March 9, 2010

“Animal Factory” Book Tour Stops at JHSPH

Chris Stevens

Chris Stevens

Communications Director

Center for a Livable Future

When you hear Author David Kirby tell the stories behind the people in his latest book, you can’t help but to get caught up in his emotions. Tears welled up in his eyes several times last night as he described-often in graphic detail-to a riveted Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health audience, his experiences in researching his book, “Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment.”

Kirby, who kicked off a national book tour last week, stopped in Baltimore to visit with staff at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and discuss his latest project with students and faculty. In his research for the 492-page book, the New York Times best-selling author had consulted several times with CLF Director Bob Lawrence.

“Animal Factory documents the scandal of today’s industrial food animal production system in the same compelling way Upton Sinclair alerted Americans to the abuses of the meatpacking industry in his 1906 The Jungle,” says CLF’s Lawrence.

“Animal Factory” follows three American families in different regions of the US, whose lives have been utterly changed by these CAFOs: Weaving science, politics, big business, and everyday life, Kirby accompanies these families and their struggles.

In New Bern, N.C., Kirby profiles Rick Dove, a retired Marine J.A.G and Vietnam veteran who observed the degradation of the local Neuse River, the massive amounts of dead fish, and the fishermen who developed sores wherever the river water touched them.  His investigation uncovered that local pig farms were spilling waste into the river, contributing to outbreaks of the Pfisteria parasite.

Kirby examines the perils of Helen Reddout, of Yakima Valley, Wash., a farmer’s wife, who fought back against local dairy farms that sprayed her house and fields with liquefied manure, spreading pathogens and a film of waste, not to mention the offensive odors that permeated the town.

The author also details the experiences of Karen Hudson of Elmwood, Ill., a small Illinois town outside of Peoria which was devastated by waste lagoon spills and economic pressure from dairy CAFOs in the region. Hudson formed a grassroots group, “Families Against Rural Messes” to fight the CAFO’s practices.

“Many Americans have no idea where their food comes from, and many have no desire to find out,” Kirby writes. “That is unfortunate. Every bite we take has had some impact on the natural environment, somewhere in the world. As the planet grows more crowded, and more farmers turn to industrialized methods to feed millions of new mouths, that impact will only worsen.”

“I am not a vegetarian, and you will occasionally find me in line for fast food, so I have no business telling others how to eat,” Kirby told the audience. “Food — like sex, politics, and religion — is an intensely personal, emotional, and complicated subject.”

Still in the early stages of the book tour, Kirby has appeared on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 program, been interviewed for Oprah’s O Magazine, and several National Public Radio outlets. The audio book rights have also been sold which, according to Kirby, is  rare for a straight up nonfiction title.

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