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Book: Animal factory

Do you drink water? Breath air? Live on Earth? Then you should read this book! Kirby does a spectacular job at shedding light on the food industry, and what it has and is doing to the environment, health, and society. It is a grande piece of investigative journalism, well researched and well balanced. The subject is something that affects you directly, no matter how much or little health food conscious you are.

The focus of the book is the CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), pronounced “kay-fo”. CAFOs have transformed the way food, particularly meat, is produced. These operations generate such high negative externalities that the food these produce costs the same overall as traditional food — but society as a whole pays for it through taxes, capital losses surrounding the operations, etc.

The book follows several story lines, where the reader meets local residents, fisherman, CAFO workers, CAFO owners, politicians, and meat packing workers. It details the history of problems with these in several different locations. Some of the problems that Kirby explains are: water pollution, air pollution, creation of pandemics, fresh water over-usage, poverty, and exploitation in various forms.

There are 3 animals primarily raised in CAFOs: pigs, chickens, and cows. Each brings its own problems, and these can be compounded if multiple types are in close proximity.

Imagine you live in a small but dense city of 50000 people. One that was about 1km across – putting it at one of the densest on Earth. Now imagine that all the sewage was just dumped on the streets and left to flow into a small stream. This is the approximate condition that most of these intensive operations create… as you can imagine, the untreated sewage would cause a lot of problems: kill the fishery, pollute the drinking water, even generate lethal concentrations of toxic gases.

Another problem Kirby highlights is the density, which creates an ideal environment for incubating bacteria and viruses. Downstream waterways are often full of multiple drug resistant pathogens. CAFOs have already been at the center of a major pandemic, the swine flu of 2009, and will most likely be implicated in further pandemics in the future.

This book is far more conprehensive than Fast food nation, which i reviewed earlier. It extends the audience to everyone, not just those who eat fast food.

This book may be as transformative as The Jungle by Sinclair Upton, that in 1906 led to changes in the meat-packing industry.

My rating: 10/10


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