Sinking the Factory: Revisiting Hurricane Florence, Paying Tribute to Its Victims, and Offering a Radical Solution
A Meat and Dairy Industries Article from


Abhijit XVX,
October 2018

Although this article is about Florence, it could really be about any situation in which vulnerable members of society are betrayed and abandoned to protect the interests of the privileged.... The solution to factory farms' endangerment of nonhuman and human lives simply does not lie in the tried-and-failed method of asking for animal welfare measures or environmental reforms. It is time to recognize that these "farms," which are nothing but huge industrial prisons, need to be abolished.

We know that marginalized groups of people - the poor, the colored, and the disabled - are the most vulnerable to natural disasters. However, when we discuss the effects of natural disasters like Hurricane Florence, we conveniently leave out the victims who are affected the most-- nonhuman animals.

We have torn down their homes and have enslaved them. We slaughter them for food and clothing. And when the time comes to lend a helping hand, we - a nation of self-proclaimed animal lovers - turn our back on them. Although this article is about Florence, it could really be about any situation in which vulnerable members of society are betrayed and abandoned to protect the interests of the privileged.

The Nonhuman Victims of Florence

"Hogs and Poultry"

According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA), an estimated 5,500 pigs and 3.4 million "poultry" were killed by the hurricane, as of September 19. This does not include the deaths due to the abandonment and starvation since the count.

drowned chicken
The body of a chicken abandoned in a farm to die. (Image: We Animals)

The NCDA is also reportedly taking different approaches to dealing with "livestock" and to dealing with "companion animals." According to their press release, their response to the loss of the lives of animals is the following.

Our Veterinary Division is working with livestock and poultry producers to assess risk to livestock operations. We have depopulation teams on standby and are assisting growers with disposal concerns. Our Environmental Programs and Division of Soil and Water Conservation staff are assisting livestock and poultry farmers with recovery to ensure environmental impacts are minimized to the extent possible.

The organization's response to stranded dogs and cats is glaringly different.

Our Veterinary Division is also working with animal shelters, animal control and animal organizations to ensure that companion animals are looked after. We are helping to coordinate needs for co-located shelters and consulting on animal issues.

So, essentially, the NCDA is going on a killing spree of the remaining pigs, cows, chickens, and turkeys because they need to be "depopulated." The nonhumans' lives will be disposed of to ensure human convenience. Not a single one of these animals will be given a chance at freedom and safety; instead, even in their sad deaths, they will be talked about as this menace to society, creating environmental degradation and farmers' losses. Their demise is nothing but a glitch in "livestock operations." The fact that we put them in a situation of vulnerability - locked in cages and stuck in an alien concrete world with no means to care for themselves - is of no consequence. Their bodies will be discarded, just like their freedom was.

However, the fate of these animals was never meant to be anything else; they were always supposed to die violent deaths, either drowning in a flood or having their throats slit while being hung upside-down. We have commodified their lives and rendered them disposable. In fact, for nonhuman survivors of the disaster - like Flo who swam to safety - their lives were saved because of the hurricane. Think about that for a second.

Dogs and cats, meanwhile, will be taken care of. They are "companion animals"-- they provide their human masters with companionship, and therefore are more valuable alive, at least for now.

Rescud Pig Flo
Flo playing with a human friend at his new home - a sanctuary. Hurricane Florence saved Flo from being killed by humans. (Image: Ziggy's Refuge Farm Sanctuary)

"Companion Animals"

Ever since the hurricane hit the shores of the United States, there have been innumerable stories of humans rescuing pets. Now, I don't have anything against hopeful stories of rescue and liberation. However, when such chronicles ignore the concept of responsibility in favor of feel-good snippets of human sympathy, I simply can't get behind them. I take issue with the complete lack of assessment of why these nonhuman animals had to be rescued in the first place. For someone to be rescued, they need to have been abused and/or abandoned. And many, many humans have chosen to leave their "companion animals" to fend for themselves. Nonhuman animals needed to be rescued because we, humans, put them there.

And yet, these rescues are showcased as some pinnacle of human achievement. They are the best of humanity, as so many news outlets have declared. We, as a species, lose no time in taking credit for rescuing these beings, but none of us wants to take the blame for putting them in danger in the first place. For my fellow animal rights advocates who question if we would do horrible things to pigs, chickens, and other animals if they were cats and dogs, know that the answer is a resounding yes.

The narrative is also often racist, with the media depicting people of color, especially black people, who are trying to survive as "looters" and "thugs," while it's almost exclusively white people who are shown being "heroes" and rescuing animals.

The Ones Nobody Really Gives a Shit About

We have a tendency to assume that our man-made world exists in a vacuum where things, good or bad, affect only us. This could not be farther from the truth. The damage from disasters affects many, many free-roaming animals, destroying their homes, forcing them to starve, and killing them. Freshwater ecosystems are inundated with salt water, killing aquatic animals. Many land animals are deprived of any sort of cover or protection. Unlike with humans, there's no emergency evacuation programs or shelters, and the destruction is horrifying.

dead fishes
Thousand of fishes washed ashore during Hurricane Florence (Jeff Garrett/N.C. Department of Transportation via AP)

There are also those who are enslaved in labs, pet stores, breeding facilities, and zoos. We don't know how many animals have been abandoned in such prisons but given our track record, it's probably a lot.

The Problem

Every time a disaster happens, there is usually a lot of blame to go around. The media latched onto anything they could hold on to that would help us avoid actually taking responsibility and creating change. We are told stories about a personified Mother Nature's fury and her assault. We are shown images of people of color "looting," like that is somehow relevant. The media does everything except demand accountability from those actually responsible.

And it isn't that difficult to figure out who is responsible.

An Environmental Disaster

In spite of most of the media attributing Hurricane Florence to the aforementioned "nature's fury," there is little doubt that climate change had a huge role to play in what transpired. Climate change causes sea level rise. Even a few millimeters of sea level rise can cause a lot of additional damage. In spite of weakening to a Category 1 storm, Florence brought record levels of tides to North Caroline, thanks to human-induced climate change.

sea levels
Rising sea levels make the impact of floods far worse. (Image: Alternet)

Animal agriculture is one of the biggest contributors - if not the biggest contributor - to climate change. It also plays a huge role in freshwater depletion, land degradation, ocean acidification, air and water pollution, and almost every other form of environmental destruction. Our enslavement of other animals is an environmental disaster, one that is ignored by governmental agencies and environmental groups alike. In spite of growing evidence regarding animal agriculture's impact, even the most progressive of politicians go to great lengths to demonstrate their support of this industrial catastrophe. For example, watch Bernie Sanders promoting the industry below.

We Were Warned...Several Times

North Carolina was hit by Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and Hurricane Matthew in 2006, both devastating in their impact. Millions of nonhuman animals were killed and their waste, along with their carcasses, flooded the state's rural neighborhoods, creating a huge risk to human health. We knew about this before Floyd, we knew about it when Matthew happened, and, with Florence, we were kind of asking for it.

Pacific Standard explains the situation excellently in this thoroughly researched article - North Carolina's Hog Waste problem Has a Long History. Why Wasn't It Solved in Time for Hurricane Florence?

To summarize some of the key takeaways from the Padific Standard write-up:

After Floyd hit NC and the people saw the impact unregulated farms could have in such a situation, many residents demanded change. Politicians, including the then-governor, called for tighter regulations. But then, Matthew happened and nothing really changed.

The reasons for the lack of substantial change are not the lack of science or advocacy. In fact, environmental advocacy groups like the Environmental Working Group have released reports that indicate the severity of the problem. We had studies detailing the exact issues and how to deal with them. And North Carolina chose to ignore every single piece of helpful information. They picked profits over people. Thanks to lawmakers, the animal agriculture industry, which was completely unregulated until 1997, continues to grow via meek regulatory measures and legal loopholes.

In 2003, the organization Waterkeeper Alliance called upon the EPA to intervene. The former took Smithfield Foods, a company that enslaves 90% of the state's pigs, to court for violating the Clean Water Act. However, the district court ruled in favor of Smithfield, claiming that agricultural stormwater discharges fall under non-point sources of water pollution, thus exempting the company from following the Clean Water Act. Every time someone tried to hold Smithfield legally accountable, it has done practically nothing to bring about any systemic change to the multi-billion dollar company. They, like the rest of the animal agriculture industry, continue to imprison millions of animals, dump toxic waste into water bodies, construct poisonous lagoons, and propagate extraordinary risks to human health, all without consequences.

A very important reason for this lack of accountability is, again, racism and classism. A higher percentage of black people live near "confined animal feeding operations" than white people do, a study found. These areas also have a high rate of poverty and dependence on well-water. Things would almost definitely be different if it were rich white people who had to bear the brunt of animal agriculture.

And while we're talking about the environmental and human rights effects of the animal agriculture industry, let us not forget the main victims: the nonhuman animals. Smithfield, for example, is known for locking animals up in gestation crates and inflicting extreme abuse upon them. In fact, an investigation as recent as 2018 revealed a deplorable level of abuse and neglect within a Smithfield farm. What was the country's response? Sending the FBI to look for the rescued pigs and to charge the activists with burglary and theft, obviously. As I write this, many United States senators are fighting to keep the FBI from investigating sexual abuse allegations against a Supreme Court nominee. In fact, the President himself claimed that looking into the sketchy part of a guy who would influence the entire country does not fall under the FBI's role. However, protecting corporate interests and searching for rescued piglets does, apparently.

That wasn't the only time animal rights activists attempted to take down Smithfield either. Earlier this year, hundreds of activists converged at the largest pig prison in the world to protest Smithfield. North Carolina residents would have been much better off if the police listened to the activists and "shut it down," instead of arresting peaceful protesters.

The Solution

slaughterhouse workers
Factory farm workers are often denied bathroom breaks in states like North Carolina, which forces some workers to wear diapers while working abusively long shifts. (Source: Mercy for Animals / Oxfam Report)

Animal agriculture is an industry based on exploitation; it necessitates the exploitation of nonhuman animals. We cannot expect to reform something so inherently violent in nature. The reason Smithfield and other companies appear not to care about the environmental pollution and human rights in the wake of hurricanes is that they have never really cared. Alongside nonhuman animals, farm workers are forced to work in despicable conditions, are routinely deprived of rights, threatened with deportation, and are sometimes even physically assaulted. These violations of human rights might shock an outsider, but considering how these companies treat other animals, it shouldn't be surprising at all. After all, do we really expect those who sell blood and slaughter to care about life?

The solution to factory farms' endangerment of nonhuman and human lives simply does not lie in the tried-and-failed method of asking for animal welfare measures or environmental reforms. It is time to recognize that these "farms," which are nothing but huge industrial prisons, need to be abolished.

In North Carolina, Hurricane Florence sunk many of these factories of death. And maybe, it's time to get rid of the rest of them.

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