Thanks to fans and foes


Last week in this space, I wrote about the

struggle of family farmers in Indiana as we celebrate the State Fair. I raised

the point that despite the many differences between farmers and ourselves, we

are united by our mutual repression at the hands of big business interests.

The great Hoosier artist Rob Day contacted me

and suggested I take another look at the issue of the State Fair, which

concludes this weekend. The fair's theme is "Year of the Pig," and the porcine

theme is represented throughout the exposition.

Day's argument was that we should be celebrating

family-owned hog farms and the role they play in bringing delicious,

nutritious pork products to our dinner table. And we do owe these men and women

our gratitude.

But the nature of the farm industry,

particularly the pork production process, has radically changed the past few

decades. According to the Indiana Pork Producers Association, the number of hog

farms in Indiana has decreased from 24,000 in 1980 to roughly 3,000 today.

As alarming as that is, that doesn't even tell

the whole story. Because, although the number of hog farms has decreased, total

statewide production has actually grown 8 percent since 2005. Most of the 3.1

million hogs raised for slaughter in Indiana annually come from gigantic

operations. The largest farms deliver as many as 120,000 pigs to market, while

smaller operations struggle to raise 300 or 400 animals per year.

The large-scale pork producers use Confined

Animal Feeding Operations, CAFO, where as many pigs as possible are crammed

into the smallest possible space, without room to move about. Some of these

operations are owned by families, technically making them family farmers, but

they're usually under contract to a major agribusiness corporation that has

strict guidelines regarding every aspect of the farm's operations.

In effect, these family farmers are working

harder than ever, but it's big business that's calling the shots. Farmers

either play by the rules of big business or they lose their livelihood –

something many city-dwellers can identify with.

Moreover, these farmers are mired in a cycle of

debt to the very same large agribusiness corporations that act as their


So there is more than a small amount of irony in

the State Fair's celebration of family-owned hog farms when many of them are so

deeply in debt to gigantic businesses that they may as well be sharecroppers or

indentured servants.

Moreover, the conditions in the CAFO farms are

shocking to the average person. Even if one concedes the biblical decree that

man has dominion over animals, did God truly intend for us to impose so much

suffering onto them?

Farms have been exempt historically from animal

cruelty laws, a loophole which allows big businesses to avoid accountability

for the way they treat their livestock. Most farmers I've met or talked to have

a deep reverence for the lives of the animals they tend – but market

pressures have forced CAFO farms to abdicate any sense of responsibility for

animal welfare.

But there may be changes on the way. Increasing

consumer demand for humanely raised animals has led to a heightened awareness

among agribusinesses about the way our pigs and poultry are raised and


Even better, the truly independent family

farmers are working together to bring customers a superior product. The website serves as a directory to bring together family farmers

with customers interested in their products.

The days of the massive, horrific killing fields

of CAFO operations may be limited as more and more consumers elect to make a

more informed and enlightened choice about the way they purchase and consume


Even corporations such as Wal-Mart have found

that it's in their best interest to offer locally-grown produce and meat.

Wal-Mart, the definition of the uncaring, cutthroat bottom-line retailer, is

bowing to consumer demand. The company's not acting solely out of the goodness

of its soulless heart.

Meanwhile, the fun and frivolity of the State

Fair comes to an end this weekend. But the struggle of the truly independent

family farmer is a never-ending process. Every season brings these farmers new

challenges and new obstacles to overcome. They are truly heroes.

But it's more than a little disingenuous to

celebrate the family pork farmer when there are so few of them left. The fair's

theme is a propaganda boon to the large agribusinesses that raise their animals

into a life of suffering and despair, followed by a quick death.

They don't need a boost of good P.R. They can

feed on the massive profits that come from factory farming. We shouldn't have

to have a festival that celebrates them.

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