Animal Factory: Creatures, Capital, and the State in the Twentieth Century

Saha, Abeer, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Saha, Abeer, Arts & Sciences Graduate, University of Virginia

This dissertation argues that, in the mid-twentieth century U.S., large scale cattle feedlots came about as a result of a combination of political, economic, and techno-scientific forces. Federal beef grading, introduced in the 1920s, laid the groundwork for the grain-over-grass logic that would be a crucial catalyst for the transition from grass to grain feeding in the cattle industry. Following on its heels, supply management in American agriculture ensured an abundant supply of cheap grains, crucial for the growth of cattle feeding. Hormones, antibiotics, and corn flaking technology, developed by publicly funded land-grant scientists in the 1950s and 60s, allowed feeders to put more weight onto cattle, in shorter periods than ever before, drawing thousands into the industry. The expansion of the cattle feeding industry had visible and visceral downstream effects on rivers and lakes. Forced by neighbors, environmentalists, and public health officials—and very bodies of the bovines that they sought to dominate—feedlots had to adapt to environmental legislation of the 1970s and undertake expensive waste management. Feeders that weathered the grain shortage of the 70s, were slow to notice another small but growing threat to the feedlot enterprise: the rise of the animal rights movement. Critiques of factory farming took on a new urgency in the final decade of the twentieth century with the rise of global warming activism and the discovery of the link between cows and climate change.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
feedlot, cattle, animal agriculture, factory farming, twentieth century US history of agriculture, concentrated animal feeding operation
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