Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 79–93

Fecal free: Biology and authority in industrialized Midwestern pork production


DOI: 10.1007/s10460-007-9094-9

Cite this article as:
Rich, R. Agric Hum Values (2008) 25: 79. doi:10.1007/s10460-007-9094-9


Ethnographically, “fecal free” is a lexical marker that invokes a form of industrialized swine husbandry used in large-scale confinement hog production. Using participant observation and interview research with Illinois contract hog producers, I explore the basis of this husbandry in the biological fragility of confinement hogs. Rather than biology being a simplistic “state of nature,” as it was in early neo-Marxist and populist studies of the 1970s, the frailty of confinement hogs suggests that industrial hog biology is a socially constructed state that justifies the use of contract-based hog production units and their coordination with animal processors. The frailty of confinement hogs results from their genetic characteristics, from the conditions in which they are raised, and from a production rationality that equates animal health with production efficiency. I detail the multiple-site methods, confinement technologies, and contract-based production organization required to raise biologically fragile hogs. And I link hog biology directly to the unequal contract-based relations between actors in industrial pork networks. My study emphasizes the relevance of ethnographic analyses within a political economy of agriculture by describing specific relations of inequalities in local and regional production units and distribution networks that form the building blocks of larger global agro-food systems.


Agricultural developmentAnimal biologyContract agricultureHog productionMidwestern US

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Henry Ford Community CollegeDearbornUSA