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Drone Footage Reveals Massive, Toxic Manure 'Lagoons' at Factory Farms

Since 2012, Mark Devries has been ​flying drones over America's largest factory farms. In new aerial footage, he reveals the sheer size of the lakes of shit that they create.

Brian Merchant

Brian Merchant

​Screenshot, Factory Farm Drones

Since 2012, Mark Devries has been ​flying drones over A​merica's largest factory farms. In just-released aerial footage, he reveals the sheer size of the massive, toxic, feces-filled "lagoons" that they create.

Those lagoons you're looking at belong to Smithfield Foods, which bills itself as is "the largest pork producer and processor in the United States." They are often hundreds of feet long, and are fetid cesspools of waste—they are the result of pig excrement being sprayed out of the compounds where the animals are packed in like dirt-encrusted, antibiotics-loaded sardines.

"These factory farms make it exceedingly difficult to see the giant, open-air cesspools of toxic waste on their property," Devries tells me in an email. "They are surrounded by trees, and often barbed-wire fences. With drones, I can bypass the trees and barbed wire, and see close-up what is being hidden."

What he did end up seeing repulsed him, he said. 

"Even though I knew what to expect in the abstract, I was shocked by the sheer size of these open-air pits of toxic waste—they can stretch on for the surface area of several football fields. 

​Factory farms are quickly becoming one of the hardest places to photograph in the nation. The sprawling operations—which cram an enormous number of pigs, chickens, and cows into cramped quarters for harvesting—have responded to animal rights critics by pushing for state-level "ag-gag" bills that prevent journalists and activists from photographing their grounds. 

It's brazen, patently absurd, and one of the most egregious free speech violations that hardly anyone is talking about. Devries took care not to film any farms in states that have ag-gag bills, but hopes his footage will offer viewers an idea of the practices of operations of those that do.

"I was also particularly struck by how close they are to the houses of neighbors, who are forced to deal with the dangerous chemicals and stench in their own homes."

The segment is part of Devries' full-length documentary Speciesism​learn m​ore about the film here.