Why Entomophagy Matters

What is entomophagy? 

I get that question a lot (with the implied “why do you (and should I) care?”), and have worked to reduce my spiel down to an elevator pitch. My goal is to not just define the word, but tell why I care about entomophagy – give a convincing, but simple, explanation of why bugs are the best protein source for ethical and environmental reasons.

So I didn’t quite succeed at creating a quick pitch–there are too many important points to make! I’ll keep working on cutting it down into something that closer resembles an elevator pitch, but for now, here’s my… essay, really, with statistics help from Chapul, Exo, Crik Nutrition, Bitty FoodsBig Cricket Farms, the journal Science, Stanford, and the Coursera course from Johns Hopkins on the US Food system I took a couple years ago (see here, here, and here for relevant notes).

Most meat produced in the US is raised on factory farms, where animals are crammed together in cramped and dirty housing–a hardship for both animals and workers–and which pollute water, air, and soil, and drive down neighboring property values. *

Factory farmed animals are pumped full of antibiotics, chemicals, and hormones, and some farms feed industrial waste containing heavy metals to the animals. The sketchy things fed to food animals are later absorbed by human consumers. Remember, “you are what what you eat eats.” (Michael Pollan) Antibiotic misuse on factory farms breeds resistant strains of bacteria, which are transported off the farm via trucks, workers, meat, fertilizer, and even birds, and cause difficult-to-treat infections in humans. **


(credit: wongaboo; license)

Raising animals in industrial systems is extremely water- and land-intensive. ***

As the global need for protein continues to rise, the industrial farming system becomes less and less sustainable. Insects, specifically crickets, can be a nutritionally, ethically, and environmentally superior protein source to conventional meat.

Crickets are an excellent source of protein and nutrients. They are lower in fat, and higher in iron and magnesium than beef, and are a complete protein source: they contain all nine amino acids essential to human and animal diets.

The environmental footprint of a cricket farm is minuscule compared to an industrial farm system. Pound for pound, crickets produce 1% as many greenhouse gases as cows and three times less waste. Crickets need 8% of the feed and water as cows to produce the same amount of protein, and are much more efficient as a protein source than cows: 100 lbs of feed produces 50-60 lbs of edible cricket protein, vs 5 lbs of edible beef. **** A cricket farm requires 2000x less land than a cow farm.

Crickets have a much shorter life span, and can be harvested at 6 weeks, which is much faster than cows at 18 months. North American farms raising crickets for human consumption feed organic diets without hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides (of course). Crickets are harvested humanely by dropping the ambient temperature to put them into a dormant hibernation-like state, and from there they’re deep-frozen. *****

People in poor countries need access to iron- and protein-rich meat sources, and a resilient system for growing it. Cricket farming could help solve that problem. According to the UN, if edible insects become a part of the mainstream global diet, we can reduce greenhouse gases by 18%, and lower the average cost of food globally by 33%. Other cultures all over the world eat bugs, and Americans are already eating bug parts at some levels in processed foods. Insect protein is the future, so you might as well start embracing it now!

fried insects

(credit: shankar slicense)

For easy entry into the world of eating bugs, try cricket energy and meal replacement bars, cricket baked goods, and cricket protein powder from Exo, Chapul, Bitty Foods, and Crik Nutrition. For 10% off Exo bars, use code HAUTEPASTURE at checkout!

I had a lot of trouble limiting myself to a length that would make for a somewhat effective elevator pitch; hence, the asterisks above, for the following elaborations:

* Most people are aware of the terrible conditions for animals on factory farms, but the conditions can be horrible for workers too: exposure to chemicals, waste gases, particulates, hard labor, and illegals with no rights often must endure abusive hiring practices.

** Factory farms pollute water with waste storage failures and illegal dumping directly into waterways; air pollution comes from gases, particulates, and animal dander, and soil is polluted when waste is applied to land as fertilizer. For industrially produced meat products, the ratio of fossil fuel energy input to food energy produced out can be as high as 35:1, with beef produced in feedlots generally having the most unfavorable ratio.

*** 7% of global water is used to grow grain for livestock, and meat production uses 70% of farmland, 30% of Earth’s surface, and 40% grain grown globally. Meat production is an inefficient use of grain, water, and land: it takes 1000 kg water to produce 1 kg of grain. The grain required to produce 100 kg of beef, pork, and poultry is 700 kg, 650 kg, and 260 kg respectively. So, for beef, it takes 7000 kg of water to make 1 kg of beef.

**** Crickets require about one gallon of water per pound, about 2000x less than cows, 800x less than pigs, 500x less than chickens, 350x less than eggs, even 200x less than vegetables.

***** Usually then they’re boiled to clean them and remove wings and legs, and dried and pulverized into powder. Cricket powder alone is not very tasty, so it’s combined with other powders for cricket flour for baking, or protein powder for supplements.

The next big thing in sustainable protein: Bugs!

I recently had a birthday, and Mr. HP surprised me with these:

chocolate bugs


What a lucky girl I am!

Mr. HP set up a chocolate-dipped bug tasting for six at a Southwest Virginia winery. The accompanying pours were less for wine appreciation and more for steeling of nerves.

no bugs thanks

The buggy treats came from My Chocolate Shoppe in downtown Charlottesville, which has created quite a buzz (get it) locally with its chocolate-dipped worms, crickets, and scorpions. The bugs are farmed and baked in California, shipped to My Chocolate Shoppe, and hand-dipped on site.

bugs and wine

As insect farming is a rising trend in sustainable and ethical protein production, I felt compelled to write about my entomophagy experience here.

Sustainability of insect farming

We all know factory farming is bad for the atmosphere, waterways, local community, resident animals, facility workers, and potentially consumers of the end product. Production of traditional livestock (chicken, pigs, and beef cattle) contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than the transportation sector and consumes vast amounts of freshwater. Factory farms pollute waterways with fertilizer, pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics. CAFOs are blights on their surroundings and poison their neighbors with chemical runoff and manure lagoon leaks. Antibiotic use in livestock is causing the development of resistant strains of bacteria that are difficult to treat in humans. See my notes from a US Food Systems course I took last year for more horrifying details and appalling statistics.

As the global population continues to expand, there will be more and more pressure on the land to produce enough protein to feed everyone. Insects can fill this need with a much smaller footprint on the environment; they simply don’t require the land, water, and food resources that chickens, pigs, and cattle do. Insects produce fewer greenhouse emissions, their containers can be stacked on shelves, and insect farming doesn’t involve the hormones, antibiotics, fertilizers, and pesticides that CAFOs rely on.

It takes 2,900 gallons of water, 25 pounds of feed and extensive acreage to produce one pound of beef and just one gallon of water, two pounds of feed and a small cubicle to produce a pound of crickets. – “Edible insects a boon to Thailand’s farmers


Thus, considering all factors, the actual food conversion efficiency of insects may be 20 times that of cattle. This means insect farming — along with other forms of “microlivestock”, could be one of the elements of a sustainable global agricultural future.- “Edible bugs and insects: Are these high protein critters the future of food?

Bug farming ethics

Are the bugs treated ethically while alive? Are they humanely slaughtered? I believe so. Farmed insects are raised in dark colonies, as they are found in nature; they are provided food, and protected. When harvesting time rolls around, they are chilled to a natural hibernation-like state, and from there the temperature is lowered until they die quietly.

Insects raised in farms live in teeming dark conditions (preferable environment), with ample and abundant food supply, no natural predators, no risk of outside diseases or parasites, and when they’re culled we lower the temperature so that there’s no violent death or change in state (because insects are exothermic their metabolism slows until they go into a coma-like sleep without any pain). I can’t think of a more humane way to raise our meat. – Robert Nathan Allen of Little Herds, via NPR

Bug nutrition

Bugs are a high protein, nutrient-rich, low fat and low cholesterol food. Insect protein is a complete protein, meaning all nine essential amino acids are present. Bugs are also are significant sources of zinc, iron, and vitamin A.

According to Chapul, makers of cricket-based protein bars, insects have:

  • 15% more iron than spinach
  • 2x more protein than beef
  • as much B12 as salmon

The table below (source) compares insect nutrition against that of chicken, beef, and salmon:

Warning to those with a shellfish allergy: bug exoskeletons are made of chitin, which also makes the shells of shrimp, crabs, and lobsters.

But how did they taste?

We decided to eat the worm first, as it was the least intimidating, and we’d eat in in a single bite so we wouldn’t have to see any innards. It was… not bad. The worm had no flavor, so it just added a rice krispie-like crunch to the chocolate.

Next was the scorpion, which was a similar no-flavor-big-crunch addition to the chocolate as the worm. No problem.

The cricket had the biggest gross-out factor, in my opinion. Its body is meatier than the other two. And sure enough, I didn’t like it. It had a bitter flavor along with its crunch.

plates of bugs

It was a fun experiment. But – surprise – we Americans have been eating bugs all along in processed food. The FDA allows certain amounts of insect parts, including pieces, larvae, eggs, and sacs, in foods like dried herbs, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, coffee beans, flours, peanut butter, sauces, and more. This article estimates that “on average an individual probably ingests about one to two pounds of flies, maggots and other bugs each year without even knowing it.” Sorry to break it to you, but you’re already an entomophagist! Congrats!

I had no plans to eat more bugs in the immediate future, but while researching this post I enjoyed reading the Exo “Why Crickets” page so much I ordered a couple of their cricket-flour protein bars to try. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Marfrig: World Cup sponsor and global meat corporation

This post’s target demographic is the huge population in the center of this Venn diagram with me. Hello? Anyone else there?

target demographic venn diagram

While watching the World Cup, I noticed a curious ad plastered across the pitch-side advertising boards: Marfrig, qualidade em carne.

Marfrig sponsors the World Cup


I know zero Portuguese, but my Spanish-based powers of deduction suggested that Marfrig might be a major Brazilian meat company worth checking out. Brazilians love their beef, so I figured Marfrig might be focused on quantity rather than sustainability and ethical treatment. Here’s what I learned:

Blah blah blah. Lots of businessy speak about profits and brands and diversification and portfolios, but what about the animals?

The Marfrig Group is managed by an experienced team committed to the highest standards of corporate governance and environmental responsibility.

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. Please go on.

We currently operate 183 processing plants, distribution centers, feedlots and offices in 17 countries in South America, North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.  We have a daily slaughtering capacity of 20,730 head of cattle, 3,726,860 chickens, 11,179 head of pork, 41,000 turkeys and 11,900 lambs.  

So they can churn through lots of animals quickly. That doesn’t make me optimistic about their treatment of those animals. Oh, but wait, the first item on their Strategy page is this: Invest in organic growth. That’s promising! No… they don’t mean that kind of organic, they mean they’re going to invest in their current infrastructure. Reading on… what about their sustainability practices?


The Marfrig Group considers it a moral duty to prevent the unnecessary suffering of animals. The Group’s animal welfare programs seek to guarantee the safety and humane treatment of animals, through internal rules and regularly audited procedures, as well as investment in the implementation of modern technologies, which led to the upgrade of facilities and pens, the laying of anti-slide floors and new forms of rearing and logistics.

The Company also seeks to implement innovative techniques to improve the welfare of animals. For example, transportation equipment in the United States was recently fitted with temperature controlling technology. This effort led to an increase in live birds on arrival during instances of extreme climates.

The Company offers to its integrated producers and partners qualifying courses ministered by professional instructors in the areas of animal nutrition, rearing and well-being, aiming to provide new tools and knowledge to maximize production in a sustainable way.

In 2013, a report from the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare commended Marfrig in improvements in animal welfare policies and reporting. Said Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming, about the report: “The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare has played a catalytic role in putting farm animal welfare on the business agenda. It has pushed companies to acknowledge farm animal welfare as a business issue and, critically, it has forced them to take action.” As a result, farm animal welfare is becoming both a business risk and a source of competitive advantage.

Last year, Marfrig joined with The Nature Conservancy to promote sustainable cattle farming in the Amazon. That program is mostly concerned with forest management and water and soil use, but also, interestingly, includes a tracking system so consumers will know where their beef was sourced from, giving more transparency to the production process. They have worked with Greenpeace to decrease the impact of cattle operation in the Amazon, with Walmart to improve energy use and reduce waste and emissions, and the treatment systems at some if its facilities generate carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol.

I started off my random little research project expecting to find Marfrig to be a cold corporate behemoth, but despite being a multi-national processor of thousands of animals per day, it has some really positive qualities, and is a leader in showing other companies that improving animal welfare can be a good business practice. The moral of the story is: Tim Howard is a beast. 


Marfrig corporate profile

Marfrig corporate strategy

Marfrig corporate sustainability

Marfrig animal welfare

The Provisioner Online

The Pig Site


South American crop report

Temple Grandin: General thoughts on food animals

I recently finished Animals Make Us Human, by Temple Grandin. She discusses what different types of animals need to be happy, and how to improve the living conditions of pets, livestock, zoo animals, and wildlife. Below are some of her thoughts on livestock, and the system in general. Read specific cow thoughts here, pig thoughts here, and poultry thoughts here. Grandin’s research and studies show that simple changes to industrial animal farming can go a long way in improving the welfare of food animals. We, as consumers, need to push the industry, via dollars and votes, to make these simple changes.

  • The most important thing an effective manager needs to do to stay on top of his own behavior is to guard against desensitization to the animals’ fear and pain… A manager in a distant corporate office is too far removed to care about the animals, but a person working in the trenches can get desensitized, or habituated, to suffering… The first thing an effective manager must do to take care of the animals is get rid of employees who are bullies. (p. 191)
  • Transparency has a power psychological effect because people and animals behave differently when they know someone is watching. (p. 229)
  • From the very beginning of my career I saw that cattle could be raised right and given a good life and a painless death. (p. 296)
  • …Our relationship with the animals we use for food must be symbiotic. Symbiosis is a mutually beneficial relationship between two different living things. (p. 297)
  • People forget that nature can be very harsh, and death in the wild is often more painful and stressful than death in a modern plant. (p. 297)
  • I am very concerned that programs around the world to convert grain into fuel will increase the intensification of animal agriculture… There is a lot of land where raising crops will increase soil erosion and damage the environment. Grazing animals is the best use for this land, and they help keep the land healthy. (p. 298)
  • Since people are responsible for breeding and raising farm animals, they must also take the responsibility to give the animals living conditions that provide a decent life and a painless death. (p. 300)
  • I think the most important thing for an animal is the quality of its life. A good life requires three things: health, freedom from pain and negative emotions, and lots of activities to turn on SEEKING and PLAY. (p. 301)
  • When I read all the scientific evidence about electrical stimulation of subcortical brain systems, the only logical conclusion was that the basic emotion systems are similar in humans and all other mammals. (p. 301)

Buy the book from Amazon:

Temple Grandin on Chickens and Other Poultry

I recently finished Animals Make Us Human, by Temple Grandin. She discusses what different types of animals need to be happy, and how to improve the living conditions of pets, livestock, zoo animals, and wildlife. Below are some of her thoughts on chickens and other poultry. Read cow thoughts here, and pig thoughts here.

Chickens and Other Poultry

  • The industry has created chickens that have chronic pain in order to get birds that grow at the far outer limits of what is biologically possible… The other problem is that modern broiler chickens have been bred to have stupendous appetites so they’ll grow super-fast and reach market weight as soon as possible… These chickens have to be kept on a strict diet just to maintain normal weight… These birds have low welfare no matter what you do. If you let them eat all they want, they have bad welfare and if you don’t let them eat all they want, they also have bad welfare… The industry is going to have to breed parent stock with smaller appetites. There’s no other way to fix the problem. (p. 219)
  • Today, only a handful of companies provide all of the commercial layers and broilers around the world, which has greatly narrowed the gene pool. This has created a risky situation because genetically similar animals are vulnerable to the same diseases. (p. 222)
  • How to improve chicken welfare: The first thing you have to do is raise consciousness. (p. 222)
  • Wendy’s is the one chain that has a shot at changing the US chicken industry because they buy chicken from over twenty-seven slaughter plant complexes instead of only four or five because they use standard cuts of chicken. Wendy’s can throw a plant off the approved supplier list and still have enough chicken to supply their restaurants. They’re doing an excellent job auditing the handling at their suppliers. (p. 226)
  • Unfortunately, even when you combine Wendy’s twenty-seven plants with the plants supplying Burger King and McDonald’s, which also audit their suppliers for welfare, you’re still auditing only 30 percent of the poultry complexes compared to 90 percent of the beef industry. That’s not enough. The other 70 percent of the plants sell to supermarkets that either do not audit or have auditing programs that are less strict. (p. 227)
  • The question is: Do chickens need to do natural, hard-wired behaviors in order to have good welfare? Or can they live happily without some of these behaviors? (p. 231)
  • Chickens may not have as strong a need for novelty as other animals. If that’s true, it’s all the more reason for the industry to give chickens simple enrichments like string devices. A little goes a long way with a chicken. Laying hens have the poorest welfare of all the farm animals. If we can make their lives better by giving them simple pleasures inside their cages and pens, we have to do it.

Buy the book from Amazon:

Temple Grandin on Pigs

I recently finished Animals Make Us Human, by Temple Grandin. She discusses what different types of animals need to be happy, and how to improve the living conditions of pets, livestock, zoo animals, and wildlife. Below are some of her thoughts on pigs. Read cow thoughts here.


  • The winters in the Midwest are brutal, and pigs born in the winter could be lost in snowdrifts in the old system, so the mama pigs had to be kept inside. This led to the invention of gestation stalls where a sow is kept confined during her entire pregnancy. The sow can lie down and stand up, but she cannot turn around… Basically, every time the pig industry comes up with a solution to a problem, the solution costs so much to implement that the industry has to intensify production — raise more pigs on the same amount of land — to stay profitable… Most of these improvements have lowered the emotional welfare of the pigs. (p. 176)
  • Unfortunately, the industry continues to prefer hard technological solutions to soft behavioral or management solutions. Keeping sows locked up alone saves on labor and training because it takes fewer employees and a lower level of skill to manage sows in sow stalls than it does to care for sows living in pens. (p. 179)
  • The worst thing you can do to a pig is to repeatedly mix and remix small groups of strange animals together. (p. 179)
  • So far, no one has found anything that can compete with straw for a pig’s interest and attention… The solution for limited supplies of straw is to use straw exclusively for enrichment, not for bedding. (p. 186)
  • You have to handle pigs gently because they’re more excitable than cows… The lactic acid levels in their muscles skyrocket from all the exertion, and that wrecks the meat quality. (p. 193)

Buy the book from Amazon:

Temple Grandin on Cows

About nine months ago I started reading Animals Make Us Human, by Temple Grandin. I finally finished it (I have a bad habit of reading several books at once and getting sidetracked) and would like to share some of her points here. She discusses what different types of animals need to be happy, and how to improve the living conditions of pets, livestock, zoo animals, and wildlife. Below are some of her thoughts on cows.


  • The single most important factor determining whether a new thing is more interesting than scary if whether the animal has control over whether to approach the object… So you want to have no novel stimuli inside a meatpacking plant. (p. 147)
  • There have been so many studies showing that good stockmanship improves milk production, weight gain, and reproduction. (p. 156)
  • Sudden weaning is completely unnecessary, and people need to be encouraged to switch over to low-stress weaning. Abruptly weaned calves have reduced weight gain for a week and higher stress levels. (p. 159)
  • …the Holstein calf is not fully mobile for two days. Breeders have overselected so much for milk production that they’ve created a weak, fragile animal that’s so frail it’s starting to be hard to breed them. Holstein cows can carry a pregnancy to term but it’s hard to get a pregnancy started. (p. 164)
  • Another obstacle is that to be a good stockperson you have to recognize that an animal is a conscious being that has feelings, and some people don’t want to think of animals that way. This is true of researchers and veterinarians as well as stockpeople. (p. 166)
  • The good news is that conditions in the plants are much better today than they were in the early ’90s. The animal welfare audits required by McDonald’s, Whole Foods, and other companies have forced plant management to monitor, measure, and improve employee behavior. Plants are maintaining their equipment better and reassigning or firing employees who abuse animals. Some plants have installed video systems on the plant floor, which solves the problem of people behaving properly when they are being watched and reverting to old rough ways when nobody is around. (p. 172)

Buy the book from Amazon:

An Introduction to the US Food System, Week 5: Alternative Approaches to Food Production

Here are my notes from Week 5, the penultimate week of the free, online course I’m taking on US Food Systems from Johns Hopkins. This week we got to the topics of most interest to me, and to this blog: alternatives to industrial animal farming, and the importance of local food systems. If you’ve heard or read Joel Salatin, most of the points below will be familiar. Read previous weeks’ notes here: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4.

Lecture: The Sustainable Agriculture Imperative

Michael Heller conducts a sustainable farming practice on Clagett Farm in Maryland, which is owned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Clagett Farm is 300 acres, and produces vegetables, grass-fed beef, and native nursery plants.

Avg distance the food on your plate travels: 1600-1800 mi = excessive use of fossil fuels. Buy local!

Ag is the #1 source of pollution hurting the Chesapeake Bay: >40% of the water is a dead zone

Clagett Farm
Need to plan for:

  • Weed control
  • Pest control
  • Fertility

Sustainable practices:

  • Crop rotation: 5 or 7 year cycles, changing crop each year to restore nutrients to the soil, optimizing for available nutrients, keeping pests under control
  • Cover crops: Helps prevent erosion, improve soil, build fertility, control pests. Just as important as food crops. Fields should never be left bare.
  • Mulching: Weed control, coverage when cover crops can’t be used–cover crops compete with food crops for moisture. Straw provides nutrients to soil, controls weeds by shading sun, controls pests that don’t like to walk across it.

Grass-fed beef

  • Soil rebuilding, naturally: Soils rebuilt by grass and cattle on steep land, or soil “mined” by corn and soy
  • Disease control without antibiotics: Keep cows happy and comfortable -> low stress -> low disease. Closed herd: all cows were raised on farm, except a bull who is quarantined before being introduced to herd. So no antibiotics needed, few health problems.
  • Grass management through rotational grazing: Put cows on a plot, let them eat grass all the way down, then move them to fresh grass. Short grass allows clover to grow. Cows manage grass, so little seeding required.
  • Compost for soil improvement: Winter hay includes manure. Bacteria break down manure, straw, woodchips. Keep pile aerated, warm, dry. Weed seeds in pile killed by heat of bacteria working. Used as fertilizer, rebuilds soil, provides nutrients

Decision-making criteria for sustainability

Adopting new technology, deciding what to offer CSA members, whether to cut hay or let cows eat the grass, etc. Criteria are:

  • Community
    • Interactions with community via marketing; includes farm workers, farm animals, wildlife
  • Economics
    • Don’t let it become the domineering criterion.
  • Control for farmer
    • Does it give the farmer more or less control over what he’s doing? Ex: raising poultry for a corporation, which dictates amount of food, water, light, etc.
  • Control for consumer
    • More or fewer choices for consumer?
  • Energy
    • Let the cows harvest their food and spread their manure
  • Ecology
    • Soil building, water quality. Are we working with or against environmental processes?

Local food systems

Cheap food good for consumer, hard for farmer, leads to consolidation into big corporate farms, less and less % of $ going back to farmer

To bring community to farm:

Buy a share of farm output. Each week shareholders weigh their veggies and bag them themselves.

Grass-fed beef
Buy a quarter steer.

Annual festival
Entertainment, farm tour

To take food to people who can’t get to the farm:
Farmers’ Market, Food Bank, Farmers’ Market coupons for low-income consumers

Video: Out to Pasture: The Future of Farming?


  • Industrial ag degrades, erodes soil, pollutes environment -> can’t support future generations
  • Chickens
    • 8B animals raised and consumed in US each year. Over 7B are poultry, mostly chickens
    • Multinational corps control operations on individual farms
    • Manure biggest problem. Full of nitrogen, phosphorus, heavy metals, antibiotics. Put on soil, runs into waterways.
  • Cows
    • Preserve biodiversity rather than limit it
    • Use animal waste to restore fertility to soil
    • Animals recycle plant materials
    • Cows are not built to eat grain
    • Smaller farms need to move to pasture-based system to stay in business
  • Hogs
    • Produce 5x the waste of a human, with no treatment plants
    • Held in lagoons, sprayed on crop fields
    • Dust causes respiratory problems, liquid gets into watertable
    • Contract producers have to buy facilities, deal with waste, have no control, and are only guaranteed contract for a single flock/herd
    • Easier to keep hogs healthy outdoors: get minerals from ground, nutrients from trees, plants, they’re happier
    • Better meat when they’re kept outdoors
    • Humane treatment: no shockers, can’t kick or mistreat them, no antibiotics or hormones or steroids, have to give them forage, minimum space requirements
    • Hogs have personalities
  • Animals connect us to the earth
  • It’s not (or shouldn’t be) all about the money
  • Need to educate consumers
  • Need to vote with dollars
  • Transform the food system one consumer at a time

Video: The Future of Agriculture, Parts I and II


The Future of Agriculture
Being organic does not necessarily mean you are sustainable.

Think of sustainability as a concept of resilience, rather than steady-state, in the face of the challenges we will be facing in the future:

  1. Energy. Era of easily-obtained carbon-based energy is coming to a close. Oil produces corn that produces ethanol–still petroleum based. Think about energy/profit ratio–there’s not going to be a technological rescuer; we have to redesign systems instead.
  2. Water. Current economy enormously water-consuming. Agriculture draining water reserves at terrifying rate. Most crop production globally relies on irrigation. We need 4L of water a day to live, but we consume 2000L a day through all the food we eat!
  3. Climate Change. Current ag systems highly monocultured and specialized–require consistent climate to maintain productivity.
  4. Ecological degradation. Ecological resources are foundation of any ag system, but ag systems are destroying ecological diversity, most importantly: soils. Can no longer absorb and hold water as well, no longer the has nutrient capacity as when it was biologically active.

An Introduction to the US Food System, Week 3: Public Health and Environmental Implications of Industrial Models of Food Production

Below are my notes from week 3 of the excellent free online course I’m taking through Johns HopkinsRead week 1 notes here, and week 2 notes here. If you’re enjoying these notes, consider signing up for the course. It’s not too late, and I’d be interested to hear what you think!

This set of lectures covers: an introduction to industrial food animal production (IFAP); what are we feeding the animals; the use of antibiotics and arsenical drugs; and the international expansion of these practices.

An Introduction to Industrial Food Animal Production

Industrial food animal production

  • Animal feeding operation (AFO) = animals confined for 45 days per year; no other crops
  • Concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) = >1k animal units = > 1mil lbs of live weight
  • Industrial food animal production:
    • High-throughput production methods
    • One site
    • Controlled conditions
    • Uniform consumer product
    • Small profit margins

Substantial increases in meat production in last 50 years; largest jump in chicken production. Number of farms drops off dramatically as number of animals per farm shoots up.

Majority of poultry and swine facilities (>90%) operate under “vertical integration” model: a large “integrator” corporation owns animals, controls inputs, owns processing plants. Growers under contract and own/manage animal waste.

We’re producing over 9 billion animals per year for human consumption.

What are we feeding food animals?

  • Antibiotics and hormones
  • slaughtered animal byproducts
  • animal waste
  • industrial waste (containing minerals deemed nutritious, but also chemicals and heavy metals)

What do we do with their waste?

Animal waste mostly not treated before being applied to land. Can be stored for a while in hopes of reducing pathogen load. Contains:

  • bacteria
  • protozoa
  • viruses
  • animal dander
  • pharmaceuticals
  • heavy metals
  • hormones
  • nutrients

Pelletized poultry waste: sold in bags as fertilizer

Waste gets into water, air, soil: land application, failed storage systems, waste incineration, animal-house ventilation, direct (illegal) releases into surface waters. Groundwater makes 40% public water supplies and 97% rural water supplies. Other contaminant transport mechanisms: transport trucks, workers, flies, in the meat itself.

Occupational hazards: 5mil workers in direct contact with animals or with waste products; no federal oversight=no OSHA protection; often not given protective equipment; sometimes not given access to decontamination facilities like showers; can take contaminants home to families.

Air contamination from production facilities: gases (ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, volatile organic compounds w/ unknown risks), particulates, microorganisms, endotoxins, animal dander

Community risks: increased exposure -> asthma, allergies, mental health issues; odors; property damage, housing values drop

Antibiotics in animal agriculture 
Antibiotics used in people, food animals, even crop/ethanol production. All uses contribute to resistance development, but some more than others.

FDA est usage in 2010: 4x more used to treat animals than humans. Using the same antibiotics in animals as in people leads to resistant bacteria which are spread from farms and infect people.

4 purposes (per FDA) for antimicrobials in food production:

  • Teatment: sick animal
  • Control: one animal is sick, treat others
  • Prevention: expecting disease to occur
  • Production: growth promotion (grow faster), feed conversion (maximize amount of growth per unit of feed fed)

Prevention and growth promotion: lower dose for longer, most OTC, most administered via feed, to entire herd. Quantities hard to track because feed mixes are considered proprietary and companies not required to report on it.


  • via natural selection
  • via genetic sharing (horizontal gene transfer). Viruses, sharing via contact
  • via mutagenesis and resistance. New genes created
  • Reservoir of resistance, bacterial altruism: sharing resistance across communities of bacteria

Feed/water administration leads to uneven dosing–mixing feed, animals absorb differently. Over-administration leaves residues in products; under-administration leads to resistance; variable administration leads to mutations, treatment failures

Spread of resistant bacteria via transport trucks, workers, meat, manure lagoons, air, birds, manure as fertilizer on croplands

Consequences: antibiotics no longer work on resistant infections. Hospital stays longer and more expensive.

Denmark eliminated growth-promoting antibiotics in pigs in 1998. Results:

  • increases in weight gain and mortality in pigs
  • total antibiotic consumption down by 50%
  • reduced resistance

US programs: Animal Drug User Fee Act–FDA tracks data; Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act–limit use of medically important antibiotics (not yet politically viable); Strategies to Address Antimicrobial Resistance Act–data tracking (not yet politically viable)

Arsenical drugs
Most common: Roxarsone. In poultry and swine feed since 1940s, for pinker meat, parasite control.

  • FDA set levels in 1951 that are still in use despite known health risks
  • Arsenic stays behind in chicken and in manure, in both toxic inorganic form and organic form
    • Chicken manure sometimes fed to cows
    • Chicken manure sometimes burned for energy
    • Runoff into waterways, taken up by seafood
    • Arsenic stays behind in treated soil
    • Crops can take up arsenic
  • Unknown type (inorganic/organic) in chicken meat
  • Approx 11 tons of arsenic released per year, but we don’t know where it goes

Inorganic arsenic = Carcinogen, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, skin, neuro, immunologic, bad, bad bad

2011 Pfizer suspended sale of Roxarsone in US pending further study, but still sells internationally–due to FDA study prompted by public concern, showing inorganic arsenic in chicken livers.

Lack of regulation. Legislation: 2009 Poison-free Poultry Act–no progress. 2010-12 MD bills–finally progress in 2012. Why 2012? FDA study showed inorganic arsenic may be present in chicken meat; report showing arsenic may stay in soils and groundwater and may be environmentally unsustainable; advocates/organizing -> not wise to feed an animal we intend to eat an arsenic-based drug!

Histostat (nitarsone) is another arsenic-based drug, used to fight a turkey disease. May be a loophole for continuing use of arsenical drugs in chickens in MD.

Food animal production abroad
Chicken production way higher in China. US #2
Swine production same
Cattle production: US#3

–so it’s not just us

US integrator companies expanding internationally. Could be fewer regulatory protections in other countries. Workforce, environment, drugs. Ethical considerations: food could be for export, not for consumption in that country–the citizens just have to deal w/ waste.

Reading: Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America

A report of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production

Notable quotes:

    • At the end of his second term, President Dwight Eisenhower warned the nation about the dangers of the military-industrial complex—an unhealthy alliance between the defense industry, the Pentagon, and their friends on Capitol Hill. Now, the agro-industrial complex—an alliance of agriculture commodity groups, scientists at academic institutions who are paid by the industry, and their friends on Capitol Hill—is a concern in animal food production in the 21st century
    • …The ratio of fossil fuel energy inputs per unit of food energy produced averages 3:1 for all US agricultural products combined. For industrially  produced meat products, the ratio can be as high as 35:1 (beef produced in feedlots generally has a particularly unfavorable energy balance)
    • Recently, animal scientists in Europe published a set of standards to define basic animal welfare measures. These include five major categories, which must be taken in their entirety: feeding regimens that ensure that animals do not experience prolonged hunger or thirst; housing that ensures resting comfort, a good thermal environment, andfreedom of movement; health management that prevents physical injury, disease, and pain; and appropriate meansto allow animals to express non-harmful social behaviors, and other, species-specific natural behaviors
    • The Commission’s technical report on economics in swine production showed that the current method of intensive swine production is only economically efficient due to the externalization of costs associated with waste management. In fact, industrialization leading to corporate ownership actually draws investment and wealth from the communities in which specific ifap facilities are located
    • The Commission’s six primary recommendations:
      • Phase out and then ban the nontherapeutic use of antimicrobials
      • Improve disease monitoring and tracking
      • Improve IFAP [waste handling/treatment] regulation
      • Phase out intensive confinement
        • The Commission recommends the phase-out, within ten years, of all intensive confinement systems that restrict natural movement and normal behaviors, including swine gestation crates, restrictive swine farrowing crates, cages used to house multiple egg-laying chickens, commonly referred to as battery cages, and the tethering or individual housing of calves for the production of white veal.  In addition, the Commission recommends the end to force-feeding of fowl to produce foie gras, tail docking of dairy cattle, and forced molting of laying hens by feed removal.
        • Not all of the systems that employ such practices are classified as “cafo”s, as intensive confinement can occur in facilities that are not big enough to be classified in that manner
        • Unbeknownst to most Americans, no federal regulations protect animals while on the farm. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act was enacted to ensure that animals are rendered “insensible to pain” before slaughter, but poultry are not included under its protection despite the fact that more than 95 percent of the land animals killed for food in this country are birds
      • Increase competition in the livestock market [via anti-trust laws]
      • Improve [independently-funded] research in animal agriculture

Which animal welfare charities do you support?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! As we approach the close of 2012, many of us are reflecting on the people and organizations that affected us over the last 12 months. It’s time to tell those you appreciate how important they are to you. If you are fortunate enough to be able to contribute financially to charities, and are looking for organizations that support farm animal welfare, here are some recommendations:

Animal Welfare Institute

What do they do for farm animals?

Today, one of our greatest areas of emphasis is cruel animal factories, which raise and slaughter pigs, cows, chickens and other animals. The biggest are in our country, and they are expanding worldwide.

What does Charity Navigator think of them?

4 out of 4 stars, 64.91 out of 70 overall rating

Humane Society of the US

What do they do for farm animals?

They have active campaigns in the following areas: Cruel confinement of farm animals, humane eating, swine flu, force-fed animals, cruel slaughter practices, environmental impacts of factory farming, and avian influenza.

What does Charity Navigator think of them?

4 out of 4 stars, 60.73 out of 70 overall rating

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

What do they do for farm animals?

Since 1866, the ASPCA has worked to stop the cruelties committed upon animals involved in the food production process. In the late 1800s, early ASPCA agents had their hands full inspecting New York City’s stockyards and slaughter- houses, while ASPCA founder Henry Bergh was exhaustively pursuing legislation to ensure that animals raised for human consumption were handled humanely. Today, as the industry has fallen out of the hands of small farmers and into the hands of large corporations, the issue of cruelty remains—and the ASPCA continues its efforts to create distress-free lives for the many animals who are raised for food.

What does Charity Navigator think of them?

3 out of 4 stars, 59.09 out of 70 overall rating

Do you have other charity recommendations?