Unbelievable Photos Show Factory Farms Destroying The American Countryside
By Harrison Jacobs / businessinsider.com

Food production has become a race for maximum efficiency. When it comes to producing meat, whether chicken, beef, or pork, that race has fallen at the feet of the so-called factory farm and its hallmark feature — the feedlot.

Feedlots, officially called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), house thousands of animals in tiny, confined spaces before they're slaughtered. Critics call the practice inhumane and say it breeds environmental problems and disease.

"A feedlot is very much a pre-modern city … teeming and filthy and stinking, with open sewers, unpaved roads, and choking air rendered visible by dust," Michael Pollan writes in his book "The Omnivore’s Dilemma."

There are currently about 15,500 CAFOs in the U.S. According to FarmForward — which used numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture — 99% of farmed animals in the U.S. are raised on feedlots.

For the last several years, British artist Mishka Henner has collected images of the feedlots via satellite, to document a largely hidden phenomenon. Initially, he was searching satellite imagery to look for oil fields. When he came across the feedlots, Henner was shocked he didn't know about about such a central part of our food production.

"The feedlots are a brilliant representation of how abstract our food industry has come," Henner told Business Insider. "It’s an efficient system for extracting the maximum yield from animals. That’s the world we live in now. We want to extract the maximum yield from everything, no matter what business you are in."

As you can see from these photos, the chemicals in animal waste turn feedlots into oddly beautiful, multicolored cesspools. Henner's work has been collected into a study called Feedlots, prints of which can be purchased here. Henner will be displaying the work with the Carroll/Fletcher Gallery at ArtExpo in Chicago from Sept. 18-21.

Mishka Henner Tascosa Feedyard (detail), Texas.

The goal of the feedlots is to produce the greatest output at the lowest cost. To that end, cows eat a combination of cheap corn, protein, and fat supplements (often manufactured from other cows), and drugs to fatten them up quickly and efficiently, according to Pollan. Cows naturally feed on grass, but grass-fed cows take much longer than corn-fed cows to get to slaughter weight.

“Cows raised on grass simply take longer to reach slaughter weight than cows raised on a richer diet, and for half a century now the industry has devoted itself to shortening a beef animal’s allotted span on Earth,” Pollan wrote.

Since factory farms became part of the food industry in the mid-20th century, Pollan writes, the length of cows’ lives before being slaughtered has steadily decreased to 12 to 14 months, from about four to five years.

Mishka Henner Coronado Feeders, Dalhart, Texas.

With meat consumption set to rise exponentially in the coming years, these feedlots will only increase their dominance on our production of food. And these CAFOs have serious environmental costs.

Thousands of of cattle on a small parcel of land produce an exorbitant amount of waste with nitrogen and phosphorus that would render it useless as a fertilizer. With nowhere for the manure to go, farms must create “manure lagoons” — ponds or reservoirs filled with toxic waste, according to a report by the CDC. As you can see from these photos, these "lagoons" look like gigantic, multicolored petri dishes.

Mishka Henner Coronado Feeders (detail), Dalhart, Texas.

The manure lagoons can hurt water and land quality. Animal waste pollutants, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, organic matter, antibiotics, pesticides, and diseases, leach into the groundwater and land. The EPA estimates that states with high concentrations of CAFOs experience 20 to 30 serious water quality problems per year.  

That waste also pollutes the air. Farm workers and nearby residents have reported asthma, headaches, eye irritation, and nausea, apparently as a result of the emissions from the feedlots. The health and environmental concerns have driven down nearby property values, according to a recent study cited by the CDC. 

These feedlots are tough to fight because of so-called "ag-gag" laws in seven states, which bar the recording of undercover videos, photographs, or sound recordings at farms. Farms and livestock producers say the laws are aimed at protecting their homes and businesses from intruders, but critics say they have a chilling effect on whistle-blowing or investigative work.

Two "ag-gag" laws are currently being challenged in federal court in Idaho and Utah, according to USA Today. 

While Henner trespassed on no lands to produce his images, he says he has been warned his images would fall under "ag-gag" laws in the states where they exist. He has yet to be confronted with any legal challenges.

"Ag-gag" laws are one of the main reasons so few people have seen photos of the feedlots, making Henner's work all the more unique.

Mishka Henner Randall County Feedyard, Amarillo, Texas.

4.6 ·
8
What's Next
Trending Today
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 29,248 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
North Dakota Gov Cuts Water Supply to Native Americans as DAPL Protest Swells in Number and Spirit
Lauren McCauley · 17,931 views today · Thousands join protest camp as supporters are holding a rally in Washington D.C. on Wednesday outside of Army Corps hearing
Brené Brown on How to Reckon with Emotion and Change Your Narrative
Brené Brown · 14,573 views today · The most powerful stories may be the ones we tell ourselves, says Brené Brown. But beware—they're usually fiction.
This Off Grid Handmade Island is One of the Most Amazing Homes in the World
3 min · 9,440 views today · Floating off the coast of Vancouver Island, a 45-minute boat ride to the nearest town, is a sustainable island fortress complete with a dance floor, art gallery and garden. For...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 5,953 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Donald Trump Supporters Given an Ideology Test. Spoiler Alert... They Fail
4 min · 5,278 views today · After Donald Trump proposes an ideology test for potential Muslim immigrants, Jordan Klepper quizzes the presidential hopeful's supporters. 
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 4,151 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
If You Want to Say Thank You, Don't Say Sorry - And 6 Other Examples of Beautiful Communication
Yao Xiao · 4,025 views today · Appreciate others for what they have done, don't apologise for simply existing.
Mesmerising Video of Tiled Roof Hut Built Entirely from Materials Found in the Forest
14 min · 4,017 views today · I built this tiled roof hut in the bush using only primitive tools and materials. The tools I used have been made in my previous videos. It should be pointed out that I do not...
Healing a Suicide Attempt: Cartooning My Experience
Amani Omejer · 3,806 views today · In April 2012, I attempted suicide whilst living in San Francisco. It was - obviously - an incredibly intense time, but in many ways the time that followed the attempt was...
Law Professor's Epic Response to Black Lives Matter Shirt Complaint
Social Design Notes · 3,720 views today · A first year law school student wrote a complaint about her professor having worn a Black Lives Matter T-shirt during class. The professor’s response is priceless. Scans of...
30 Days of White Privilege
Jonah Smith-Bartlett · 3,466 views today · The straw that broke the camel’s back was a New York Times comment section. “There is no such thing as white privilege. It’s something the liberal media created. Black people...
British Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia Complicit in Yemen Humanitarian Crisis
10 min · 3,285 views today · Oxfam has hit out at the British government's position on weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, as accusations continue that civilians have been deliberately targeted as Yemen's...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 3,120 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Understanding Patriarchy
bell hooks · 3,054 views today · Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation. Yet most men do not use the word “patriarchy” in everyday life...
How Stress Affects Your Brain
4 min · 2,050 views today · Stress isn’t always a bad thing; it can be handy for a burst of extra energy and focus, like when you’re playing a competitive sport or have to speak in public. But when it’s...
The Old Paradigm’s Demoralizing Orthodoxies Make Us Confuse Despair With Realism
Arlene Goldbard · 1,961 views today · Undergraduates ask me how to keep from getting cynical and demoralized, and my first question is how much mainstream news media they consume each day.
Because You're Worthless - Challenging The Current Economic System in 3 Minutes
3 min · 1,912 views today · Poem by Agnes Török on the news of a new Conservative budget. Based on experiences of living in Britain under austerity as a young, queer, unemployed, female immigrant student...
To Thrive, We Must Be in Touch With Each Other
Sarah van Gelder · 1,597 views today · When we live connected to a community, we are more likely to become champions for one another, not just for ourselves.
Blame - an Inquiry Into Why We Separate
Chelsea Rustrum · 1,553 views today · Allow me to share a few personal anecdotes… My dear aunt recently passed away from bone cancer at just 60. To make sense of her passing, I went through a period of blaming...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Unbelievable Photos Show Factory Farms Destroying The American Countryside