Factory-farmed pork is hardly an ideal food—but pigs from small farms might be more likely to make you sick
In previous Atlantic posts I've worked hard to explain the underlying reasons for my disdain of animal agriculture. Those who've engaged my arguments will know my position well enough: I fundamentally oppose raising animals for food that humans don't need. This claim holds true regardless of how the meat is produced or consumed.
I mention this point because the study I'm about to highlight could easily be distorted. The report, published in the February 2011 issue of Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, challenges the perception that intensive animal farming is more likely to spread foodborne pathogens than free-range systems. My choice in drawing attention to this counterintuitive article is decidedly not to argue that factory farms are okay and that we should all go out and support Tyson's. To the contrary, I want to advance the more radical notion that animal farming in general—whether confined or free-range—is fraught with unique problems that we could easily avoid by not eating meat.
Two other caveats before I summarize the article. First, although this study took place without corporate funding, the author—Dr. Peter Davies—has accepted support from the pork industry in the past. Whether or not past support skews future research remains an open question, but it's important to note that the study was published in a peer-reviewed, world-class journal and is based on scores of other studies that found similar results. And second, I'm well aware that the main concern that jumps to mind when it comes to factory farming is often how low-grade antibiotics use leads to potentially deadly, antibiotic-resistant pathogens. This is undoubtedly a huge problem. But this study addresses only foodborne diseases, and thus so does my analysis. This focus is not meant to dismiss or downplay the pressing problem of antibiotic resistance.