The Smell of Money


Dodge City

When you head into Dodge City, Kansas, on Route 50 from the east, one of the first things you come to is the overlook. It’s not a scenic overlook, unless the view–and the smell–of a cattle feedlot and processing is appealing to you. I bet it’s scenic to the people who appreciate “the smell of money.” That’s the phrase used by many ranchers and managers of confined animal factory operations (CAFO). Beef processing is a lucrative business. Luckily, on our visit to Dodge City, Bill and I were up wind of the smell at the overlook.

I think Dodge City is proud of its heritage in cattle production. Excel Corporation, one of the world’s largest beef-processing facilities is adjacent to the feedlot and processes about 6,000 head of cattle a day, six days a week. Nearby National Beef, a processing plant cited in a 2011 product recall for E. coli contamination, processes 4,000 head daily. One of the signs at the overlook says, “Combined, annually these two plants annually market enough beef to feed 16 million people for one year. Kansas ranks first in the United States commercial cattle production, processing over 8 million head annually. ” That’s amazing. But it makes me ask, what’s wrong with our country that we have to eat so much beef?

I wanted to see the feedlots first-hand. So on a recent trip to the Plains, Bill and I photographed several, beginning in Dodge City and heading west to Colorado. To me, CAFOs are the smell of inhumanity. Not just the inhumane treatment of cows lying around in their excrement, but also the conditions employees endure in the processing plants.

Here’s a video I took of just one feedlot in southwest Kansas. It’s 1 1/2 minutes long taken from our car going 30 m.p.h. Notice the drainage areas, which can have negative effects on the environment.

And here are more photos from southwest Kansas.

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Wouldn’t you rather have beef from a happy cow, like these from Grassfields, raised on grass in open space?

Happy cows at Grassfields

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6 responses to “The Smell of Money

  1. Good job, Marcia! Factory farms are nothing short of a tragedy. I think that paying a higher price for local, grass-fed beef and other humanely and healthily raised meats and poultry is worth every penny. To pay for the extra cost of such meats, I cook more vegetarian meals.

    • I totally agree, Pamela. Ethics come at a price, but it’s a price that’s worth it for our health and for the Earth in the long run. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Ignorance is bliss when it comes to food and sourcing what we consume. Dare I say it is immoral to buy industrialized meat?

    • Yes, please dare to say. More of us need to! Thanks for your comment. I think more people need to be made aware of the source of our food in this country.

  3. Good question. Why do we eat so much beef?

    • I don’t know, Kate. Maybe because Big Ag controls so much of our food system? And because it’s cheap? (Unless you get grass-fed.) But when did our beef obsession begin? I think when people came to the New World and we simply had the space for livestock. Beef consumption has actually gone down since the 70s, but we’re still very focused on meat. Chicken seems to be the new beef. Check out this article from NPR that reveals some of the history behind America’s beef obsession: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/06/26/155720538/the-making-of-meat-eating-america

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