P.T. Barnum famously said, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” and if he were alive today, he would probably be cozily ensconced in the corner office of a large agricultural company--particularly one that makes its profits selling industrialized animal farming to the public. Award-winning journalist David Kirby’s gripping new book, Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment (St. Martin’s Press), exposes industrialized agriculture for the cruel, polluting, disease transmitting, manure-soaked con game that it is. Think that’s too harsh? By the end, one of the everyday heroes that makes the book such a compelling read, hardy ex-Marine Rick Dove, ends up with a severe case of antibiotic resistant E. coli after a tumble in a creek flooded with chicken manure from a nearby industrial chicken operation. The infection nearly kills him.
Rick Dove is just one of the ordinary citizens-turned-activists that Kirby follows in Animal Factory, and he wisely lets the power of their stories drive the narrative. For Rick Dove of New Bern, North Carolina, Helen Reddout of Yakima Valley, Washington and Karen Hudson of Elmwood, Illinois, farming originally meant what we’ve all been taught to believe—happy animals standing in lush grasses with a welcoming red barn in the background. It’s not until Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, known as CAFOs, move nearby, complete with stench and large manure spills, that they begin to realize what today’s industrialized agriculture really represents. Polluted fields and waterways, cruelly confined and mistreated animals, dreadful working conditions, fish kills, stink, illness.