Admittedly, the title of this post is a bit misleading--we're definitely a long way off from the end of large-scale, high density livestock rearing in this country. We love our meat a little too much, and the price of organic and/or humanely raised animal products still make it a luxury for most people. But it does look like the meat industry is on the verge of shifting away from large CAFOs (that's Concentrated Animal Feeding operations, facilities that confine animals for more than 45 days in an area that does not produce vegetation during the growing season, and house over 1,000 cattle, 30,000 laying hens, or 2,500 hogs) towards smaller-scale production.
In an article this week in the New York Times, Erick Eckholm reports that farmers in Ohio have reached a détente with animal rights activists, agreeing to tighter restrictions in the confinement of hens, hogs, and veal calves. They've "agreed to bar new construction of egg farms that pack birds in cages, and to phase out the tight caging of pregnant sows within 15 years and of veal calves by 2017." Eckholm posits that this is part of a trend, noting that the Ohio restrictions follow similar ones passed in California, which also passed a law this year barring the import of eggs produced in crowded cages from other states. Michigan, Florida, Arizona, and other states have also passed similar measures.
All of this is good news, but for me there's something missing from this discussion. The article looks at the victory animal rights activists achieved by highlighting the inhumane conditions animals in close confinement must suffer though. They have a valid point, but there's just as much of a case to be made for the inhumane conditions CAFO workers (many of whom are undocumented immigrants) face, as they toil in cramped conditions with little ventilation, surrounded by large amounts of animal waste.
According to the Center for Disease Control, factory farm workers are at high risk of chronic lung disease (due to widespread use of pesticides), injury, and infections transmitted from animals. If we could manage to get people as enraged over the mistreatment of human beings as they do about animals, the meat industry definitely wouldn't stand a chance.