On September 28, the governor of the U.S. state of Kansas Sam Brownback held an economic summit on an increasingly hot topic: animal agriculture. As the United States struggles to get back on its feet in the wake of recession, Brownback is suggesting the intensification of animal production as an opportunity for expansion and growth in Kansas. In reference to animal agriculture, he went so far as to say, “I just want to see us put that on steroids and grow it.” This is an ironic choice of words, in light of the controversy often surrounding discussions of hormone and antibiotic use in factory farming conditions.
The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance is well-aware of this controversy and is opening up a discussion by taking out a full-page ad in the New York Times with the headline, “Since when did agriculture become a dirty word?” On September 22, the Alliance launched “The Food Dialogues” to create a dialogue to answer the public’s questions about farming and ranching. If Brownback’s proposal to intensify animal production in Kansas gains momentum, there will be widespread implications. It is important to note that Kansas is responding to export demand, not necessarily domestic demand for meat products. This is because much of the world, including China and India, have increasingly adopted Western diets and animal production practices, and will likely follow suit if the U.S. intensifies animal production.
When Brownback emphasizes the need for regulatory reform in the animal agriculture sector, the question of animal welfare is raised. What does this entail for the animals? How environmentally sustainable will these intensification practices be? And an even bigger question… what are other countries (who are already adopting the Western diet and methods of factory farming) going to do in response?
Photo courtesy of Peter M. Graham