Animal Studies Bibliography
Mason, Jim and Mary Finelli. 2006. "Brave New Farm?" In Linda Kalof and Amy Fitzgerald (eds.), The Animals Reader: The Essential Classic and Contemporary Writings , 158-170. Oxford, UK: Berg.
(Summarized by Christina Leshko, Animal Studies Program, Michigan State University)
Mason and Finelli introduce their essay, “Brave New Farm,” by contrasting popular romanticized farm images with the starkly different reality of modern agricultural practices. They provide a historical background of how this process occurred, evolving from the large scale production of chickens in urban market centers to meet the pre-WW II demand for eggs and meat. “Scientific” practices were established to deal with the problems of mass production, which included the development of 1) specialized food and drugs, 2) structures that simplified the disposal of waste, and 3) modifications to the physical bodies of the animals. High demand also resulted in the development of specialized breeds: “broilers” grow to market size in just seven weeks while “layers” are forced into rapid egg production cycles. The factory farm system reduces individual animals to “the equivalent of living machinery” (p. 160).
The expansion of the chicken industry into a factory model resulted in the establishment of new markets for refining mass-production husbandry. Mason and Finelli write: “In the 1960s they began developing systems for pigs, cattle and sheep that incorporated the principles of confinement, mass-production, and automated feeding, watering, ventilation, ad waste removal” (p. 160). The consequences of these new models falls directly on the animals as their health and well-being is disregarded in favor of higher production rates. Like chickens, farm animals such as pigs, cattle, sheep, ducks, and fish suffer from overcrowding, insufficient/forced diet, stress, disease, grossly premature deaths, forced breeding and painful physical manipulations of their bodies (for example, tail docking).
However, as expected, the factory farm creates new problems and health risks in place of the old. Animals suffer from severe stress-related problems, resulting in aggression and premature death. Rather than addressing the cause of the problems (crowding, unnatural and harsh conditions), animal-factory managers manipulate the environment, constraining and tethering some animals while destroying others. Often, solutions require high-capital investments in technological advances expanding the agribusiness market. One solution being sought is detailed in “Biotech Barnyard” and concerns the negative impacts to both animals and their offspring of cloning and genetic engineering.
While animals are the direct victims of depraved factory farming practices, humans also suffer the consequences, becoming victims of anti-biotic resistant strains of bacteria, developed in disease-prone factories. Antibiotics also pass through the systems of animals, into the manure used for fertilization, creating “an alarming new kind of pollution.” The problems associated with animal disease control are so significant that both “the World Health Organization (WHO)and the American Medical Association recommend that antibiotics not be used to promote animal growth” (p. 166).
Factory farms also create socioeconomic problems for small farmers and rural communities as large factories require huge initial investments and high levels of production to meet loan repayment requirements. Capital intensification and chronic overproduction drive down the market price of meat and leave the industry in “the hands of the largest, most intensive operations” (p. 167). Farmed animals in the US have little, if any, legal protection, and are often purposely excluded from legislation. Mason and Finelli conclude with the suggestion that, “Eating eggs and dairy products may actually be worse than eating meat, since the hens and cows used to produce them are among the animals who suffer the longest and the worst, after which they, too, are killed. We need to question the very concept of marketing sentient beings” (p. 170).