CAFO: "The Auschwitz of Livestock?"

My Generation

Read on to learn how educated Chicago moms responded to a fear-mongering presentation on everything from livestock to organic food to CAFO.

Published on: September 30, 2013

It wasn't exactly what we expected to hear at a farm tour sponsored by the Illinois Farm Families program.

What we expected when George Kalogridis, an Indiana-based organic certification manager, stepped in front of the crowd of Chicago Field Moms and downstate (cattle raising) farm moms a couple weekends ago during our tour of the Larson/Martz grain and cattle operation, was a few details on what's allowed and not allowed on certified organic farms. Maybe a little on the types of pesticides they do and don't allow. Maybe a little on what it takes to become a certified organic farmer. A chance to ask our questions.

Illinois Farm Families brought this years Chicago Field Moms to Larson Farms, for a look at grain harvest and cattle feeding. Mike and Lynn Martz shared a wealth of information, and the women got a first-hand look at cattle in a feedlot.
Illinois Farm Families brought this year's Chicago Field Moms to Larson Farms, for a look at grain harvest and cattle feeding. Mike and Lynn Martz shared a wealth of information, and the women got a first-hand look at cattle in a feedlot.

Instead, we got indoctrination.

Kalogridis had been briefed on the IFF mantra: that there's room for all types of agriculture and farmers. But his personal views didn't support that mantra. He spoke of certified organic as the only way to eat safely. Then he switched gears, inexplicably, to livestock production.

"When you get into CAFOs, that's when the horrors begin," he said. "It's the Auschwitz of livestock."

He described CAFOs as "Confined Animal Feeding Operations," adding that animals raised in CAFOs are not allowed outside, they never breathe fresh air, they can't turn around, they're miserable and there's not a single good CAFO out there.

But, the facts. And so I raised my hand. "I understood CAFO to stand for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, and that it's a definition based on the number of animals on a farm, not of how the animals are raised. You're suggesting it stands for something else?" I asked.

He didn't back down, despite my (actual) U.S. EPA definition, which says CAFOs are those with 1,000+ beef cattle, 700+ dairy cows, 2,500+ hogs. His response, in fact, made it sound as if I could have my definition and he could have his, and so he went on to talk about how horrible every single CAFO is and that the animals are behind bars and that it's industrial.

Then Mike Martz piped up from the side of the room. "I'm a CAFO."

I wish you could have heard the murmur that erupted across that room.

Because every one of these women had just walked through Mike Martz's feedlots. We'd talked about feed rations and looked at the cattle. We talked about breeding and genetics. And more importantly, they observed cattle, in comfortably covered buildings (to protect them from the heat and other Illinois weather elements), standing and laying down, as cattle are prone to do. Looking around. Chewing their cud. Appearing pretty darn content and happy. No bawling. Not skittish. Just quiet. Content.

Women began leaning over and asking me and the other farm moms in the group, what this all meant. "I don't feel like that's what this is," one woman told me. "Those cattle had fresh air, they could turn around."

Another Chicago mom asked Kalogridis, "What you've presented is that they are not being cared for. That's confusing, based on what we saw here. If I treated my animals poorly, wouldn't they not grow and produce right?"

I wanted to stand up and cheer at that one.

Kalogridis began hedging at this point, especially as he realized he'd been caught. That CAFO is an actual government term that can't just mean whatever he wants it to mean. So he began to draw a distinction between the happy, well-cared for cattle we just saw at Martzes and what he then called "industrial CAFOs."

Before Kalogridis left, I pulled him aside and asked how these Chicago moms were supposed to designate between meat that came from a "good CAFO" like the Martzes, and a "bad industrial CAFO," and a good small livestock producer and a bad small livestock producer.

He smiled. "You have to know who you're dealing with. And the only way to do that is to buy organic certified."

"That sounds like a pretty good sales pitch for an organic certification company," I responded.

Kalogridis laughed heartily, looked at the floor and smiled back at me.

And Yet...

Against all odds, there is a bright side to this story: the Chicago moms saw right through him and his CAFO definition lie.

"Wait," one mom said to me, quietly. "If he's not telling the truth about that, what else is he not telling the truth about?"

Exactly.

Another said to Lynn Martz, "You stood up there and told us facts. He told us his opinion."

Indeed.

Because here's the thing: you cannot judge the worth of a farmer by the size of his operation - despite what Kalogridis asserted that day. There are good large farmers and bad large farmers. There are excellent small farmers and terrible small farmers. That's what the women learned that day. And that you can't trust someone who plays loose with the facts.

This was, without a doubt, the most grossly terrific example of fear-based marketing I've ever seen, at least in person. That man stood up there and intended to scare the crap out of a bunch of women so they would buy the product he's paid to certify.

Make no mistake: I have no problem with organic products or organic farmers. But it's the marketing. It's guys like Kalogridis. People cannot be allowed to make up whatever they want to fit the story to their brand of indoctrination. They have to stop insinuating - or outright lying - about food production. About farmers. About livestock. If you have to produce a fear to produce a sale, you probably don't need to be in business.

If we in agriculture do anything right, it will be to find an end to this kind of fear-based marketing. It just has to stop.

Post Tags: CAFO, livestock

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  1. Jackass says:

    Is this supposed to be an objective article or a published personal opinion? It seems that the author made no effort to understand any points the presenter was attempting to make because she couldn’t get past the definition of CAFO. Further it is rather disconcerting to see someone react in such a way based on their emotional state. I thought I read somewhere that these were supposed to be educated moms making educated and clearly presented arguments in which they may weigh both sides of the tale. Guess not. Just because your sample size of CAFOs known personally to you may not exhibit the horrors or whatever he described doesn’t mean they don’t happen. And likewise be wary of salesmen attempting to woo you with well to do labeling such as organics. Doesn’t mean that the organics movement is misinformed if there are a few bad apples but for the love of god, don’t write such reactionary drivel and sell it as a well informed. My definition of educated = well informed and calm of which I claim neither at this point. By the way, the reason for the existence of the organics label is allow people to know that this product is grown in the environment that the interested consumer desires. By that definition the presenter is correct, and that is the only way to know short of visiting the production site.

    • Holly Spangler says:

      Thanks for providing another point of view. It's a blog so by definition it's my personal opinion, reporting on what I witnessed that day. For the record, I did attempt to understand his points but after he was caught lying about the definition of CAFO, he seemed a little less trustworthy on other points. The Chicago moms are educated (and very intelligent), so let's not insult them. They were not there to make an argument; they signed up to be Field Moms so they could have access to farmers and farm tours and could make their own observations and draw their own conclusions. Sure, horrors happen in every size of operation, CAFO or no. They are the minority. Just like there are a few bad apples in the organic certification business. You should consider giving everyone the same leeway you're giving the "organics movement."

    • Tim says:

      1 - the moms are not intelligent is a Jackass opinion. 2 - the salesman is just an isolated example of some nut job organic is another Jackass opinion. 3 - ignoring the fact that the Organic industry wants to polarlize the market by providing only two labeling options is a Jackass mistake.

  2. Brandon of none says:

    Comparing modern animal husbandry to the cruelty of Auschwitz is demeaning, disrespectful, and frankly cruel towards those that suffered and died at that Nazi death camp. People worked themselves literally to death, while starving the whole time. Makes me sick at the lack of character some people have.

    • Holly Spangler says:

      I agree. Audacious. But also a move to equate animal suffering with human suffering, straight out of the animal rights activist playbook.

      • Loren Eaton says:

        I've been arguing with these folks since the Monarch butterfly dust up. One thing they're really good at is hyperbole. Vandana Shiva, the, ahem, eco-feminist, once said that allowing a GM farmer to plant near an organic farm was like allowing a rapist to rape. If you can't make your case without the red meat, you probably don't have much of a case.

  3. Dr. Greg Ledbetter says:

    Ignorance and prejudice can cause a lot of trouble, especially when combined. Horizon Organic is a certified organic dairyfarm in Idaho. they are also a CAFO since they milk 3,000 cows.

    • Holly Spangler says:

      Perfect, perfect example!

  4. Ben says:

    "If you have to produce a fear to produce a sale, you probably don't need to be in business." Love this! I may need to steal it next time I am given a list of foods to avoid by the OCA!

    • Holly Spangler says:

      Thanks, Ben! Exactly; we don't need to be scared into certain purchases.

  5. Sandy Robertson of facebook says:

    I've been to the Martz's/ Larson farms a couple of times and I know them, and they do things right. Their farm is always clean, and Mike is always positive and upbeat when I talk to him, I'm glad he is the V. Pres of the Ill Beef Association, and I want to thank him for his good work, and what he has done for us in Ag/ Beef.

    • Holly Spangler says:

      For sure, Sandy. They are a great representation and fortunately, they're not alone. Operations like theirs are the majority.

  6. This. This is quite frankly one of the best articles I have read in a very long time and EXACTLY the point I've been trying to make. We can pretend there is a "big tent" for everyone in agriculture to get along, but at the end of the day you can only sell organic food at a premium when you tell people the other stuff is somehow bad. That's wrong. That's deceptive. And that's a lie. Bravo to this Chicago farm mom (and all the moms) for seeing right through this gimmick!

    • Holly Spangler says:

      I wrote that column once several years ago and got letters from organic farmers wanted to know why I was being so divisive. It was a window into the skewed views within our own food production industry.

  7. Theresa Westaby says:

    As Illinois Organic Dairy Farmers, we agree with what Emily Zweber said below in her comments. This certifier spoke for himself, and has caused unnecessary conflict between organic and conventional farmers. Why was he invited to this event and not an organic farmer? You have been listening to the conventional farmers, but yet, have you brought any true organic farmers into the conversation? We're out here, and you won't get fear mongering and false marketing from us, you will get the truth about what we do. We're all farmers, why can't we work together for the good of all consumers.

    • Holly Spangler says:

      Theresa, an organic farmer from northern Illinois spoke just before the certifier. He did a fine job representing organic farmers and answered many questions about the organic process. Many of the Chicago Field Moms appreciated his transparency. It made it all the more abrupt when the certifier stood up and began spouting the fear-mongering so many of us have seen and read on the Internet. We expected a more credible source. To Illinois Farm Families' credit, they did, too; they understood him to be a voice of reason who could answer questions about specific organic certification processes and would not promote one type of agriculture over another. Unfortunately, that's not what he did when he got up in front of the room.

      • Theresa Westaby says:

        Your story was about the negative comments made by the certifier, but if you had mentioned there was an organic farmer present who did answer questions, my only complaint would have been that the certifier should be fired. We have been inspected 12 times and never, ever, have we had an inspector who spoke in this manner. We don’t use Indiana Certification, but this type of attitude should not be acceptable, especially due to the fact that he was a guest at this conventional farm! There is fear-based marketing going on on both sides here, but I agree with Emily Zweber that if I had been there, he would have been stopped and challenged on his comments. Thank you for your time.

      • Holly Spangler says:

        That's because the story was about the ways the Chicago moms learned to see through fear-based marketing, based on first-hand tours of farms. You'll surely note there were several paragraphs explaining that both I and the Illinois Farm Families program support different types of agricultural production. The organic farmer spoke prior to the certifier, and he did not respond to the certifier.

      • Theresa Westaby says:

        You never mentioned having an organic farmer present in the above article, you only mentioned the certifier and his negative opinions. Was the organic farmer asked his thoughts about what the certifier was saying? Inclusion of these would have made the article appear more balanced in support of all types of farming.

  8. Holly, great story! I find the title a little confusing though. Your story is about how an organic producer used misinformation and scare tactics during the tour (much like the Chipotle story of a couple weeks ago). What a CAFO is or isn't wasn't the hook for me, it was the misinformation that was purposely put in front of your group. It appears you all remained civil (I might not have). Thanks for sharing and exposing those who are less than sincere in how they approach food production!

    • Holly Spangler says:

      Colin, I included his quote in the headline because that was the scare tactic and misinformation he used during the tour. And you are right: definitely less than sincere!

      • Stan Ford says:

        I see you didn't bother to correct Colin's erroneous remark that it was a producer.

  9. EMILY ZWEBER of http://www.zweberfarms.com says:

    As an organic farmer, this certifier really makes me steaming mad. Organic farms and farmers have so many positive things to offer consumers. There is no reason to throw our conventional neighbors under the bus with misinformation and scare tactics. ESPECIALLY in this situation. I wish I could have been there to correct the situation. Now organic farmers have a bad name because of this guy.

    • Holly Spangler says:

      Emily, I thought of you and your husband several times during the presentation and wondered what you would have to say to him! I like your analogy of being thrown under the bus - that's exactly what the certifier did. Kudos to Mike Martz for responding with class and further information, as this guy stood on his farm and insulted him. I mentioned in my response to Theresa above, an organic farmer spoke just before this organic certifier and did an excellent job. I didn't agree with everything he said and that's ok. That's the point of exposing the Field Moms to different points of view. We don't all have to agree with each other, but we do have to be respectful!

  10. Ashley says:

    AMEN!

    • Holly Spangler says:

      Preach it, sister. :)

  11. Drew says:

    Thank you for a great article and for speaking up Holly! I think it is hard for some people to know what information to trust when it seems to come from a valid source and then gets contradicted by another. Just as these women saw the truth with their own eyes, we need to keep sharing our ag stories and farm practices.

    • Holly Spangler says:

      Thanks, Drew! I think it was great that they were able to see opinion being presented as fact...that was completely untrue. Discernment, for sure.

  12. Heather Miller says:

    Spangler=1 Kalogridis=0

    • Holly Spangler says:

      All collected points due in large part to that Illini ag communications degree!

      • Lindsay says:

        I wish I could "like" this. :)

  13. Barbara Womack says:

    Great article! Thanks for speaking out and sticking to the truth. I wish more folks would when it comes to food production. All too often consumers are making decisions based on fear and misunderstanding instead of facts. And, unfortunately, there are those people who promote this kind of fear because it is to their own benefit. The fear-mongering has got to stop. Thanks again for speaking out!

    • Holly Spangler says:

      Well said!

  14. Kristie says:

    Score 1 for agvocacy! It's wonderful to hear that these women are sincerely listening and thinking about what they're hearing, and that they have the opportunities and guts to ask questions to help them understand! I've often said I have no problem with organic producers or organic products, but I do take issue with the marketing. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Holly Spangler says:

      I was very impressed with the way they peppered him with questions, in order to get to the bottom of the contradictions between what they were hearing and what they saw earlier. Heartening!

  15. Renee says:

    Thank you for sharing this! Great post and a great example of how these women chose to be critical thinkers and not just accept the spin. Well done ladies!!!

    • Holly Spangler says:

      I love critical thinking!

  16. Jodi says:

    Great Article! Keep up the good work!

    • Holly Spangler says:

      Thank you!