Interview with David Kirby, Animal Factory, 3/6/2011


David Kirby has been a regular contributor to the Huffington Post since its founding in 2005, has been a professional journalist for over 15 years. Kirby has also written for a number of national magazines. In addition, Kirby was a foreign correspondent in Mexico and Central America from 1986-1990, where he covered the wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua, and covered politics, corruption and natural disasters in Mexico. He has also done extensive consulting with the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report Office. Kirby also worked in politics, medical research and public relations. He worked for New York City Council President Carol Bellamy as a special assistant for healthcare, cultural affairs and civil rights, followed by employment as chief scheduler to Manhattan Borough President David N. Dinkins. He also was a senior staff adviser to Dinkins’ successful 1989 run for Mayor of New York City. From 1990-1993, Kirby was Director of Public Information at the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR), where he acted as press spokesman for Chairwoman Elizabeth Taylor, and witnessed first-hand the inner workings of Congress, the White House and powerful Federal agencies like the FDA, CDC and NIH. Kirby also wrote the award-winning New York Times bestseller, EVIDENCE OF HARM: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic – A Medical Controversy. Evidence of Harm sparked a national debate in private homes, leading universities and the halls of Congress, and Kirby has appeared on such venues as Meet the Press, Larry King Live, The Today Show, Imus in the Morning, Montel Williams, Air America, and dozens of local radio and television stations. Kirby has also been interviewed by or reviewed outlets such as The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Associated Press, Financial Times, Bloomberg, Newsday, The Lancet, and more.


Caryn Hartglass: Hello. I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. It’s all about food. Thanks for joining me today. And remember, you can always call in because this is a live show. We have a really interesting show for you. And if you have any comments or questions, you can call in at 1-888-874-4888. Okay. We’ve got David Kirby on the show, the author of Animal Factory. David Kirby wrote the award-winning New York Times bestseller Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic, a medical controversy back in 2005. And Evidence of Harm sparked a national debate in private homes, leading universities, and the halls of Congress. And Kirby has appeared on such venues as Meet the Press, Larry King Live, the Today Show, Imus in the Morning, Montel Williams, Air America, and dozens of local radio and television stations. Kirby has also been interviewed by or reviewed by outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, Associated Press, Financial Times, Bloomberg, News Day, The Lancet, and more. Kirby, a charter contributor to The Huffington Post since it’s founding in 2005, has been a professional journalist for over 15 years. Kirby has also written for a number of national magazines. In addition, he was a foreign correspondent in Mexico and Central America from 1986 to 1990 where he covered the wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua and covered politics, corruption, and natural disasters in Mexico. He’s also done extensive consulting with the United Nations development programs Human Development Report Office. Kirby has also worked in politics, medical research, and public relations. He worked for New York City Council President Carol Bellamy as a special assistant for healthcare, cultural affairs, and civil rights followed by employment as chief scheduler to Manhattan borough President David Dinkins. He also was a senior staff advisor to Dinkins successful 1989 run for mayor of New York City. And it goes on and on and on. And David Kirby lives in Brooklyn. And he has a website which I invite you to check, Please welcome the amazing David Kirby who is sitting right across from me, and I’m just in awe. Welcome.

David Kirby: Thank you Caryn. I got tired just listening to all of that. I forgot I’d done all that.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Well, you know, it’s good to hear it.

David Kirby: Thank you very much [speaking simultaneously].

Caryn Hartglass: You know, it’s good to hear it because when we work so hard we deserve some pats on the back. And I think some of the work that you’ve done does not always get loud cheers.

David Kirby: No, not all of it.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.

David Kirby: I’m used to that though.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. So you have this book, Animal Factory, which came out last year, and now it’s out or coming out in paperback.

David Kirby: Today, paperback.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh.

David Kirby: March 16.

Caryn Hartglass: Congratulations. Today. Whoa. Everybody run out and get your copy. Animal Factory. So when I first got a press release for this book, I thought, “Okay, I’m going to read another one of these books about factory farming.” And, yeah, we need as many books about factory farming as we can get out in front of people because everybody has got to know it. Everybody has got to be thinking about it because it has got to change. But I didn’t think it was going to be the book that it was. And it was a very enjoyable read despite the subject. What I liked about it was you really put a very human face, these were individual human stories that you were talking about related to how animals are raised and how this mass production of animals is really devastating to our health, to our neighborhoods, to the economy, and it was almost like a thriller sometimes reading it. I think it would make a great film. Does someone have the movie rights?

David Kirby: Not yet. For sale.

Caryn Hartglass: And then, I mean, we’ll talk about all of this, but and then the lack of government helping in this situation even when there really are regulations. So, I recommend really reading it. And, again, the website is So, one thing, when a lot of us talk about factory farming and about animal exploitation people always say, “Well, you only care about animals? You don’t care about humans?” So can you tell me why the two are connected? Or how the two are connected?

David Kirby: Yes. And my book is about humans despite the name Animal Factory.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. It’s about humans.

David Kirby: I touch upon animal welfare in the book because it is related to this way of producing food. But people A want to read about people, and I think as concerned as people are about animal welfare, ultimately the health and survival of our own species is also—.

Caryn Hartglass: No, it’s number one.

David Kirby: Yeah, it’s number one. It may sound selfish, but I’d rather live personally.

Caryn Hartglass: I always like to make the point that it’s all connected.

David Kirby: Well, it is all connected. And I just completed an article for the humane society magazine all on animals looking at the different ways that factory farming impacts human health and public health negative.

Caryn Hartglass: Right.

David Kirby: And even though I had written about it in the book and I had been writing about it on Huffington Post, I never really sat down and just made out a full inventory of all the ways that this form of production can make us sick. And there was so many I actually had to divide them up into three categories. One being communicable diseases.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh.

David Kirby: So viruses, influenza virus, MRSA which is drug-resistant staph bacteria. Things that the workers themselves would carry out of the factory farm and spread in the community person to person. It’s one type of disease.

Caryn Hartglass: And we hardly ever hear about that.

David Kirby: No, but it’s out there.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.

David Kirby: And we can talk about it. Number two is environmental diseases. In other words diseases that come from pollution whether it’s air pollution from the off gassing of this huge concentration of manure and urine which is typically kept in a liquefied form so that it undergoes anaerobic decomposition in which case it off gasses tons, literally, of ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, all things that can make you very sick. It can also leach nitrates and other dangerous things into the groundwater and into the drinking water. It can also release pathogens, deadly bacteria, into the air and drug-resistant bacteria into the air.

Caryn Hartglass: These are all separate subjects you could write about too.

David Kirby: These are—it’s why my book is so long.

Caryn Hartglass: And, you know, the pollution, the air and water pollution, everywhere I went was always the biggest concern particularly the air pollution. Not only the foul odors but the way it makes you sick when you breathe in. You get what’s called “manure flu.” I got it when I was out in the western dairies in California and Washington State. Breathing this air—it’s hot, it’s dry. The feces get ground up into dust, and then when the wind comes you breath this stuff in. And it makes you sick. The EPA just came out with some data that was just analyzed by the environmental integrity project. And according to them, using the EPA data of air monitoring data from these CAFOs, these factory farms, the air quality is worse than it is around oil refineries.

Caryn Hartglass: Wow.

David Kirby: So, you can get sick breathing the air around or drinking the water around a factory farm. And then finally a third way is the food borne illnesses, E.coli, salmonella, and other diseases that factory farm food often is more likely to contain.

Caryn Hartglass: And we hear about that pretty regularly.

David Kirby: Well, there’s an E.coli recall just about every week. And there was the huge salmonella recall last summer with two and half billion eggs—something like that—half a billion eggs. And these all, virtually, all come from factory farm settings. That doesn’t mean that organic, grass-fed, pasture-fed meat, milk, and eggs is immune from E.coli and salmonella. But the studies seem to indicate that factory farm products are more likely.

Caryn Hartglass: Anytime you have a bug, and you’re in a confined, dirty situation, it’s going to spread.

David Kirby: Yes.

Caryn Hartglass: Density equals disaster.

David Kirby: Yes. One reason colds and flus are more prevalent in the winter is because we spend more time indoors. Now, the cold weather will also weaken your immune system.

Caryn Hartglass: And the air is dry and—.

David Kirby: Things just get passed around. We’re just—we spend more time together in the wintertime.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. So, did we hit on all the—this whole list [speaking simultaneously].

David Kirby: Of the ways these can make you sick? Yes. Although there’s other ways too. You know, there are heavy metals in these meats. And between the drug residue, the pathogens themselves, and the heavy metals that are residues it’s getting harder and harder for U.S. produces to export meat to overseas countries. If you want to sell hogs to Japan, and I guess they won’t be importing much for a while, but you need to wean your hogs off of antibiotics four weeks before slaughter.

Caryn Hartglass: Wow.

David Kirby: Russia just banned pork from Smithfield and Tyson plants.

Caryn Hartglass: Nice.

David Kirby: Because of salmonella, listeria, and drug residue. Mexico has turned back shipments of beef because the copper levels are too high. They exceed Mexican standards. We have no copper standards for our beef. So that meat was turned around and sold in the United States [speaking simultaneously].

Caryn Hartglass: Probably to the school lunch program or something like that.

David Kirby: Well, that’s where a lot of the really low quality stuff goes, yeah.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Our kids, America. Thank you.

David Kirby: And then I just found out we have a problem selling beef to Taiwan. I think it’s beef—no pork—because we use a product that I had never even heard of before called paylean—P-A-Y-L-E-A-N. [Speaking simultaneously] important words to a hog grower.

Caryn Hartglass: Paylean. Paylean.

David Kirby: Pay for lean, which converts fat into leaner muscle protein.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh is that—aren’t they going to give that humans [speaking simultaneously]?

David Kirby: Well, if you eat pork—apparently you are eating it at least in small amounts.

Caryn Hartglass: All right.

David Kirby: And it’s not good for the heart. So there’s other ways to—.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, pork isn’t good for the heart either.

David Kirby: Well—.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay.

David Kirby: It can be very delicious.

Caryn Hartglass: We’re not going to talk about that. Right. So, okay, so what’s clear about the book is you’re talking about factory farming and how it’s not good for humans. And what’s really compelling is there are a number of stories—I read it a while ago, so I forget how many three or four that are—.

David Kirby: There are three main stories.

Caryn Hartglass: Three main stories. And you follow these individual stories, and it’s heartbreaking. And you learn a lot along the way with these individual stories. So I don’t want to give away the book, but one of the things that just was so heart wrenching to me was this story about the lagoons always leaking. Let’s talk about lagoons.

David Kirby: Sure.

Caryn Hartglass: And, you know, I’m thinking—the focus this week is on what happened in Japan which is – there are no words to describe what’s going on there, and we don’t know what’s going to happen. But there are things that happen—we had this disaster in Haiti. We had a disaster with the BP oil spill. We had the disaster with Katrina years ago. There’s always stuff going on, and it’s heartbreaking. And somehow we survive, some of us, and get through it. But we have these disasters going on on a daily basis in our own country. And what would happen if we had an earthquake or something with these lagoons that are not really regulated and are overflowing with muck and what’s the deal with these lagoons, and how do people get away with them? How do they get started?

David Kirby: Well, they’re the cheapest, easiest way to manage millions and millions of gallons of waste. And when you confine thousands of pigs or cows or chickens into a single confinement, you are creating far more manure than the land around you can absorb. So you have to store it until you figure out what to do with it, which usually means distribute it over a very large area of land. And, like I said before, because it’s liquefied you have to do something with it. And they basically dig a hole in the ground and put it in there. Now the technology has improved. There are synthetic liners and things like that, and different states have different requirements. But even a synthetic liner leaks small amounts, and the state says, “Well, the lagoon can leak 1/16 of an inch per day,” which may not sound like much at all, but on an 11-acre lagoon that’s a lot of wastewater seeping into the ground. And then when the farmer goes to apply this liquid waste to his land he or she often over applies to the point where it also saturates and seeps down into the ground and gets in the groundwater or runs off into the creeks and rivers and forms algae blooms and causes fish kills. The lagoons themselves, and I think in all three places I write about—Yakima Valley, Washington, western Illinois around Peoria, and North Carolina in the hog belt—lagoons were a major issue. Not only seepage but overtopping, breaching, spilling, and very often in bad weather conditions. There is a story of Karen Hudson who lives in Elmwood, Illinois, and her neighbor wanted to but in a 1,200-cow dairy. She tried to talk him out of it. He did it anyway. He dug his lagoon. And that winter, a couple years later, there was so much rain and snow. And, of course, when the ground is frozen you cannot apply your liquid waste to the ground, which is a good law to have because it’s going to immediately run off into the creek. So the ground was frozen. He couldn’t apply it, but there was so much snow and rain coming in that his lagoon got higher and higher and higher and it got up to about two inches from the rim. And the state did go out there, and they said, “You have to do something about this. You have to truck it out of here. You have to lower it.” You’re supposed to have at least a foot or two between your surfaces.

Caryn Hartglass: A safety margin.

David Kirby: A safety margin for this exact reason. He didn’t do that. And he panicked, and he got two hoses, each a mile long, and he ran them way out across the fields to a ravine that happened to have an earthen berm at the end of it, and he pumped five million gallons of putrid, stinking, brown and yellow cow waste into this ravine. And, of course, it continued to rain, and the berm didn’t hold. And that all went spilling eventually into Kickapoo Creek which spilled into the Illinois River right at the spot where Peoria gets its drinking water. And from there it went into the Mississippi River and eventually added to all of the nutrients from all of the runoff in the Midwest from Montana to Pennsylvania all drains out through New Orleans. And you mentioned the BP oil spill and everybody was up in arms. And now we have dolphins, baby dolphins, turning up dead on the shore there. They don’t know if it’s from the oil spill.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, gosh.

David Kirby: But every summer there’s a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey.

Caryn Hartglass: Right.

David Kirby: And we don’t talk about that. The media doesn’t fly down. You don’t see Anderson Cooper down there in the summertime or Rachel Maddow. They were there for the oil spill because it was dramatic, but I would guess possibly, not to defend BP, that more marine life dies each summer in the dead zone.

Caryn Hartglass: And it’s getting bigger.

David Kirby: Every year because of these nutrients running off and the lagoon. You know, that lagoon spill did, in it’s tiny little way, contribute to this dead zone. There’s no question.

Caryn Hartglass: You have some talking points that come with your book. So it says, “U.S. animal factories yield 100 times more waste than all human sewage plants.

David Kirby: Yes, and it’s untreated.

Caryn Hartglass: And it’s untreated. That’s the important thing. We have to treat our human waste but not the animal waste.

David Kirby: And their waste is much more pathogenic than ours. I mean, ours is pretty bad, but hog waste contains stuff that will just kill you.

Caryn Hartglass: How do they get away with this? Why isn’t it regulated?

David Kirby: Well, it is regulated, but it’s really state-by-state and sometimes almost county-by-county. And in states that are pro-agriculture, by the way, the five biggest agricultural states in the country are California, Texas, Illinois, New York, and Florida, which happen to be the five most popular states as well. We don’t think of New York as being a big agricultural state.

Caryn Hartglass: No.

David Kirby: But it is.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Upstate New York.

David Kirby: Obviously—California certainly is. Texas certainly is. Illinois certainly is. And even though, even with the exception of Texas and possible Florida, you know, we consider those—.

Caryn Hartglass: The liberal states.

David Kirby: The blue states.

Caryn Hartglass: The blue states.

David Kirby: Blue/green states, you know. Washington state, you know, you have northwest eco-paradise. But they are horrible with the dairies. They let the dairies run roof shot, and they own Olympia. And it’s just—it’s disgusting the amount of corruption, the amount of payoff, the amount of influence that these big Ag companies have. And, of course, the politicians just think, “Well, geez, without the dairy industry Washington State would be in mega trouble.” So there’s a lot of self-policing. There are a lot of laws on the books but no enforcement. You know, Washington state when they had, I think, one or two inspectors for the entire central region of Washington State, which is a big area. And, you know, they might visit a factory farm once every 10 years.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, it all comes down to profit obviously. I mean, this is all under the rug or whatever because people are making money. And people want to have an economy for their area. But we’ve seen, and you talk about it you book too when these, when somebody wants to put an animal factor in a community we see ultimately that it destroys the community economy. That company may benefit, but everyone else suffers.

David Kirby: That has happened, yes. Typically when they want to site one of these things they go to try to find the poorest, most rural, most uneducated, least affluent county that they can.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s nice.

David Kirby: In North Carolina, virtually all the hog CAFOs are in the most African American counties with the lowest income or people have very little political participation. When they complain they get harassed by the law enforcement. In Yakima Valley, not a wealthy area and a lot of low income Latino and Native American people live there. So, again, political participation is limited and political power is limited. And in other areas, in all three—and in areas that are largely white, middle class, rural such as in Illinois and the Midwest, in all three cases whether it’s Latino, Native American, a white community or an African American community, these companies underestimate these communities. And they think they can come in and just do what they want. And they don’t expect a backlash. They don’t expect—and my book is about—and I mention people in all those communities who rally to the cause and organize the communities and hired lawyers and went to county commissions and went to the state capital and demonstrated and learned how to work the media and really have learned how to fight these things at every level. And that’s what the heart of Animal Factory is.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, but it was a heart wrenching story, and these people fought and fought and fought and fought and fought. And there weren’t many victories.

David Kirby: There are victories. There are a lot of defeats.

Caryn Hartglass: There are victories.

David Kirby: And, you know, there have been reforms. And, you know, McDonald’s doesn’t buy antibiotic stuff anymore. I mean, the victories are at different, you know, sometimes at the state level; sometimes they’re at the consumer level. You know, Obama promised a million things when he was running and has failed on a lot of them particularly in terms of the consolidation and vertical integration of the food industry, which is covered under the USDA. But on the environmental side they do very good. And, for example, out there in doing well water testing in Yakima Valley for nitrates, Helen Redout who was the person I profiled out there, she organized with her neighbors, and she sued all the dairies, and they all settled except for one. And he went to trial, and he lost big time. And hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised, and that all wen tot well water testing which revealed very high nitrates which got the EPA out there. So that’s a victory [speaking simultaneously]. And the dairymen are not happy, you know? And so that is a victory. We see more movement towards and antibiotic ban and not allowing farmers to give antibiotics to healthy animals to make them grow faster.

Caryn Hartglass: But it’s all connected too to the density because they give it to them to grow faster, but they also give it to them to keep them from getting sick, but they’re all so close together and poorly treated—.

David Kirby: That’s right.

Caryn Hartglass: That how do you keep them well?

David Kirby: That’s right. That’s right. So, I mean, the victory is, you know, they certainly have not, you know, there’s no moratorium on these things. There’s no outward ban. But there have been victories and things slowly are getting better. But not entirely. I mean, again, consumer awareness. I just want to mention—just you mentioned some of the heartbreaking stories. The, again, the African American communities in North Carolina, some of those, I mean, it’s just Jim Crow down there. It’s, you know, and these are KKK counties—places where nobody ever goes. They are off the interstate. You would just never even know they exist. And I spent time there, and I talked to people whose families have been on those farms for 16 or generations since the civil war—African American families. And their next door neighbor who put in a hog factor and just sprayed this waste so that literally the spray was coming across onto their property and coating everything in a filthy, yellow film. You know? And they were getting sick. And when they got—when they complained to the sheriff they got arrested for harassment. So it just shows you how bad it can be.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. History just repeats itself in so many different ways.

David Kirby: Yeah.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I was in North Carolina a couple of years ago and I realized, well, it was frustrating in a number of ways. I was in one of these food deserts where you couldn’t find any healthy food. There were only these convenient stores, and there was really nothing to eat.

David Kirby: Yeah.

Caryn Hartglass: And I realized I was near, what is called? Tar?

David Kirby: Tarheel?

Caryn Hartglass: Tarheel? Is that where the big slaughterhouses are?

David Kirby: Yes.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Yeah. And of course you couldn’t see them. They are out of easy reach to find them intentionally.

David Kirby: Yeah.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Now, of course, this waste it’s not just animal waste. It’s not just natural animal waste. There’s concentrated nitrates and chemicals from fertilizers and antibiotics and all of that as you mentioned before gets into the air, gets into the wastewater. And as a result all kinds of problems-asthma, children have birth defects or intelligence issues, and there’s all kinds of—.

David Kirby: Asthma—yes. Autoimmune disorders can be exasperated by nitrates. I’m not familiar with birth defects.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay.

David Kirby: But I think air pollution in general can increase reproductive—.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, maybe they haven’t been confirmed.

David Kirby: Right.

Caryn Hartglass: But there are people that have had miscarriages and all kinds of—.

David Kirby: Oh, absolutely. And nitrates can absolutely cause spontaneous abortions. And I’ve met women who have had several and then found out that their drinking water was very high. Yeah, no—swine flu, you mentioned the lagoons—the disease coming straight off the lagoons. There is a lot of evidence to show that the H1N1 currently in circulation, which originally its ancestor appeared at a hog factor in North Carolina in 1998 and was out there circulating, and nobody knew where it was. And they were just waiting for it to jump back over to people. It looks like that happened in a Smithfield-owned facility in Veracruz, Mexico. And the neighbors, the people who lived around this, were complaining terribly about the flies coming off the lagoons. And we now know that these flies can be vectors of disease and can carry viruses. And it’s very possible the flies or the workers brought this—Smithfield denies this—but it sure seems to be ground zero of that epidemic. And so that was a disease that went either from the lagoon to the fly to the families or from the lagoon or the hogs to the workers to the families. But it doesn’t—either way it jumps. Now they’re talking about H2N2, which is circulating in pigs. It’s a swine flu. The problem with H2N2 is they say that anybody who is 50 years or younger has never been exposed to this particular virus. So there’s no natural immunity. So people in public health are very worried. They’re actually talking about creating a vaccine even before it jumps. Now I don’t think you are going to get convince people to get vaccinated against a disease that does not yet exist.

Caryn Hartglass: Doesn’t exist.

David Kirby: But one day it’s going to happen.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, that just takes clever marketing. It’s been done before.

David Kirby: Well, we can talk about that on another show. The point is, have we really gotten to the point where we have to vaccinate ourselves against our own food supply? Not your food supply in particular, but I guess a food supply. It’s very scary.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well I like to quote my dad a lot. He has this saying, “If you can’t solve the problem, eliminate the problem.” And I’m all for eliminating the problem. But a lot more to talk about here in the next half hour. We’re going to take a very quick break, and we’ll be right back.


Caryn Hartglass: Hi, I’m Caryn Hartglass. And this is It’s All About Food. I’m here with David Kirby—the author of Animal Factor: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment. And it just came out today in paperback. Grab your copy. Okay. Let’s talk about poultry farms a little bit.

David Kirby: Okay.

Caryn Hartglass: Now they don’t make big sloppy lagoons stuff of waste?

David Kirby: Typically, no. Although I believe a lot of layer—there’s broilers and layers.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. Two different things.

David Kirby: Two different chickens. Which, by the way, on a traditional farm a broiler and layer is the same thing. You have a chicken lay eggs, and then when you’re done you eat the chicken. Here you can eat a layer—a hen. You’ll see it in the supermarkets sometimes. It’s fowl or hen or stewing hen. They’re not very good eating.

Caryn Hartglass: Or they end up in soup.

David Kirby: In soup or frozen dinners, dog food, things like that.

Caryn Hartglass: Nice.

David Kirby: Yeah, after just popping out eggs every day of their life for a couple years. So the layer operation sometimes liquefy their waste. But in broiler operation the waste literally becomes their home. It becomes their bedding. It becomes what is called their litter.

Caryn Hartglass: Recycling.

David Kirby: Yeah. In a broiler house, which now can hold up to, I think it’s something ridiculous like 30,000, 40,000, 50,000 birds in single confinement. And they will lay in several inches of bedding. Usually it might be rice holes with some hay or some twigs or whatever. It’s just organic material to lay in as the bedding. And then as the chickens live in there they poop. Birds do not urinate I found out recently after writing this book. I guess the urine is mixed in with the—we don’t need to get into it. But, anyway, they defecate there in their own bedding. And at the end of the seven or eight week period that’s how long or how short it takes to grow a chicken for market in an industrial setting. There’s like about two or three feet of cake that’s just a mixture of the original organic material and the feces. And, by the way, still to feed which often contains bovine products put in the chicken feed. That bedding is then removed with a front loader and put on fields. Now in the Chesapeake Bay area the fields are so close to the water and there is so much tidal activity that the chicken litter gets into the water. And that’s why we have so much damage or part of the reason there is so much damage being done in the Chesapeake Bay with algae blooms and fish kills and everything. In Arkansas they were putting arsenic into the chicken feed. I believe in Maryland they still put arsenic in the chicken feed to prevent intestinal parasites and to make the birds grow faster. That litter was then being spread around towns—a little town—Prairie Grove in Arkansas around the high school in the town. And about 20 kids in this town of about 2,000 people came down with cancer including three 14-year-old boys in the same glass who all had the same extremely rare form of testicular cancer. It attacks about one in ten million men. And here were three boys in the same class.

Caryn Hartglass: And did anyone acknowledge that it was due to the arsenic officially?

David Kirby: Well, there have been lawsuits, but so far they’ve all be unsuccessful. You’ve got a county judge down there who is friendly with the chicken industry.

Caryn Hartglass: Sure.

David Kirby: Tyson owns Arkansas—no, that’s not true. But it’s difficult to get justice in a place like that. So and chicken litter is so high in phosphorus it’s land application uses are actually limited. So what are we going to do with—?

Caryn Hartglass: Where do you put it?

David Kirby: Where do you put it? Every year there is another chicken litter produced on the eastern shore of Maryland to fill an entire football stadium including all the corridors and the snack bars and the bathroom and the entire thing would be [speaking simultaneously].

Caryn Hartglass: So what do we do with it?

David Kirby: We feed it to cattle.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, there we go.

David Kirby: We ship it off. We feed it to cattle especially in areas where there’s cattle growing near large chicken operations such as—.

Caryn Hartglass: Now, of course, cows are supposed to be vegetarian. And I don’t think that they’re meant to eat animal.

David Kirby: No.

Caryn Hartglass: Feces—either.

David Kirby: Feces—no—especially since that feces and that litter also contains bovine beef products.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, Mad Cow Disease.

David Kirby: So, we’re feeding cattle to cattle.

Caryn Hartglass: Which we’re not supposed to be doing.

David Kirby: And the FDA seems to think it’s okay. Yeah.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Yeah. That’s nice. Enjoy your chicken nuggets.

David Kirby: So if it weren’t for the beef industry the chicken industry would not be profitable.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s interesting. That’s an interesting accounting.

David Kirby: Someone has to eat their [speaking simultaneously].

Caryn Hartglass: It’s all connected. Yeah.

David Kirby: You know, their excrement.

Caryn Hartglass: Now, my understanding of the business itself is really complicated because companies like Tyson have this whole formula where it’s like a franchise almost where people don’t really own their farm or they kind of sign their life away, and they have to do it a certain—.

David Kirby: It’s sharecropping essentially. It’s vertical integration of the industry, which began in the poultry industry and then spread to the pork industry and then went into the dairy industry. The beef industry is still largely not consolidated. Most beef cows are still raised by independent farmers and ranchers out on range land or ranch land. But then for the last four to six months of their life they’re sold and sent to feed lots.

Caryn Hartglass: To fatten them up.

David Kirby: Where big companies fatten them up on grain and sell them whereas dairy cows, pigs, and chickens are kept in feed lots their entire—most—not 100% but for the most part. And these companies contract out with farmers. And they’ll come into an area, and you’ll see—basically the motto becomes get bit or get out. And if you don’t agree to become a contract farmer for these large companies you’ll probably be driven out of business because even if you’re still growing animals the old-fashioned way you’ll never get them into the processing plant because the processing plant wants 5,000 pigs that are all uniformed, that all have one half inch of back fat on them etcetera that can be delivered Tuesday the 15th at 5:00, which Farmer Brown just can’t do. So he can’t, he or she, can’t get their animals to market. That drives people out of business. So farmers get scared. And they’re like, “Gee, if I want to stay on this land, I’m going to have to build a CAFO and contract with Tyson or Perdue or whatever it is, and that’s the only way I can stay on my land.” And they go and they go way into debt, these buildings and all the mechanism and everything cost about a million and a half dollars to get started. They assume that debt, and they assume all the liability for those tons and tons of manure that get—.

Caryn Hartglass: It’s a great deal for Tyson.

David Kirby:

Caryn Hartglass: And when Tyson has upgrades you have to upgrade.

David Kirby: The company owns the animals, and that’s it. They drop them off one day as base, and they pick them up at an appointed time and date, 7, 10, 12 weeks later, whatever, as ready for market. And they give them a check for every animal that survives. And we were talking about the poultry, you know, I talk about Carol Morrison who was a Perdue contractor. They were making about $6,000 a year per house—per chicken house. And they were breaking their butts. And they were getting about $0.50 a chicken. And they couldn’t eat their own chickens. Even if, you know, Carol would have to go in and call out the ones that just weren’t growing fast enough. They weren’t going to make it to market on time and kill them, but she had to compost them. She could not eat them. Even after the company came and the chicken catchers came which is a horrible ordeal to catch these chickens and to cram them into cages, there’s always 5, 10, 20 chickens that were left in the dark corners that got away. Well, she would have to go in and kill them and compost them because they belong to Perdue. If she and her family had eaten one of those chickens they would have lost their contract and possibly prosecuted for larceny. If they wanted chicken they get in the car, they drive down to the supermarket and they pay for Perdue chicken like everybody else. That is not farming—period. That’s sharecropping. You don’t even—let alone, you don’t get to decide what the chickens eat. You don’t get to decide when they go to market. You don’t get to decide what temperature the barn is, how much water—it is all dictated by [speaking simultaneously].David Kirby: Upgrade or get out.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. And so you’re just deep, deep, deep in debt, and there’s like no way out.

David Kirby: No, and if you have a lagoon spill you’re responsible, not the company.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Well, I’m not getting in that business for a lot of reasons. Okay, so the thing that is not obvious is the fish because the pig and dairy and poultry farms aren’t about growing fish, but they certainly have a big impact of fish life.

David Kirby: Yes they do—marine life in general. Anything that goes in the water—.

Caryn Hartglass: Right.

David Kirby: Very big impacts.

Caryn Hartglass: And sometimes those that are responsible don’t want to make that connection or take responsibility.

David Kirby: No. Or they deny it. They say that these are state of the art. You hear that all the time that, “My lagoon has a liner,” that, “I apply my liquid waste at agronomic levels.” And, look, there are good farmers out there. I mean, there are bad farmers too. I don’t blame the farmers. I blame the system. But I have been up in the air in airplanes, and I’ve seen people out on their fields just over—in other words, it’s not fertilizer, it’s waste management. It’s like how do we get rid of all of this manure. So they apply it and reapply it and over apply it. And I’ve seen saturated fields.

Caryn Hartglass: They know what they’re doing.

David Kirby: I’ve seen—they know what they’re doing. And they have to file reports with the state. And it’s all very technical and, you know, X tons of waste had X tons of nitrogen, and we put it on X number of acres, and it was absorbed at this rate and blah, blah, blah. And look, we lowered our lagoon by two feet to show that everything is okay, and they’re doing it all by the book. But in reality that’s just not the case. Sometimes they spray the waste directly into creeks or ditches just to get rid of it or, again, they apply it at such a heavy rate that it just runs off.

Caryn Hartglass: Is there a part of it where the people that are the activists or are fighting for something better are threatened? Their lives are threatened? Does it get that dark and scandalous?

David Kirby: Their safety has been put into danger. I don’t know if their lives have been threatened. I don’t know anybody who has gotten a death threat. But there is a lot of hostility and a lot of attention in these towns because, of course, some people support the CAFOs. Not everybody is opposed to them, and that can lead to very said rending apart of communities over these issues, but there has been no violence to my knowledge.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. So how would you do it differently?

David Kirby: Well, I don’t think we can or will ban CAFOs overnight, factory farms; it’s not going to happen. I think they’re here for the long run. So as long as they’re going to be with us we need to make the most environmentally friendly as we can and as animal friendly as we can—the very basics which some states have started to do to ban the battery cages for the lame hens to the gestation crates for the pigs, the veal crates for the baby cows. I mean, these are really inhuman and just abominable. So those should be abolished nationally across the board. But more importantly is to revitalize and regenerate the independent—truly independent—small and medium sized form of agriculture that can work side by side with the big companies. They can’t. I mean, and as consumers who are going to help drive it quite a bit. So, I see, you know, at opening I see consumer demand for products that are raised sustainably and humanely. And I see some government policies working to try to support that. But there’s going to be—I think consumer sentiment and demand is going to help change things. I think two things outside of our control will make a difference. One is more emerging diseases. If these just keep coming at us eventually people are going to say—.

Caryn Hartglass: Enough.

David Kirby: Enough. I think the real blow is the energy crisis and oil prices. I mean, everybody is saying how expensive food is now—that’s because everything is petroleum based. And a factory farm relies on petroleum to fertilize all the corn and grain and everything. Those cheap subsidize feed and the pesticides to grow all that food. They need electricity to light the buildings, to heat the buildings, to cool the buildings, to run all the machinery, all of the vehicles, so heavily energy intensive. And then they need energy to get the animals to the slaughter and then to get them across the country to market. That’s just going to keep going up and up and up. And pretty soon farmers are going to say, “Wait a minute. There’s got to be an alternative. I’m spending so much money on electricity and fertilizer and pesticides and blah, blah, blah, and I got this contract. And I’m not making any more money per animal and yet my costs are just going up and up and up. This is untenable. So what happens? Along with consumer demand for small, local, independent, humane, sustainable, all of those things, which we now have in New York. I have it at the Park Slope Food Coop. We now have farmer’s markets all over town. And they’re just getting in gear now for spring, thank God, with a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables and meat and dairy products and eggs. People are demanding those more. And I’ve been interviewing a lot of farmers who have now gone back to completely traditional ways of animal agriculture, and they’re making more money than they were in a CAFO operation because they—instead of planting all of their land for corn that nobody is going to eat—just the animals—they put the animals out there and they rotate them. And the cows go first, and they forage, and they eat everything down. And then the chickens and the pigs come in after them. And they grub and they eat everything down to the soil. They keep the soil super healthy. And meanwhile their urine manure is going back into the soil and being ground up and naturally broken down. The pathogens are dying in the sunlight. There’s no disease. The animals don’t get sick, so you don’t have to use pesticides. You don’t have to use fertilizers. You don’t have to use antibiotics. And the crops grow really, really well because the soil is fertile. And it’s all free. You know, it’s—I mean—obviously labor is your big cost and some other costs. But he’s saving so much money on all those externals and all those inputs. And then he gets a really good price for his free-range animals and his delicious pork and his grass-fed beef that as he put it, “I put two and two together, and I got five.”

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. This is definitely a better situation. I, as a vegan, I am not into promoting the consumption of animal foods, but I know people are going to do it, and if they’re going to do it that’s the way to have them raised. But I think one of the reasons that we confine animals is to make a lot of them.

David Kirby: Yes.

Caryn Hartglass: And so if everyone was going to raise animals for meat and eggs and dairy in a natural way we wouldn’t have the quantities that we have.

David Kirby: No, we wouldn’t. And there would be higher prices, and people would eat less of it.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. So—.

David Kirby: Which would be good for them.

Caryn Hartglass: Exactly. So right now, it’s working out these small farmers, those that choose to do it, are doing reasonably well because the savvy consumer, the one that can afford it, is demanding these products. But at some point there’s going to be a—well, people are going to have to eat less. That’s the bottom line.

David Kirby: We eat—even the USDA says the average American male eats 75% more animal protein than he should. The average female 35% more protein. So we could cut almost in half and still we get more, you know, a lot of protein.

Caryn Hartglass: Right.

David Kirby: Probably more than we should. And in my own personal experience it’s funny because I do eat a lot less meat because I buy it at the coop, and it’s grass-fed, and it’s expensive. It’s, again, it’s cheaper at the coop than it is other places. I can’t even imagine. So because it’s expensive I use it sparingly. I use it for, you know, flavorings as people talk about or instead of having one chicken breast for each people—four people at dinner—I’ll take one breast and slice it up and mix it up with vegetables. I just saved three chicken breasts of consumption and production, etcetera, etcetera. So I find it’s a bit more of a treat for me. It tastes so much better. I’m wiling to wait for it. When I do eat it. So, I find that that I do eat a lot less meat under this arrangement, but the fruits and vegetables are so delicious there that I rely more heavily on them. And then, ironically, I think we were talking, you know, I bought some pork the other day. I haven’t bought pork in 10 years for the most part. I don’t eat it. Largely for ethical reasons because I think pigs are really great, smart animals, but also just because it wasn’t raised in a healthy environment, and I knew, you know—.

Caryn Hartglass: Especially where you knew all about—

David Kirby: Especially what I knew, I just completely—just there’s no way. And I just bought some, you know, pasteurized upstate, Berkshire ground pork, and then I just found out that there’s a sustainable veal company. And I haven’t eaten veal at all, you know, probably since I was a kid. And, you know, I mean, veal has such a bad rap, but all it really is is a young cow. And we slaughter veal cows at an older age than we slaughter pigs and chickens.

Caryn Hartglass: You know, that’s a really interesting subject for me. Once again, I don’t believe in killing any animals, okay? For me, it’s all the same. And when I hear people cringing about eating one animal part versus another—to me it’s all the same.

David Kirby: Yeah, sure.

Caryn Hartglass: So it doesn’t make any sense. And it’s a really good point. A baby animal versus an adult animal, exploitation, pain and suffering, it’s all the same to me. Okay.

David Kirby: Sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.

Caryn Hartglass: No, I have to say it for the animals. But I’m just wondering which is going to come first—the chicken or the egg, if I may. There are so many different issues pointing to people eating less meat. So is it just going to become so cost-prohibitive for even factory farming because of energy and—or is it going to become an environmental issue because the global warming is so impacted. And all the environmental issues—air and water and soil because it is so devastating. Or is it because everybody is going to make the—connect the dots and say, “I have heart disease because I’m eating too much meat?”

David Kirby: I think all of the above, but I think it’s going to be a slow and gradual process.

Caryn Hartglass: A slow, painful process.

David Kirby: This is not a revolution. It’s an evolution. And I think one thing that could really change things a lot is federal subsidies because that really supports the factory farm system more than anything particularly in the form of corn and soybeans that are any kind of animal feed that we paid for. You paid for. You don’t eat meat.

Caryn Hartglass: I know. I don’t want to pay for it.

David Kirby: But you’re paying to feed those animals.

Caryn Hartglass: I know.

David Kirby: You’re paying a lot of money to feed those animals. And in this time of federal budget deficits it seems like, to me, forgive me, but this is the low hanging fruit, this is the easy stuff—multi-millionaires getting hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in farm subsidies, and they live on Park Avenue.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.

David Kirby: And, you know, there was an effort recently in Congress to cap subsidies at $250,000 a year. That failed. The Tea Party voted against it even though they’re supposed to be against wasteful government spending.

Caryn Hartglass: Right.

David Kirby: And then if you look at the Food Pyramid, you know, at how at the bottom is fruits and vegetables. And then come the grains, and then come the meats, or we have the dairy, and at the very top is the meats. If you—it’s completely inverted.

Caryn Hartglass: Right.

David Kirby: Seventy percent of subsidies go to meat and dairy. And do you know what the percentage—this is according to the physicians committee—for responsible medicine. If you look at all farm subsidies and all the amount that goes to feed and to CAFOs, 78% at the very, very tip of the pyramid is fruits and vegetables—even less than oils and seeds and nuts.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, it’s nutty.

David Kirby: And it gets 0.38% of every subsidy dollar. So a third of a penny of every tax dollar goes to fruits and vegetables.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, it’s very obvious that it is all related to money. And so maybe this is our only hope, but the question is, how do we get our politicians to support reversing subsidies? You know, those farmers that are getting, well, is it just the farmers that are getting subsidies for doing nothing? Or is it the farmers that are getting subsidies for making the wrong stuff?

David Kirby: Well, I’m actually going to write about this for the Huffington Post. Like I said, that vote, if 29 members of Congress had switched sides and voted for the subsidy cap it would have passed.

Caryn Hartglass: Wow.

David Kirby: Now, it would be harder in the Senate to get through. Obama has vowed to sign such legislation. He made that promise in his campaign. So it could happen. And, you know, they’re going to bring it up again and again and again. And if you look at some of who those people are who voted against the caps, not just the Tea Party, but on the democratic side we had like five members of Congress from New York City who voted against food subsidy caps. There are no farms in New York City.

Caryn Hartglass: Right.

David Kirby: You know, Eliot Engel and Nydia Velazquez and—.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Call your representatives. Call your senators, and get them to turn this subsidy triangle on its head.

David Kirby: Right.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. We’ve got a minute.

David Kirby: Okay.

Caryn Hartglass: And you have a new book coming out.

David Kirby: I’m working on a new book [speaking simultaneously]. It will be out in summer of 2012. It’s called, Death at Sea World. It’s about the trainer who was killed there last year as a way of looking into the whole captive orca industry, which is another form of animal exploitation, and it’s—Orcas as much smarter than cows or even pigs.

Caryn Hartglass: And probably us.

David Kirby: And probably us.

Caryn Hartglass: Thank you. You’ve been listening to It’s All About Food with my guest David Kirby. Please pick up his Animal Factory now out in paperback today. And go to I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. Have a delicious week

Transcribed by Margaret Christiansen, 11/11/2013,


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