The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. Psalm 145:15

Friday, May 25, 2012

Would the Good Shepherd use a CAFO?

This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.

Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet? 
Ezekiel 34:2-4,18-19

I stumbled upon these words recently and found it interesting that God used this analogy to relate to his people. In the context of this passage, God is telling the leaders to do better in caring for their sheep, his people. I assume that cruelty to animals as explained here was looked poorly upon, otherwise this imagery would not have been so effective.

Please don't dismiss this as an "animal rights" argument, because it is not. But God certainly makes it clear that we shouldn't go around wreaking havoc on everything in our path, simply to serve ourselves. And perhaps you are unaware of the way your food choices affect the "flock."

Nearly all commercial meat in the U.S. comes from factory farms, termed CAFO - concentrated animal feeding operations. You may not know what happens to animals in today's CAFOs, but perhaps it is time we take some responsibility.

Here are some CAFO quick facts:
  • Animals in CAFOs (most commonly pigs, cows, chickens, and turkeys) are kept in abnormally close quarters, often with very little, if any, outdoor exposure. Animals may not even have enough room to turn around, and they undergo mutilation like beak cutting and tail amputation to make it easier to confine them.
  • Living literally in their own waste products, antibiotics are administered on a regular basis to prevent outbreaks of disease, but still disease outbreaks are common. To increase animal growth quickly, additional hormones and antibiotics are often used. Hormone use in poutry and pork is illegal in the U.S. but is commonly used in cattle feed lots.
  • Producing an abnormal amount of waste products per square foot, CAFOs present a clear environmental problem. So much manure is present in such a small area that contaminents and bacteria can easily leach into groundwater or run off into surface waters, such as lakes, streams, and drains.
We think there are many reasons to avoid CAFO meat, but above all is the conviction that we have "ruled [the flock] harshly and brutally." As Christians we should consider how our decisions (including our purchase of food and other goods) affect others.  Are you trampling on the world around you?  God holds his people to higher standards, and instructs us to not just take care of ourselves, but to increase in our concern for others and for all creation.

At the end of Ezekiel 34, the same chapter, God says, "You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God."  What a relief that God doesn't treat his flock like we treat our own flocks and herds!  From him we learn how to care for others in love instead of cruelty, with tenderness instead of harshness.

If you are interested in affecting positive change away from the CAFO methodology, the best thing to do is limit your meat intake.  Secondly, find local, pasture-raised meat sources, or buy organic.  Eating locally sourced food is good for the environment, good for the economy, and good for you!

Learn more:
Time Magazine - The Problem with Factory Farms
U.S. EPA - How do CAFOs Impact the Environment?


  1. I loved this portion of scripture and what you took away from it. As I read it, it impressed upon me the American pursuit of comfort without consideration of others. So often our achievements are centered around making our own life more comfortable, enjoyable, and easier and it is frequently at the expense of the already down-trodden. This was very convicting for me. Thank you for sharing!

    1. I feel like there is so much more to learn and explore in that area! Usually the down-trodden are those who don't have voices to speak... not just flocks and herds, but those who live and work in communities who get the worst of the environmental damage resulting from these kinds of created systems.

  2. I think we need to get together soon for a vegetarian meal (or else one that involves meat from local farms that treat animals well.) You guys are like our food soulmates- everything you guys post here makes me smile, it's like you can read our minds :)