How will we ever stop factory farming when industries are entrenched in interdependence?
by Pamela Rice
Symbiotic relationships between industries are nothing new--most are innocent enough. When two industries, or even a whole network of industries, join together for their own "win win" situation, all can be great-for the businesses themselves, the economy and the employees. But when the "back-office" victims are innocent animals, many of these stories take on a dark and tragic aspect. The "win win" situation ain't so winning for our hooved, finned, furred and winged friends.
There seems to be one of these stories out there every day. Some that I have come across lately include:
One foot-long fish per gallon
A November 11 Business Week "Development to Watch" feature tells of new techniques that allow fish farmers to more easily raise high-priced striped bass and tilapia in hyperintensive tanks. Fish concentration in such tanks allows a mere one gallon of water to every foot-long fish. This energy-intensive operation requires special pumps and filters that recirculate, oxygenate and clean water to a level needed to keep the fish alive, though surely not very happy.
The cruelty of this type of operation is not alluded to even remotely in the article. The news here is that a research institute that specializes in electric power is looking to these fish farms as a potential solution to power plants' problem of excess "waste" heat--a by-product of power-plant operations.
The fish-farm water apparently cools off with all of this aeration and filtering. The excess heat from power plants, the institute has shown, will be able to keep the fish warm.
Here we have a beautiful little arrangement for all, except the fish, which acts as one more step toward making factory farming just a little more viable, a little freer from criticism and ultimately a little harder to dismantle-no matter how many citizens may object to it on the grounds of cruelty.
That's feathers, and that's pounds
An October 13 New York Times story tells of a mutually beneficial relationship on the horizon between chicken factory farmers and diaper and filter manufacturers. According to the article, one rendering plant can process half a million pounds of feathers per week-that's feathers, and that's pounds! As an aside, the article notes that currently feathers are "recycled as a protein supplement for chickens"; in other words, chickens in factory farms eat the feathers of chickens who have been slaughtered before them.
Scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture, which financed the research on chicken feathers-together with Perdue Farms of Maryland-have recently discovered that the feathers can be turned into a low-cost absorbent paper for diapers as well as for air filters for trucks and tractors. Though chicken-feather paper, according to the article, is a "considerable distance away"--mostly because licensers of the process need to get set up-eventually the process is sure to be instituted. So, again, such an arrangement between factory farming (in this case, the chicken industry) and otherindustries (in this case, the diaper and filter industries) can make factory farming just that much more entrenched and unchangeable. Just that many more people will have their livelihoods tied to such a process, and the chickens will continue to suffer with even less chance than before for their suffering to end.
Bear-bile shampoo: broadening demand for a cruelly exotic substance
A November 9 Economist article tells a heartbreaking story about bears in China that fits a similar pattern. "In a long, factory-like building 300 bears are kept in cages of about one square metre. They are harnessed into metal suits like body-armour, with a built-in pouch for collecting their most valuable excretion: bile from their gall-bladders, a highly prized remedy in traditional medicine." [Send a SASE to the VivaVegie Society to obtain a photocopy of the article, which includes a picture of one of these bears languishing in one of these tiny cages with its metal suit on (donations appreciated).]
The article explains many aspects of this story, but what concerns us here is bear factory farming's link to other industries that will serve to institutionalize and entrench intensive confinement of bears. The story notes that previously bile from bears was always obtained from bears in the wild. Though some argue that obtaining the bile on farms will ensure the survival of the wild bears, which are in danger of extinction, the opposite outcome is clearly more likely. As the article puts it, since the farms have come into existence, "the availability of [the] bile is itself stimulating demand." It tells of new products, such as bear-bile shampoo, coming to the marketplace. So, even if animal-rights activists rose up in protest, how would they ever dismantle the companies that bottle bear-bile shampoo? All those tied to the industry (related directly or not)-employees, suppliers and consumers, would be up in arms .It's the economy, stupid.