Living Waste and the Labor of Toxic Health on American Factory Farms


In the 1930s, erosion caused storms of dust to hurtle across the American Great Plains and Midwest. While agricultural conservation methods helped remediate this landscape, recent studies suggest the region is contending with a new type of particle cloud: desiccated fecal dust that renders the vitalities of factory farms airborne, potentially exposing those in their surrounds to various forms of illness while spreading antibiotic resistance genes. Thinking alongside these findings, and based on research within corporate hog farms, this article develops an ethnography of excrement by tracing the practices and knowledge of people who live and labor in proximity to late industrial lifeforms, such as confined pigs and resistance genes, and who are tasked with intimately shaping this unruly waste that has the potential to affect broader populations. In so doing, it analyzes the maintenance of American animals’ toxic health alongside the politics of labor with complex anthropogenic materials.