Posts Tagged ‘Slate

Enviros Start To Wake Up From Grass-Fed Dream

» August 5th, 2014

The Pitchfork has long maintained that pastured cows are no answer at all to the environmental catastrophe of beef production. In fact, it may even be worse. Integral to this mission has been the effort to push back against the grass-fed guru Allan Savory, whose rotational grazing fantasies have been nicely packaged as reality and shot into the bullseye of public opinion through that glitzy marketing move known a as a TED talk.

I took on Savory over a year ago here at Slate. The piece made an impression in some quarters, but overall it seems to have done little to dampen the glee of Savory’s absurd thesis that we can save the planet by eating beef. But a piece in yesterday’s Guardian by the popular environmental writer George Monbiot may have the heft to push Savory’s crackpot thesis into the dustbin of bad ideas. The article covers the same ground I covered in Slate but incorporates new research and a phone interview with the Savory to hammer home the fact that the man is loony.

As advocates for animals it is essential that we work to highlight the inherent environmental flaws of beef production, flaws that persist irrespective of the method of domestication or  farm size. Of course the Pitchfork is concerned with the end of all animal agriculture, but at the moment the grass-fed hypothesis is stunned and staggered. Apologies for the pugilistic metaphor, but as a fan of boxing I decalre it’s time to deliver this dangerous thesis a knockout punch.


The Vencomatic Paradox

» April 30th, 2014

There was a pretty good piece in Slate today about an innovative way to achieve antibiotic-free chicken. It involves a housing solution called the Vencomatic, a massive structure that allows growers to raise chickens in the same location where they’re hatched. Merging these phases of production obviates the need to transport chickens from hatchery to grow-out facility. This convergence, in turn, obviates the need to dose them with antibiotics, primarily because traveling chicks, who cannot be fed until they reach the “barn,” are debilitated by fragile immune systems that lead farmers to pump them with drugs.

What makes the Vencomatic especially appealing to poultry producers is the fact that it accommodates industrialized production. The Vencomatic’s promoters might tout nominal welfare improvements that the cavernous shed supposedly fosters (better ventilation, for example), but the bottom line is that the Big V crams birds  into “shelf-like stacked units” to maximize production. (Note: a flaw in the piece is that the writer bought the flimsy welfare claims hook, line, and sinker–yet another reason to push animal rights discussions into the mainstream media.)

Worse, the Vencomatic may even encourage producers who currently allow genuine free range to switch to indoor farming. The author writes, “Customers come mostly from other cold-climate areas where raising birds outdoors would be impractical: The company has installed patio barns holding hundreds of thousands of birds each in Russia, Korea, and Hungary, with three more coming in the Netherlands this year.”

There are, of course, a number of ways to critique this “solution,” but what I’d like to highlight is the fact that the Vencomatic provides yet another damning example that industrial animal agriculture will always be able to accomplish what advocates of small, humane farms insist can only happen on alternative systems.  For decades the mavens of agroecology have been insisting that the only way to avoid the horrific consequences of antibiotic abuse is to go small, go local, go “happy” chicken. But they’re wrong.  As the Vencomatic proves, Big Ag is always a step ahead of the small guys.

Economics rig the game. The financial incentives are such that entrepreneurial efforts to reform the system will tend toward solutions that have the largest market. The Vencomatic is no surprise. It makes much more economic sense to attack the antibiotic threat by innovating in a way that’s amenable to Big Ag rather than encouraging consumers to shift purchasing habits. And thus it makes much more sense for those who really want to see the abuses of animal agriculture come to end to stop eating the products it produces rather than allowing animal welfare to be a source of capital generation for those who wantonly kill creatures for a living.