agriculture, animal welfare, ethics, factory farms, farmers, FDA, health, industrial, regulation, safety. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Better Factory Farm?

  1. David says:

    It’s hard to imagine about the possibility of a good factory farm. Given the horrible conditions of overcrowding and the spread of diseases, it’s hard to have a clean and completely disease-free factory farm. Also, the meat and poultry industry wants to make profit by producing more meat, not less. In order to improve conditions in factory farms, the industry would have to raise less animals and produce less meat.

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