Project Animal Farm
An Accidental Journey into
The Secret World of Farming and
The Truth about Our Food

Sonia Faruqi
(Pegasus Books)
  • Chicken factories consist of warehouses which contain up to 20,000 chickens in small cages. The average space given to each caged chicken is .44 square feet, about the size of a book. Chickens eventually go blind from the fumes of the feces in these warehouses.

  • People who work in the factories develop chronic coughs, a direct result of the dust and ammonia from chicken shit.

  • Farrow pigs in factories live in crates --- which the author calls coffins --- so small that any movement is impossible. Faruqi defined the sows as "half-dead objects."

  • One of the hazards of these factories are fires caused by "foam," manure in underground pits that traps fecal gases that, when agitated, "explode like a bomb."

  • Factory turkeys live for four months, grow to thirty-five pounds, and may die of heart attack before slaughter. "They grow so fast that their heart and vascular system can't keep up."

  • In 1925, after four months, the average chicken weighed two and a half pounds. Today, "they reach the weight of almost six pounds in six weeks (while consuming less than half the feed per pound of weight gained)."

  • The "slaughter sum" for animals in the United States and Canada reached 9,000,000,000 animals in 2013. This includes 8,500,000,000 chickens and 239,000,000 turkeys.

  • Most of the people who work in "confinement agriculture" are vegetarians.

  • McDonald's daily world customer traffic "of more than 70 million people is about 1 percent of the world population --- greater than the population of the United Kingdom."
After all this, the one that got us, that really got us, was this shot of a chicken factory in Mexico, where a worker showed her chicken shit that had "solidified into pebbles packed down by all the tens of thousands of [chicken] feet that trod it." The factory sells these pebbles for fertilizer, and as feed for cows. "Cows are fed chicken waste not only in Mexico but also in the United States. Because poultry litter costs less than corn, the American cattle industry feeds as much as a million pounds of poultry litter to cattle each year."

    This is distasteful no matter how one looks at it, but especially so when set beside the fact that chickens are themselves fed cattle remains in the form of rendered meat and bone meal. Chickens excrete the cow parts that they eat, and these parts are fed back to cows in the form of chicken feces.

"The strange cannibalism chain creates an alarming danger of disease, including mad cow disease, for which reason Canada has banned the feeding of chicken litter to cows."

There is a natural sequence in Project Animal Farm; the text goes from interesting, to disturbing, to horror-disgust-revulsion. Faruqi leads us in slowly, almost tenderly, to several small farms just outside Toronto, but then we move along to the bigger sites of "confinement agriculture" where the average reader (me!) just wants to lay the book down but with insufferable fact piling atop fact that we keep on slogging through the manure, through the facts and figures of those creatures who you and I may well be going to ear this very evening.

And if you think the label "local" make any difference, the chapter on an egg factory in Vermont that processes "organic" eggs from 400,000 hens will set you straight. The label was made up whole-cloth, as the owner of the site tells Faruqi, for "the only way to survive is to turn to an alternative market, to distinguish yourself not on price but quality," he says.

You and I may think that the only way out of this (if you'll pardon the expression) shitty mess is by publicity, newspaper articles, books such as this one, but the mega-farmers have defeated us on that as well. They're called "ag gag laws," which "penalise investigative reporters who explore conditions on industrial agriculture operations."

    They threaten the health and safety of consumers, in addition to making it difficult and sometimes impossible for consumers to make educated choices about the sources of their food.

Where do these ag gag laws pertain: so far, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and Utah; possibly, soon, knowing the sheer animal force of the mega-farmers, coming to a state near you. As the Washington Post editorialised,

    As you next cut into a steak or crack an egg . . . ask yourself why an industry that claims it has nothing to hide demands protection afforded to no other.

§   §   §

Faruqi comes across as a good soldier, as she goes all over the world to see who is establishing such factories (the only place immune seems to be Belize, of all places). Indonesia, Singapore, Dubai, Canada, Mexico and the United States seem all to be in thrall to factory-loving, but it is only in the United States that we get the mega-bird, beef, and pork centers. And they get not only legal protection from journalistic investigation, but get government subsidies to increase the size of their warehouses.

After the first few chapters, after Faruqi pulls out the heavy artillery, I can assure you that you (nor I) will never willingly enter one of these warehouses on our own: thank god she did it for us, weeping not only at the sheer reek of it, but at the wretched conditions under which these animals are kept. Nor I guess will you forget turkeys and chickens that cannot even get about because they have been bred for such ridiculous growth that they can neither stand nor totter about; nor the pigs in a metal cage no bigger than the pig, one that permits no movement whatsoever; nor the cows with amputated tails, locked in boxes, ill with a fungus that riddles their flesh, infected by mastitis, standing knee-deep in their own offal.

Nor can we forget the suspicion that followed her everywhere, workers and management asking if she were one of the "crazies" from PETA, threatening her with mayhem if she for a moment expressed any sympathy whatsoever with, for instance, a "Cobb" chicken who "buried their heads in the rice husks on the floor, their eyes closed . . . spread their legs behind them, such that their entire body was horizontal, breast-down, like an elephant seal's."

--- Pamela Wylie
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