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Over the past century, new farming methods, feed additives, and social and economic structures have radically transformed agriculture around the globe, often at the expense of human health. In Chickenizing Farms and Food, Ellen K. Silbergeld reveals the unsafe world of chickenization – big agriculture's top-down, contract-based factory farming system – and its negative consequences for workers, consumers, and the environment.
Drawing on her deep knowledge of and experience in environmental engineering and toxicology, Silbergeld examines the complex history of the modern industrial food animal production industry and describes the widespread effects of Arthur Perdue's remarkable agricultural innovations, which were so important that the US Department of Agriculture uses the term chickenization to cover the transformation of all farm animal production. Silbergeld tells the real story of how antibiotics were first introduced into animal feeds in the 1940s, which has led to the emergence of multi-drug-resistant pathogens, such as MRSA. Along the way, she talks with poultry growers, farmers, and slaughterhouse workers on the front lines of exposure, moving from the Chesapeake Bay peninsula that gave birth to the modern livestock and poultry industry to North Carolina, Brazil, and China.
Arguing that the agricultural industry is in desperate need of reform, Chickenizing Farms and Food searches through the fog of illusion that obscures most of what has happened to agriculture in the twentieth century and untangles the history of how laws, regulations, and policies have stripped government agencies of the power to protect workers and consumers alike from occupational and food-borne hazards. Chickenizing Farms and Food also explores the limits of some popular alternatives to industrial farming, including organic production, nonmeat diets, locavorism, and small-scale agriculture. Silbergeld's provocative but pragmatic call to action is tempered by real challenges: how can we ensure a safe and accessible food system that can feed everyone, including consumers in developing countries with new tastes for western diets, without hurting workers, sickening consumers, and undermining some of our most powerful medicines?
Ellen K. Silbergeld is a professor of environmental health sciences, epidemiology, and health policy and management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In 1993, she was the recipient of a MacArthur "genius grant".
"A powerfully original exploration of the problems of industrial-scale animal agriculture that touches on public health, the environment, and worker safety. No one else has written so thoughtfully or vividly about the 'chickenization' of the agricultural industry around the world and what it means. Silbergeld has written an important, informative, and excellent book."
– Tom Pelton, host of The Environment in Focus public radio program
"Listen to Ellen. The dangers that she reveals are real, but so are the opportunities to do better. As a life-long farmer, producing over 50 million chickens annually with no antibiotics or drugs, I know that a superior – and safer – model can be successful."
– Scott I. Sechler, Owner, Bell & Evans
"It takes a tough professor to write a book that takes on the proponents and opponents of the industrialization of agriculture at the same time. Ellen Silbergeld's approach is based in public health: how to make sure all people are able to access nutritious and safe food. She writes with data, humor and passion. This is a critical contribution to discussions about our global food supply."
– Joshua M. Sharfstein, MD, former Principal Deputy Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration, Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Training, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
"This timely book raises issues at the core of our agricultural dilemma. If we're going to expand production sustainably and safely, we need to take this uncomfortable dive into the murky ways in which we keep ourselves fed."
– Jonathan Rushton, Royal Veterinary College, London
"This is a must read for anyone interested in our food system – how we got here, why it doesn't work, and how we move forward. Ellen Silbergeld has many groundbreaking insights about how and why the industry failed us when it comes to public health, food safety, and protecting workers."
– Fedele Bauccio, CEO, Bon Appetit Management Company
"What are the consequences of the industrialization of our food production? Ellen Silbergeld's journey shows why we should be worried, and offers a glimpse of a hopeful future."
– Jan Kluytmans, Consult Microbiologist and Infection Control Specialist, Breda, The Netherlands
"Chickenizing Farms and Food is an insightful look at where our food comes from and how it is brought to the dinner plate. Silbergeld brings us face to face with the harsh reality as she explores ways we can go forward in feeding the world."
– Food Inc.'s Carole Morison
"Our agricultural systems and processes have changed over the last century, with unintended consequences – from increased human health risks to degraded environmental conditions. Bravo to Dr. Silbergeld for reminding us of our past, confronting us with a reality we have allowed, and presenting us with questions for which we must find answers."
– William C. Baker, President, Chesapeake Bay Foundation
"This absorbing and compelling work exposes the interconnected risks to food and worker safety from industrialized animal production. Silbergeld describes the devastating impact of deliberate manipulation and weakening of consumer and worker protections by powerful vested interests. Few books have the power to change public policy. This is one."
– James Ritchie, International Union of Food Workers (IUF)
"An insightful book that should be of interest to anyone who eats food, animal or not."
– Kirkus Reviews
"This engaging treatise lays out a compelling case for reexamining the way we produce the food we eat. Required reading for those who are interested in learning more about where our food comes from."
– Library Journal