The Wealth of the “Fast Food Nation”

Factory Farm

Sophia Sparagana

Period 7

With the release of several muckraking documentaries and films, like Food Inc. and Fast Food Nation, the horrors of factory farms can be brought to life in the midst of our own living rooms. Most viewers, including myself, lock in on the horrendous, inhumane conditions and treatment of the animals. Documentaries featuring animals, left to rot in their own feces, squeezed in cages so small that the creature inside can barely move certainly grab the attention of all viewers.

However, many of these documentaries fail to emphasize the underlying problem of this type of animal farming, factory farming, and how the industry’s obsession with productivity has been detrimental to society. To understand the harm of factory farming, first, we must go a few hundred years back to understand this method of production’s very origins.

In 1776, two key documents first came into play forever changing the world as people knew it. In the United States, the Declaration of Independence was drafted, finalized, and signed, marking the birth of one of the fastest-growing, free nations ever to exist. In Britain, Adam Smith, the father of economics, published An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, often shortened to just The Wealth of Nations, which commented on productivity and the division of labor. He named them two as the reasons that some nations were able to achieve greater wealth.

During the American Industrial Revolution beginning in the early nineteenth century, producers sought to fulfill Adam Smith’s message to reach more profit by stressing efficiency. As a “civilized and thriving nation,” the US needed to produce much more in order to supply the growing population. The country was urbanizing, as many people left the countryside to seek work in new urban factories. These manufactories produced more than smaller manufacturers by dividing the work into many parts that were “performed by distinct hands.”  In other words, workers were specialized in one part of the process, repeating the same action over-and-over. This allowed workers to become experts in that one part of the process, causing them to complete the action faster, “…facilitat[ing] and quicken[ing] their own particular part of the work” [1].

In order to increase the quantity of work and efficiency of workers, large factories began to upgrade, utilizing technology in order to increase productions to meet the demand of the continuously growing population [2]. Technology increased not only the quantity produced, but also the speed of production. This seemed to go hand-in-hand with the values of the young, fast-paced country. However, this new growth and speed was at the expense of the worker, who was often underpaid, overworked, and highly expendable.

Today, it seems like long gone are the days of hundreds of workers stuffed in one room, making shirts for 12 hours/day all to make a total of ten cents. This scene looks eerily familiar to a modern day industry though. Think overcrowded, abused, dangerous, and inexpensive. Here’s a clue: Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. For those who have not read this book, to summarize, it was written in order to expose the abuses of a Chicago meatpacking factory on both the animals and workers, all in the name of efficiency and lower prices [3].

Similar to the muckraking documentaries of today, this book, written during the Industrial Revolution, conjured feelings within readers that were focused on the animal abuse, and the disgusting treatment of meat, and not the underlying problem itself.

Have modern day meatpacking industries really failed to become less abusive to both the worker and the animal, even with improved technology? The answer is yes and here’s why.

As Adam Smith suggested would happen in a highly developed society, division of labor brought about highly specialized workers that increased efficiency, therefore producing more in less time. Workers began to use power-driven machinery to increase productivity. This ideal production technique, which lead to the grouping of machineries to create factories, was carried out to all parts of American life, beginning in the textile industry and spreading to blacksmiths and sewing machines. Eventually, factories even spread to include farming and the production of food. [4].

Over the years, and especially in current times, factory farming has become the largest contributor to the fast food industry that seeks to sell food at as cheap of a price as possible. The demand for large amounts of cheap animal products by corporations such as McDonalds, Burger King, and KFC has been fuel to the factory farming fire [5]. Each year, an estimated 9 billion broiler chickens, 113 million pigs, 33 million cows and 250 million turkeys are slaughtered to meet the needs of the fast food corporations. Many of the animals are slaughtered under one corporation’s name: Tyson, the largest member of the oligopoly on meat [6].

Corporations like Tyson have “swallowed family farms” and moved the animals to be produced, as they are treated as simply a product without any consciousness, in “prison-style plants in the middle of rural nowhere” [7]. It seems that they are under little to no observation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, even with many laws in place to oversee the health and safety protocols of both the workers and the animals.

A Human Rights Watch report stated that the US meat industry documented that workers can be subject to losing limbs, suffering from frequent lacerations by sharp tools, and even dying in horrible accidents related to the dangerous, extreme production-speed of the factories [8]. The treatment of the worker is not much better than the treatment of the animals in this industry: the workers are overworked to the point of exhaustion and vulnerable to injury and sickness in horrible, dirty, inhumane conditions. The “specialized” worker of the factory farm is paid poorly, and spends 10+ hours in danger in the chemical filled, bacteria laden, high-paced factory line; sometimes workers even “defecate in their pants to avoid slowing down.” These workers may not even get health insurance [9].

Furthermore, factory farms hurt the economy of local people, as surrounding smaller farmers are forced to go out of business because they cannot keep up with the “productivity” of factory farming, losing the security of a source of money as well as a source of food [10].

If Adam Smith saw the outcome of his works in the factory farming industry, he would honestly be appalled. In fact, in his book, he even stated that agriculture has much less subdivisions in labor than manufacturing [11]. Productivity was certainly achieved in the factory farming industry and the consumer certainly benefitted. In 1930, a whole dressed chicken sold for about $6.48 per pound when adjusted to today’s currency; last year, Tyson sold chicken for an average price of $1.57 per pound [12]. But at what cost? Today, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity are rampant among society because of the easy access to cheap fast food that was made from a sick animal [13]. These diseases are especially in the lower classes, the main target of fast food industries as cheap fast food is far less expensive than other healthier options.

Adam Smith wrote, “In every improved society, the farmer is generally nothing but a farmer; the manufacturer, nothing but a manufacturer” [14]. Not to disagree with Adam Smith, but isn’t every farmer more than just a farmer? Isn’t every manufacturer more than just a manufacturer? Aren’t they human as well? The factory farming industry has taken away the dignity of the human by abusing its workers, treating them as simply a means to make money, which the employed that actually do the dirty work do not even get a small fraction of.

Society has benefited so much from the productivity of many different industries. The food industry is not one of the benefits. Farms should not be factories, and neither animals nor workers should be subject to horrendous conditions all in the name of cheap prices and more product. As a consumer of these products, we must focus on seeking to make a change in the system. We can try to beat large corporations like Tyson by achieving the implementation of laws that prohibit factory farming as a whole.

As a young country, we are subject to mistakes, and this is one of them. But it is not completely irreversible. Maybe one day, movies like Food Inc., will be viewed by future generations as a lesson on the dangers of over-industrializing.

Bibliography

“Fast Food.” Food Empowerment Project. Accessed December 11, 2014.<http://www.foodispower.org/fast-food/&gt;

Grezo, Chris. “Factory Farms Are the New sweatshops.” New Internationalist Blog. November 20, 2012. Accessed December 10, 2014. <http://newint.org/blog/2012/11/20/factory-farms-are-new-sweatshops/.>

Kristof, Nicholas. “The Unhealthy Meat Market.” The New York Times. March 12, 2014. Accessed December 10, 2014.<http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/13/opinion/kristof-the-unhealthy-meat-market.html?_r=0.&gt;

“Meatpacking in the U.S.: Still a “Jungle” Out There?” PBS. December 15, 2006. Accessed December 10, 2014.<http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/250/meat-packing.html.&gt;

“Mystery Meat.” Photograph. Spoonfed. Accessed December 9, 2014. <http://spoonfedblog.net/2012/02/27/kids-and-factory-farming-yes-tell-them-the-truth/>

Smith, Adam. “On Division of Labor.” In An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. 5th ed. London: Methuen & Co., 1904. Accessed December 10, 2014.<http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smWN.html.>

Solotaroff, Paul. “In the Belly of the Beast.” Rolling Stone Magazine. December 10, 2013. Accessed December 10, 2014.<http://www.rollingstone.com/feature/belly-beast-meat-factory-farms-animal-activists.>

Spangher, Lucas. “The Overlooked Plight of Factory Farm Workers.” The Huffington Post. August 18, 2014. Accessed December 10, 2014.<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lucas-spangher/plight-of-factory-farm-workers_b_5662261.html.&gt;

Ushistory.org. “The First American Factories.” U.S. History Online Textbook. Accessed December 10, 2014.<http://www.ushistory.org/us/25d.asp.&gt;

Footnotes

[1] Smith, Adam. “On Division of Labor.” In An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. 5th ed. London: Methuen & Co., 1904. Accessed December 10, 2014. <http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smWN.html.>

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Meatpacking in the U.S.: Still a “Jungle” Out There?” PBS. December 15, 2006. Accessed December 10, 2014.<http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/250/meat-packing.html.&gt;

[4] Ushistory.org. “The First American Factories.” U.S. History Online Textbook. Accessed December 10, 2014.<http://www.ushistory.org/us/25d.asp.&gt;

[5] “Fast Food.” Food Empowerment Project. Accessed December 11, 2014. <http://www.foodispower.org/fast-food/.&gt;

[6] Solotaroff, Paul. “In the Belly of the Beast.” Rolling Stone Magazine. December 10, 2013. Accessed December 10, 2014.<http://www.rollingstone.com/feature/belly-beast-meat-factory-farms-animal-activists.&gt;

[7] Ibid.

[8] Solotaroff, Paul. “In the Belly of the Beast.” Rolling Stone Magazine. December 10, 2013. Accessed December 10, 2014.<http://www.rollingstone.com/feature/belly-beast-meat-factory-farms-animal-activists.>

[9] Spangher, Lucas. “The Overlooked Plight of Factory Farm Workers.” The Huffington Post. August 18, 2014. Accessed December 10, 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lucas-spangher/plight-of-factory-farm-workers_b_5662261.html.>

[10] Grezo, Chris. “Factory Farms Are the New sweatshops.” New Internationalist Blog. November 20, 2012. Accessed December 10, 2014. <http://newint.org/blog/2012/11/20/factory-farms-are-new-sweatshops/.>

[11] Smith, Adam. “On Division of Labor.” In An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. 5th ed. London: Methuen & Co., 1904. Accessed December 10, 2014. <http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smWN.html.>

[12] Kristof, Nicholas. “The Unhealthy Meat Market.” The New York Times. March 12, 2014. Accessed December 10, 2014.<http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/13/opinion/kristof-the-unhealthy-meat-market.html?_r=0.&gt;

[13] “Fast Food.” Food Empowerment Project. Accessed December 11, 2014. <http://www.foodispower.org/fast-food/.&gt;

[14]  Smith, Adam. “On Division of Labor.” In An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. 5th ed. London: Methuen & Co., 1904. Accessed December 10, 2014. <http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smWN.html.>

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