27-year-old GWU Law School grad and Speciesism creator, Mark Devries, is frustrated with the lack of transparency in factory farming. As if it weren’t challenging enough to gather information about some of the biggest food manufacturers in North America, “Ag-gag” bills complicate things even further. “Ag-gag” bills, which were created to criminalize whistleblowing on American factory farms, have now made it illegal for journalists to document and share the processes behind some of the companies producing our food. According to Vice Motherboard writer Brian Merchant, “Ag-gag” bills are “brazen, patently absurd, and one of the most egregious free speech violations that hardly anyone is talking about.
In order to get around these closed-door operations Devries looked to modern technology. Using his drone, Devries took to the sky to explore an ariel view of the Smithfield Farms operation in North Carolina, the largest producer of pork in the United States. Devries uncovered, not only the inhumane treatment of animals, but the inconsiderate and harmful treatment of people.
In the documentary, Nick Cooney, Director of Education for Mercy For Animals, explains that pigs are extremely intelligent animals. “They are more intelligent than dogs, they are more intelligent than cats” he says, yet factory farmers do not treat them that way; “mother pigs are locked in cages so small that they can’t turn around for months at a time.”
The people of North Carolina are suffering as well. The faeces and urine of the thousands of pigs on Smithfield Farms is being flushed into a giant, open-air cesspool. Stuck with a lake already full of toxic pig waste, the farm must get rid of some waste in order to allow for new waste to come in. This is where their advanced sprinkler system comes in: Smithfield Farms empties the lake by spewing the liquid waste all around the surrounding property.
The company is seemingly minding their own business but, with wind blowing the waste all over neighbouring communities, their practices have become a huge issue for locals who are forced to keep windows and doors closed to keep the rain-like water out, and to prevent themselves from gagging or getting headaches from the odour. The toxic spritz has also become a health risk for locals in the area. Children have been developing asthma and adults upper respiratory symptoms. One of the experts interviewed, Steve Wing, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology, University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, calls it an act of environmental justice.
“Low income people bear the brunt of these practices.”
To be clear, this is not just a Smithfield problem. As Devries explained, there are about 2000 of such operations in North Carolina alone. One stat from the movie, offered by Dr. Steve Wing, explains that “a large hog operation can produce as much waste as a medium-sized city”. Multiply that by 2000 or so similar operations, and it’s clear that factory farming is a huge environmental issue.
According to Mark Devries, in an interview with Ecorazzi writer Nel Ark, vegetarians have been disturbing the rise of factory farming.
“The number of animals raised on factory farms in the United States has begun to decline, significantly, for the first time since the dawn of factory farming. This is the result of people eating less meat. As people choose more vegetarian and vegan meals, and adopt vegetarian and vegan diets, the impact of these factory farms — on the environment, on human health and on animal lives — will continue to decrease.”