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From the Annals of Factory Farming

May 20, 2013

Bacon is delicious. Ham is dynamite. Pig farming, on the other hand, can be problematic.

Please forgive me for sharing this story with you. It’s not the most appetizing one I’ve done recently. But I think it’s important. And thanks to my good old friend Raf for bringing it to my attention.

Incidentally, my kids were trained from the earliest of ages to call Raf, “Uncle Doodie.” He chose the moniker himself. So yeah, this post is about poop. Actually, it’s even better than poop. It’s about exploding poop.

You can read the entire text of the article from Tom Philpott here. But it starts off talking about the foams one might expect to see on a plate at one of the world’s top restaurants. However, it very quickly takes a dark turn down to the manure pits that lurk beneath factory farms.

Here’s how it works. Pigs are jammed into confined spaces with slats on the floor so these poor animals don’t have to wallow in their own filth. All their waste is concentrated in great pits underground. So that’s just gross. Still, these living conditions can lead to problems, so some pig farmers decide to provide their animals with subtherapeutic levels of antibiotics.

This is only an issue if you are concerned about superbugs. Those would be bacteria that develop a resistance to antibiotics and could sicken and kill the world. So far that situation is worsening, but it’s far from dire.

Okay. Well, that used to be the major danger, except a new one has emerged.

All that poop underneath the slats, well, it’s come alive. And it’s growing. It sounds like something out of the movie Dogma. But there is a layer of foam that’s trapping methane and growing on the surface of these poop ponds.

When the trapped gases release and it causes an explosion, this no longer becomes a laughing matter. We’re talking blowing the roof off of barns and throwing nearby farmers 20 feet away from the force of the blast. And this isn’t a one-time fluke occurrence either.

While nobody knows exactly why the foam is growing on the poop and why the phenomenon is expanding, the experts have devised a solution. The foam itself can be killed by dousing the poop pits with even more antibiotics.

What could possibly go wrong?

It sounds a lot like what we do with Arm & Hammer Baking Soda. You can put that stuff on anything. It’s a miracle worker. However, baking soda doesn’t create potentially deadly and unstoppable bacteria.

My solution is much more simple. Stop buying factory farmed pork.

That doesn’t mean that you need to stop eating bacon. Just know where your bacon is coming from. The same goes for ham. And your pork loins, pork chops, pulled pork, lechon, pernil, braised pork belly, baby back ribs, Italian sausage, etcetera.

I don’t know about you, but this story is so jarring that it’s going to help me think twice about buying conventionally produced pork products. Young Master Fussy will probably not be giving up his precious bbq pork buns, but I’ll make other choices when I can.

Luckily, All Good Bakers now has bacon. Just beware that sometimes their delivery is late and Wednesday mornings can be sadly baconless. At least there is Chipotle with a consistent supply of sustainably raised pork shoulders.

Pork’s too delicious to give up entirely. But even making small changes can have a big impact. I’ve seen it happen. It totally works.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2013 9:15 am

    Although this is actually a very serious matter, I must admit that before I understood where the article was going, your second paragraph gave me a case of the childhood giggles. “0MG. He said explosive poop” and then a stupid grin came across my face like a 12 year old.

    I fear that we, as a society – not individuals, ate responsible for this mess to an extent. The population demands fast easy and cheap. That is not a formula that can possibly result with a quality end product.

    I agree that if we all make conscious decisions when we buy food (and other products), eventually we can begin the process to undo this.

    I have hope, yet.

    • May 20, 2013 9:17 am

      Typo (sorry, iPhone auto correct fail)

      Second paragraph: ate = are

  2. May 20, 2013 10:17 am

    I will have to check out Oscar’s to see where they get their pork. We cannot live without our Oscar’s bacon.

  3. May 20, 2013 10:18 am

    Thank you, this is a great post. I love my pork but the way hogs are raised today is disgusting. Wouldn’t it be great if we had televisions in the meat section of the grocery store showing a video of the farm where your pork was raised? Seems like that would change things immediately. I like at the Troy Market how some of the cattle farmers have the easel set up with photographs of the animals at their farms. Seeing happy pigs and cows makes shelling out the extra bucks a little easier.

  4. Jenn permalink
    May 20, 2013 11:02 am

    I’m surprised that the conclusion is more antibiotics, which is very problematic. Wouldn’t it make more sense to add in some bleach? Are they worried about fumes?

  5. May 20, 2013 11:14 am

    In Iowa where much of the factory farming is done, the decision to go from naturally raised pigs to factory–often subsidized by a meat company which promises easy returns with minimal work, much like opening a yoghurt franchise–can pit one generation against another. Aside from exploding the manure pools create toxic pollution through airborne e. coli particles. And of course they stink.

    The factory farms I visited had wire mesh for flooring, not slats. That would be much worse for the comfort of the pigs. Slats would be an “improvement” relatively speaking but I’m worried the author used the term loosely since slats would be much harder to clean.

  6. Raf permalink
    May 20, 2013 1:36 pm

    Love that you went with annals for the title.

  7. May 20, 2013 1:48 pm

    It seems like what they should really do is figure out a way to harness the methane for green power. Investment = cheap energy + no more explosions.

  8. May 20, 2013 2:16 pm

    Having read Annie Proulx’s novel That Old Ace in the Hole a few years back, these descriptions certainly weren’t that disgusting, comparatively speaking. The book made for a good and relatively entertaining take-down of the corporate hog farming industry. I’d like to quote entire passages of it here, but instead I’ll refrain and just give my recommendation.

    Okay, one quote from one character in the novel: “Hog farms create uninhabitable zones just as sure as if land mines was planted there.” May seem like an exaggeration, but I’m not so sure about that.

    Also, “At least there’s Chipotle” is a refrain I find myself singing on many occasions for many reasons.

  9. May 20, 2013 3:49 pm

    @KB, there are systems now that harvest methane from farm waste. That methane then goes to power machinery and and generators on the farms themselves. The digesters have been around for years, but they cost money. http://www.vlt.org/news-publications/publications-archive/archived-articles/methane-digesters

    I don’t understand why local and national law just doesn’t make implementing this a requirement as a basic cost of doing business for the gigantic farms. Well, I don’t understand the logic, but I get the politics. I don’t accept it, but I get it.

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