From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2010:
(Actual press date November 3.)

CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations):
The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories edited by Daniel Imhoff
Watershed Media (513 Brown Street, Healdsburg,
CA 95448), 2010. 400 pages, hardcover. 450
photographs. $50.00.

CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding
Operations) is the latest and probably most
ambitious yet of a 20-volume series of coffee
table books produced by Watershed Media founder
Daniel Imhoff to help bring public attention to
major but often overlooked environmental issues.
CAFO is the fourth Imhoff edition to
address factory farming, following Farming with
the Wild (2003), Farming & the Fate of Wild
Nature (2006), and Food Fight: the Citizen’s
Guide to a Food & Farm Bill (2007).

Imhoff and Watershed Media colleagues
appear to realize that few people will ever read
any of their books cover to cover. The typical
fate of coffee table books, by design, is to
lie on a coffee table for casual browsing by
someone who is waiting for someone or something
else. The theory behind Watershed Media books is
that if their coffee table books are visually
different enough, they will be picked up and
browsed more often than others.
CAFO at a glance stands out. Seemingly
as enormous as factory farming itself, it is 12
inches wide, thirteen and a half inches high,
and nearly two inches thick. Many of the 450
photos inside sprawl over two facing pages. Yet
even at that size they barely begin to convey the
enormity of the numbers of animals raised in
feedlots and pig and poultry barns, and of the
earth-transforming environmental impacts of
factory farming, many of which are visible from
Any of the 28 guest essayists and almost
any of the quarter-page mini-essays by Imhoff
himself that introduce many of the photo montages
in the latter part of CAFO will provide the
casual brower with plenty to think about, and
probably all the information about factory
farming that the person can stomach at a sitting.
As Imhoff notes in his preface, the term
“factory farming” appears to have originated in
1890. Improving the economic efficiency and
productivity of animal agriculture by introducing
“factory” methods was at first widely regarded as
good for all concerned, including the animals,
but criticism emerged almost as soon as “factory
farmers” gained significant market share. The
problems associated with “factory farming” then,
more than 70 years ago, were the same as they
are today, except on a much smaller scale.
The guest contributors to CAFO include
several who tried to arrest the momentum of the
growth of factory farming before it reached even
half the present production volume. Among them
are Wendell Berry, who has been farming and
critiquing factory farming since 1965, and
Bernard Rollin, who has taught ethics to
agriculture students at Colorado State University
for more than 30 years.
Few CAFO contributors are advocates of
vegetarianism. Imhoff calls himself a “cautious
omnivore,” which would also describe Michael
Pollan, author of the 2006 best seller The
Omnivore’s Dilemma, and probably most of the
rest. Many of the CAFO contributors, however,
discuss the degradation and suffering of the 10
billion animals per year who live and die in the
U.S. factory farming system.
Matthew Scully, a former speechwriter
for then-U.S. President George W. Bush, comes
closest to making an argument for animal rights,
in an essay reprinted from the May 23, 2005
edition of The American Conservative, distilled
from his 2002 book Dominion: The Power of Man,
the Suffering of Animals & the Call to Mercy.
Scully is a problematic figure to both
political conservatives and perhaps the majority
of animal rights activists, though welcomed and
much praised by some.
On the one hand, Scully argues that
conscientious conservatives, especially fellow
evangelical Christians, have a moral duty to
oppose the animal exploitation of many longtime
reliable funders of conservative causes,
including hunters, furriers, and especially
On the other hand, Scully approaches the
idea of animal rights from a perspective that
many critics contend is “welfarist” rather than
“animal rights,” even though Scully is
“abolitionist” in believing that many routine
human uses of animals are so morally
objectionable that they should be abolished.
Scully, like Peter Singer in his 1976
volume Animal Liberation, begins in CAFO with
the 1780 footnote in which British attorney
Jeremy Benthem wrote of animals, “The question
is not, can they reason? Nor can they talk?
But, can they suffer?”
Also building upon that thought, People
for the Ethical Treatment of Animals founder
Ingrid Newkirk remarked in 1989 to a Vogue
interviewer, “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.
They’re all mammals.” Newkirk went on to explain
that the rat, pig, dog, and human are equal in
their capacity to suffer. This has become an
oft-quoted summary of the idea underlying most
animal rights philosophy.
But Scully goes in a different direction.
“A dog is not the moral equal of a human
being,” Scully argues, “but a dog is definitely
the moral equal of a pig, and it’s only human
caprice and economic convenience that say
otherwiseŠOur pets are accorded certain
protections from cruelty, while the nameless
creatures in our factory farms are hardly treated
like animals at all. The challenge is one of
consistency, of treating moral equals equally,
and living according to fair and rational
standards of conduct.”
Agree or disagree with Scully’s ideas,
as a White House speechwriter he had a noteworthy
knack for persuading the American public. CAFO
exists not to create activists so much as just to
reach and alert average Americans to the havoc
wrought by factory farming. Though CAFO points
out public policies that subsidize the factory
farming system, Imhoff et al tend to leave
recommendations for political action to readers
to discover later, and leave recommendations for
lifestyle change to the health care providers in
whose waiting rooms readers may be most likely to
find CAFO.
Regardless of the perspectives of the
CAFO essayists, however, the greatest
impression will be made by the photos. This is
the most comprehensive visual documentation to
date of all routine aspects of factory farming,
especially of the all-pervasive and problematic
presence of manure. The images could scarcely be
more opposite to the bucolic vision of farm
animal life that marketers labor to construct.
Almost anyone who picks up CAFO and leafs
casually through the pages will be moved by the
faces of suffering animals, and quite likely
many will become uncomfortably aware of manure
any time they approach a meat counter.

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