FERN’s Friday Feed: A pig farmer’s view of the CAFO divide

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

A former pig farmer looks at both sides of the CAFO divide

FERN and Arkansas Life

As a young man, Johnny Carrol Sain dreamed of owning an industrial hog farm like his uncle. Eventually, he did, raising hogs for Cargill on 55 acres in northern Arkansas. He’s out of the business now, and in FERN’s latest piece he explores how industrial meat production has damaged the environment, the economy, and the social cohesion in his rural community. “Before corporations became involved in pork production in the ’70s, pigs were often called ‘mortgage lifters’ because of their quick turnaround and low cost of production,” Sain writes. “Pork was also a self-regulating market. An astute farmer could flip hogs quickly—when prices were up, they would jump into hogs, and when prices were down, they got out. This free-market regulation kept the price at a point at which … farmers would be paid fairly for their labor and the product.”

How ‘eating like the rich’ totally changed in one generation


In 1991, when Robin Leach published the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Cookbook, the food—lobster, caviar, and champagne on gilded platters and crystal goblets—offered a rare glimpse inside the castle of extreme wealth. “A generation later,” writes Annaliese Griffin, “we’re used to seeing celebrities in workout gear, slurping iced lattes with no makeup on, and not just imagining ourselves buying, and eating, the same things, but making the same consumer choices, and even buying their brands. How did we go from Folgers Crystals versus hand-pulled espresso, to Starbucks for all?”

At some poultry plants, prisoners work for little pay in dangerous conditions

Southern Poverty Law Center

Some prisoners who enter into work-release programs end up at poultry processing plants, doing some of the most dangerous jobs in the country for little pay. “Poultry processors employ [prisoners] by the hundreds, an investigation by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has found,” writes Will Tucker. “Records reviewed by the SPLC show dozens of poultry companies employed more than 600 prisoners in at least seven states in 2016. The SPLC investigation also turned up documents from Georgia and North Carolina showing at least two dozen prisoners have been injured at their poultry jobs since 2015.”

Post-Brexit, who picks the crops?

The Washington Post

As Brexit draws near, along with its promises of reduced immigration, some English farmers wonder who will soon pick the nation’s crops. “Britain today is completely dependent on foreign workers to pick its fruit and vegetables,” write William Booth and Karla Adam. “According to the National Farmers Union, an industry lobbying group, of the 60,000 seasonal workers in the fields last year, barely 1 percent was British. The vast majority come from Eastern Europe, particularly Bulgaria and Romania.”

Covering up the harms of common chemicals

The Intercept

Earlier this year, news emerged that the Environmental Protection Agency had suppressed a study that measured the health effects of PFAS chemicals found in drinking water and household products. It turns out that the agency, and chemical companies, have known of potential harms for decades. “A lawsuit filed by Minnesota against 3M, the company that first developed and sold PFOS and PFOA, the two best-known PFAS compounds, has revealed that the company knew that these chemicals were accumulating in people’s blood for more than 40 years,” writes Sharon Lerner. “3M researchers documented the chemicals in fish, just as the Michigan scientist did, but they did so back in the 1970s. That same decade, 3M scientists realized that the compounds they produced were toxic.”