|The map shows increase in annual mean
surface concentration of particulate matter
resulting from ammonia emissions associated with food export.
Populated states in the Northeast and Great Lakes region,
where particulate matter formation is promoted by
upwind ammonia sources, carry most of the cost.
Manure from livestock and fertilizer for crops
release ammonia to the atmosphere.
In the air, ammonia mixes with other emissions
to form microscopic airborne particles,
Image: NASA AQAST/Harvard University
Citizens from Bayfield County to Kewaunee and Brown counties to Wood and Adams counties, indeed all over the state are exposing the detrimental consequences and often utter devastation from these CAFO business operations: Water pollution (excess nitrogen and phosphorus depleting oxygen, setting off water-degrading processes), air pollution (air pollutants such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and halocarbons), animal welfare concerns and the mismanagement of waste composed of literally dumping 10s of millions of tons of untreated liquid manure into the environment, a practice Wisconsin DNR runoff chief (2001-2011), Gordon Stevenson, calls "medieval."
Joshua Yelle, a native of Wisconsin Rapids and graduate student at Western Illinois University, wrote a paper last year addressing current research and the negative externalities—phenomena and costs not absorbed by CAFOs but rather society—in the CAFO model that include the air, water, and land, families and municipalities, and Eco-systems.
These costs are directed by the vector path of pathogens and excess nitrogen and phosphorus into primary and local waterways and the atmosphere into the human population.
Below is Mr. Yelle's 2014 paper, as alarming as it is instructive.
Linked sources and academic studies are located at bottom of text.
CAFOs - The Promise of Prosperity Versus the Ugly Truth
By Joshua Yelle, (Research Fellow, Western Illinois University)
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation’s (CAFOs) burden our society with an array of negative externalities. The environmental damages that CAFO’s have caused are nearly impossible to put into a numerical figure that the average individual would be able to grasp and comprehend. The primary detrimental effects that CAFOs produce consist of water pollution, air pollution, animal welfare concerns and the mismanagement of waste. EPA findings have suggested that waste generated by CAFOs have polluted over 35,000 miles of river and contaminated groundwater in 17 states [Ikerd, Dr. John. "The Inevitable Economic, Ecological, and Social Consequences of CAFOs." University of Missouri-Columbia.] Pollution on a large scale such as this cannot be blamed on just individual CAFOs but is actually the result of irresponsible management across an entire industry which has a documented past of reckless pollution and disregard for environmental concerns in general.
The results of water pollution from big agriculture can be seen most visibly through the dead zones existing in the Gulf of Mexico. These dead zones are consequences of the basic structure of CAFOs. They are caused by the flushing of excess nitrogen and phosphorus into local waterways. This occurs due to excess manure and poor management of waste. Once these manure-based fertilizers get into the waterways, the nitrogen and phosphorus suck the oxygen out of the water leaving the aquatic life to die in its path. Along with oxygen-depriving nutrients, organic matter is also another water pollutant that comes from CAFOs. When the organic matter starts to decompose in the water, toxic algal blooms begin to sprout up feeding off this matter and blocking sunlight from other underwater species, destroying the existing diversity of the seabed. These dead plants then fuel bacteria growth that uses even more of the waters oxygen supply, creating a downward spiral of aquatic sea life (Hribar, CDC). Lakes, rivers and reservoirs have also fell victim to uncovered hormones that are beginning to spring up in different sources of surface water. This presents dangerous problems involving the fertility of fish species as well as intensified biological magnification of these hormones through different species in the food chain. These are only a few of the devastating effects that water pollution from CAFO’s can have on ecology. The negative human impacts that will be discussed later on are even more alarming.
Another source of ecological destruction that comes with the CAFO industry is air pollution. CAFO’s generate a number of different air pollutants such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and halocarbons, which can be directly linked to the increase of global temperatures and rising sea levels (State of Food). Livestock operations contribute to about 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, which are a result of the decomposition of animal manure. Many different methods of methane pollution occur on factory farms whether it be from excess storage of manure, the application of manure as fertilizer across farmland and soil, or the methane produced from the rough digestive process incurred from a heavy grain based diet (Hribar, CDC). The grain based diet is a cheap and easy way of being able to fatten up livestock to get them to the slaughterhouse as soon as possible. These three contributing factors play a significant role in the methane produced on factory farms.
The most significant contributor to air pollution that stems from CAFO’s is ammonia. Ammonia is the powerful odor that is associated with large farms. It is created by the decomposition of manure and the combination of nitrogen and hydrogen. When released into the air, ammonia tends to form very harmful particulate matter that can lead to serious health issues, especially for humans. A frightening statistic published in Environmental Science and Technology states that “the health costs associated with ammonia emissions from agriculture exports to be $36 billion per year, equal to about half of the revenue generated by those same exports” (Fabien Paulot and Daniel Jacob (Harvard University), cited in Hansen, NASA). What’s frightening about this statistic is this is only in regards to the health costs associated with the exports we produce, not the agriculture industry as a whole. The United States exports only account for about 11% of the US emissions of ammonia, leaving the other 89% coming from the ammonia created to produce our own food. The negative externalities caused by ammonia pollution don’t just extend to the area surrounding the CAFO, but effect areas within the downwind path of the CAFO where ammonia is able to mix with other man-made pollutants to form dangerous particles in the atmosphere. Similarly, air pollution stands in the same position as water pollution in regards to its dangerous impacts on the human condition and psyche.
The final structure of ecological damage that CAFOs cause is to the welfare of its animals. In the last decade, the inhumane treatment of animals in feeding operations has been brought to light. Farm animals are not meant to live in confined spaces. Many individuals are able to ignore the fact that animals are living beings that have a sense of feeling, and are not just inanimate objects of the industrial mechanism. Whether it be overcrowding, painful procedures, abuse, transportation, pre-slaughter handling, or the cruel mechanisms of slaughter, one thing is apparent; it’s unnatural and immoral (Ikerd). By displacing oneself from the sentiment of how our meat and dairy are created, were able to ignore the wicked instruments of animal slaughter that industrial farming has brought about. Confinement in such tight quarters has led animals to become overly aggressive with each other leading to unnatural acts of cannibalism by animals. This in turn has led to practices such as the removal of the beaks of chickens and the cutting off of hog’s tails (Horrigan). Also, these farm animals are loaded with sub-therapeutic antibiotics (STAs) to help prevent future diseases, as well as improve nutrient absorption while depleting other mechanisms of growth. These antibiotics lead to an increase in feed efficiency and the deformation of the skeleton of animals (MacDonald). This grain-based diet leads to a more gaseous digestive system that produces more waste. The animal’s digestive track needs to break down the grain feed in a much more unsustainable and unnatural way than farm animals that graze and feed off grass. These antibiotics and hormones that are given to the animals tend to end up in the waste that has a chance of polluting the water and air.
The reasons these pollutants are so rampant in society is because the basic structure of the under-regulated CAFOs allows for mismanagement of waste. There are a few main ways in which farm waste is managed. Storage facilities such as tanks, ponds, lagoons hold significant amounts of manure. These storage facilities are usually poorly maintained resulting in the increasing chance of leaks or breaks in the storage. When leaks or breaks occur, pollutants that are in the waste such as pesticides, pathogens, organic matter, STAs, and other harmful byproducts contaminate the groundwater that communities derive their drinking water from. Since the temperature underneath the ground is generally lower and protected from the sun, pathogens and other organisms are able to survive longer. Nitrate poisoning is also a concern in the contamination of groundwater and can be harmful too infants and elderly citizens. Even after these CAFOs are shut down, the areas are still at risk in the case of ammonia transforming into nitrate (Hribar).
Another unsustainable method of waste management that occurs on factory farms is the use of manure as fertilizer for cropland. Although it sounds sustainable in nature, the larger factories that produce enormous amounts of waste tend to intensively apply this manure on their land as a method of removing waste. However, this is not efficient because the crops can only absorb so many nutrients (MacDonald). It then leads to leaching of the fertilizer, especially during times of significant rainfall. The rest of the waste that’s not absorbed by the soil gets washed off and is the greatest contributor to surface water pollution. Much of these bodies of surface water tend to be the source of fresh water for the surrounding communities. Spraying the manure as fertilizer has clearly been another tool of excessive abuse in factory farming’s search for corner-cutting their costs without any regard to the surrounding communities and habitats (Masar). The reason this has occurred is due to agriculture being the last of the sectors in our economy to become industrialized. CAFOs intensive confinement systems continue to try and cut costs to meet economic efficiency without any regard to the negative externalities created.
All of the negative environmental conations that lie within the industry of factory farming have just as devastating impacts on humans. There are seven sources of negative impacts on human beings that can directly be correlated to the CAFO industry. They are as follows: Air contamination, water contamination, pathogens, insect vectors, obesity, resistant antibiotics and negative financial and mental externalities. Air contamination from CAFOs affects the ambient air quality for the surrounding community and the downwind communities around it. Air pollution can occur from many different sources. Two of these sources are dust and odors that cause problems for the human respiratory system (How Do). The most severe issues that occur from air contamination stem from ammonia mixing with other chemicals in the air that create micro-particles that can dramatically reduce lung function. It can lead to cases of asthma and bronchitis if exposed for extended durations of time and are particularly harmful too young children. These same air pollutants can cause bodily irritations to the skin, eyes, mouth and other body parts. Occupational asthma is also a significant issue among employees on large factory farms (Hribar). This occurs because these workers are exposed to dangerous and unsanitary working conditions where particles are directly inhaled by the employees in the workplace.
The next negative influence that CAFOs have on human health is caused by water contamination. In rural areas, many locals obtain their fresh water from streams, lakes, rivers or underground wells which can all be exposed to the side effects of pollution caused by factory farming. The contamination of these water sources is caused by the mismanagement of waste that was discussed earlier. Water sources get polluted from the manure-based fertilizer that farmers use. Over-spraying of fields with fertilizer, as well as breaks or leaks in storage facilities are two of the ways contamination can occur. The most likely cause of contamination though occurs after heavy storms where the storage facilities overflow and runoff from the spraying gets carried into the freshwater source through rainwater. When it reaches the source of fresh water, rural areas begin to feel the consequences. Excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus become highly present in the water sources which can harm infants by causing blue baby syndrome (Hribar). The contamination of water is also a means in which pathogens like E. coli and salmonella can spread at quicker rates. Along with pathogens, infectious diseases can also be transferred through water contamination. The chemicals that farmers spray their fields with, along with animal blood and other disgusting waste products have also been known to get washed away during storms. Heavy metals and hormones are two other dangerous contaminants that have been found in water sources (How Do). Finally, the antibiotics that are given to the animals can pass through their digestive system without being absorbed and in turn end up in their waste. The waste that is washed into the water can carry with it the antibiotics given to the animals, as well as any source of bacteria that has become resistant to the antibiotics given (Ikerd). It is evident that the negative externalities of water contamination caused by CAFOs is one that rural communities should take into strong consideration when drinking, bathing and cleaning with their water.
The third human adverse impact that can be caused by CAFOs is the resurgence, transmission and development of dangerous pathogens. It is said that there can be over 150 different pathogens living in the manure of animals (Hribar). This is alarming knowing how often the contamination of water sources occurs. Pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella have become all too common in today’s society. It is stated that 20% of chickens are contaminated with salmonella and that over 5,000 deaths and 76 million illnesses occur yearly due to food poisoning (Horrigan). The fact that recalls in food have become such a common occurrence leaves individuals questioning their trust in the producers of meat and dairy. In a society that is heavily meat and dairy based, this should be reason enough to raise many more questions about the process of meat production and handling. Pathogens like these and others that cause food poisoning are the most harmful to the elderly and those with weak immune systems. Pathogens derived from factory farms can be carried and transmitted in many different ways. They can be transmitted directly from fecal matter through flies that feed off human food that is ingested by humans. Another means of transmission is inhalation of airborne pathogens which tend to occur near the facilities or by the spreading of the pathogen from an individual who works for or near the CAFO. The final way of transmission is through contaminated water which can either be directly ingested by drinking water or through accidental consumption in water recreational facilities (Ikerd). These sources of transmission can lead to fast spreading pathogens that originate from CAFOs and can cause wide-spreading illness before the source and a cure can be identified.
In strong correlation to the previous negative human impact; insect vectors are another undesirable outcome of CAFOs. The manure from animals is a massive breeding ground for flies that can spread pathogens and bacteria (Ikerd). These flies tend to feed off human food which leaves those in close proximity of the CAFO in danger of ingesting a pathogen or bacteria that can cause serious illness. The other dangerous insect that makes its home on factory farms are mosquitos. Mosquitos tend to live and breed near standing water (Ikerd). Standing water sources used for waste storage such as ponds, pits and lagoons are where many mosquitos make their home (MacDonald). These mosquitos can transmit zootomic diseases that are spread by biting. Dangerous diseases such as the West Nile Virus and St Louis Encephalitis tend to be the most dangerous ones found near CAFOs (Hribar). These insects are able to repopulate at extreme rates due to the abundance of food sources and a substantial breeding habitat.
The next two damaging influences that can be attributed to CAFOs are the increasing rates of resistant antibiotics and obesity in the American population. Antibiotics are inserted into animal feed in high quantities and in turn tend to increase antibiotic resistant microbes. These pathogens have had tendencies to jump between species and we’ve seen it occur where new diseases are formed on the basis that the microbes have mutated to be resistant to the current immunizations (MacDonald). Many say the spread of H1N1 was caused by a new resistant pathogen that found a way to jump over to the human population (Hribar). An interesting fact is that 70% of antibiotics that are created are used for animals (Hribar). The intensity at which these antibiotics are ingested by animals makes it impossible for them to absorb all of the antibiotic and much of it gets moved through the digestive system and into the waste. These antibiotics are also developed to help the animals absorb certain nutrients that make them grow quicker and become fatter rather than maintaining their normal developmental process. This leads to an early slaughtering of the animal and faster economic transition from birth to food. Obesity has become such a significant problem in America that it can be considered an epidemic. The American diet is heavily protein based one, with the majority of protein coming from meat and dairy; which is much different than other countries around the world. American protein consumption tends to be mainly made up of the processed meats and dairies derived from these CAFOs (State of Life). Not only is this meat made in an inhumane manner, it’s less healthy. The factory farms try to produce cheaper products by cutting corners with costs, lowering the quality of their meat and ignoring the care that animals deserve. The processed meats tend to contain a much higher fat content, and are also loaded with preservatives to increase the shelf life of the product. It wouldn’t be a stretch to consider that the antibiotics and hormones given to animals to make them fatter get carried over into humans.
The final impact that CAFOs have on the human population is a financial one. The economic consequence of CAFOs that is most visible is the decrease in property values. Land and homes located near CAFOs experience many negative externalities in which the owners of factory farms share none of the costs in. These negative externalities include everything from risks of air and water pollution to the overwhelming odors and increase of insects (Hribar). The closer an individual lives to the CAFO, the greater these externalities affect them and lead to a larger decrease in land value. Other financial means in which CAFOs have negative consequences are often overlooked. One of these consequences is the depletion of fisheries caused by decreasing oxygen levels in water that kill off fish and plant life. This can also impact the well-being of individuals if their recreational use of lakes for fishing is diminished. Another affect is the decrease in public services due to stressed government budgets brought on by lowered property taxes. If property values decrease, so does the amount individuals will owe for taxes. The direct opposite can also occur when local governments have to raise property taxes to offset the costs attributed to increased road maintenance caused from heavy trucking, increased water treatment costs, and other public infrastructure expenses that increase due to the CAFOs operations’ (Ikerd). Whichever scenario occurs, the negative affect the public is burdened with is not worth the benefits from the CAFO. Another financial consequence is the increase in water prices for the local community. This can occur in two different ways, both caused by water pollution from CAFOs. The first is that the public has to build or renovate water treatment centers to be able to handle the job of purifying the water contaminated by CAFOs. The other means is that the community has to outsource their water from another source. Both of these methods of providing clean water to the public would result in increased water prices or a higher tax burden. Finally, the owners of CAFOs try to present the public with the promise of jobs and economic prosperity, but the results tend to never favor either of these promises. CAFOs require specialized workers who can handle many different aspects of the business, leading to a decrease in workers needed compared to traditional farming methods. The promise of economic prosperity is a beautiful mask hiding an ugly truth. CAFOs are often built in rural, under-developed communities and they end up putting a significant burden on public services that are eventually reflected to the individuals of the community (Ikerd). These individuals tend to have little power in combating huge corporate agriculture companies in local and state governments that often have close ties to the industry. In the words of Dr. Ikerd, “CAFOs are designed to benefit corporate investors- not rural communities, not farmers, and not consumers. The economic promises of CAFOs are empty. Their economic consequences are inevitable.” (Ikerd).
The cause of the problem of CAFOs cannot be pinpointed to one direct source, but rather the inevitable outcome of the push for a global free market economy (Ikerd). Agriculture was the last of all the industries to become industrialized. It is becoming increasingly evident now that not all industries are meant to be industrialized. The Industrial Revolution that started in America in the early 1900’s was a result of the capitalistic society we live in attempting to maximize its profits in any way possible. This led to a drastic increase in human innovation and a time in which our country saw great economic prosperity. The Industry Revolution created the need for industries to maximize efficiency, speed and technology. The automotive industry was the forerunner on this front due to the need to produce tanks, ships, and other heavy machinery to create the enormous military that helped us gain control and defeat our enemies in World War II. Many industries after this began to copy the methods used in the automotive industry to wreak in the benefits of maximized profits. By the 1950’s, the agriculture industry began to mimic the industrial concepts. By the 1970’s, farming operations took on the high volume assembly line production that was originally created to produce goods, and began using it on animals. The concept was to place as many animals in a confined area to produce meat and dairy in the least amount of time possible and maximize their production (Factory Farming). Although efficiency and speed of production increased, animals were confined in small areas and experienced terrible living conditions while human labor began to get cut out as much as possible. By limiting space, companies were able to cut their prices by not needing as much land, energy and labor to produce equal amount of produce.
In the flourishing capitalistic society, it became necessary for these companies to create the most efficient markets they possibly could and maximize their shareholders profits in whatever means necessary. Antibiotics were used to help keep animals from developing diseases and spreading in the confined areas. They also learned that using these antibiotics helped the animals reach their market weight in a much faster time frame and were able to bring the animals to slaughter much quicker. Corporate ties in the agriculture industry grew stronger, eliminating many of the small, rural farmers that were the backbone of the agriculture industries early roots. Alliances between corporate executives, large corn growers, food companies, and federal and local governments helped CAFOs spread throughout the country and created many vertically integrated corporations (CAFO- Concentrated). These vertically integrated companies were able to see their operations extend from the production of crops to the sale of their meat and dairy. Another way factory farms were able to cut costs was due to the enormous amount of agriculture subsidies giving to crop farmers. This helped decrease costs and risks for these farmers and allowed them to sell grains at a lower then market price (MacDonald). Animals at factory farms began to switch over from a grass fed diets to an almost entirely grain diet. The grain diet, which consisted of mainly feed corn made animals become fatter and reach their market weight in much quicker time frames. Now, the majority of corn production goes to feed animals rather than people.
The final underlying cause of problems created by CAFOs’ is the rapid increase in population and the demand for higher protein diets in other countries. Higher protein diets are a sign of a progressing society and as more countries continue into the developing stages, they demand higher protein consumption (MacDonald). CAFOs have been springing up all over the world, especially in developing nations located in South America and Asia. For instance, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) “estimates that 80% of all growth in livestock production around the world now takes place within industrial CAFO-type systems” (Paarlberg). In these same areas, growth, development and living standards have increased significantly along with access to better medicine, longer life spans, and decreased child mortality rates. All these factors have in turn contributed to rapid population growth, especially in countries such as India and China. In order to keep up with the increasing demand, CAFOs have become an important part to these nations. Many see the increase in production of meat and dairy through CAFOs as the only combatant to the increasing population growth. As history has shown us though, food availability has a direct correlation to population growth and vice versa (CAFO- Concentrated). Therefore, it creates an economic curve showing us that as food production increases, population growth does as well. The rural farmers across the world are now stricken with the same burdens many of the small, rural farmers in America faced when large agriculture entities came in and took over the industry.
The commercial activity related to the problem of CAFOs is difficult to determine since many of the CAFOs are vertically integrated, allowing them to handle almost all of the production, manufacturing and distribution themselves. The same corporate entities that own the CAFO typically own different sectors in the industry such as grain production and harvesting, slaughterhouses, and manufacturing plants that produce, package and distribute the meat and dairy (Ikerd). Their crop production sector is able to produce the feed for the animals in the CAFOs and do so with relatively little risk and large profits due to outdated subsidies that allow this section of agriculture to produce large amounts of grain with the promise of payment from the government if there is a low yield from natural causes.
Other commercial activity that allows CAFOs to continue to operate in the manner that they do is the under regulated and underfunded government entities that are supposed to protect the citizens from harm (State of Food). Local and state governments in large farming states tend to have very close ties and relations with many of the large agriculture companies. Since government officials are on short terms, their motives tend to lie in getting reelected and they are often easily persuaded to not do their jobs effectively since a majority of their financial funding comes from large donations by the agriculture industry. This makes it difficult for small, rural communities to fight against the corporate powers existing in their communities.
Another commercial activity that keeps CAFOs on the disastrous downward spiral they’re on is the ignorant consumer. Many citizens are so accustomed to going to the grocery store and being offered many different options that it becomes easy and routine to choose the cheapest option. The cheaper options of meat and dairy are often created by the companies orchestrating the factory farming. Since there is limited connection or interest of where the food comes from, these companies are able to get away with the unsustainable means of producing food (State of Food). Another reason the consumer is contributing to the problem is the unstable and recovering economy we still find ourselves in (Hribar). In times of economic disparity, individuals turn a blind eye away from important issues in return for economic prosperity. This allows CAFOs to continue to produce and operate under unsustainable and inhumane manners to cut costs and be able to provide their commodity to the consumer at a lower price than what it actually should be. Along with that, CAFOs are able to build in new areas which are typically rural, low-income communities. They promise jobs and economic prosperity to the region and in times of economic uncertainty, the short term looking individuals sees this as a benefit for their area. In reality, the CAFO may produce short-term economic prosperity but will eventually lead to even greater economic disparity in the region.
The first regulation that came about to combat the growing pollution problem from CAFOs was the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972. It was created to handle the polluting waste in waters to a direct point source and was issued permits through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). The EPA then followed with its own guidelines suggesting that CAFOs operate under the practices of the best available technology then defined the difference between Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOS) (Koelsch) These regulations were set for companies to provide the general public with information regarding CAFOs abiding by the CWA and NPDES requirements, information on the permitting requirements, and technical information regarding nutrient management planning (Implementation) . For 25 years these loose regulations remained intact, but increasing farm sizes and production methods eventually led to an update of the regulations (Hribar). Although these changes were minimal, 2003 started the first efforts to attempt to tightly regulate CAFOs. The 2003 ruling sought after a stronger focus on manure applied to farmland, wastewater, water storage and stricter accountability and inspections of factory farms. The three main attempts the regulation tried to do in 2003 was as follows: eliminate the exemptions from runoff after large storms given to CAFOs applying for permits, remove exemptions of dry manure handling systems, and extend the ruling to cover immature swine and cattle. The large CAFOs were defined as “raising 1,000 or more cattle, 700 dairy cows, 2,500 swine, 10,000 sheep, 125,000 chickens, 82,000 laying hens, and 55,000 turkeys” (Koelsch). The new rules were set in place to provide more technical information about the company’s procedures and waste management tactics.
The new regulations were met with backlash from farm industry groups and a challenge of these regulations took place in court under the Waterkeeper Alliance v. EPA. One part of the regulation that was overturned dealt with the duty to apply for NPDES permits and the court ruled that the EPA had exceeded its authority on the issue. The other main part that got overturned was Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELGs) that was set in place to deal with CAFOs using the best technology available because the EPA hadn’t provided an adequate basis for these standards (CAFO Regulation). In 2008 they set new precedence’s to address the overruling and redefined the requirements to apply for NPDES permit coverage. Once again, this was overruled the court determined that CAFOs cannot be required to apply for permits unless it’s proven that waste has actually been discharged into water. The 2008 ruling also specified an annual rate of manure application and certain wastewater processes that are to take part every year in order to obtain permit coverage. This ruling was held up in court (CAFO Regulation). Along with that, permits required companies to do voluntary compliance audits and environmental checks (Animal Feeding Operations- Compliance). The permits also require CAFOs to manage waste in the best practices available, reduce methane emissions, provide updated nutrient management information, deal with proper carcass disposal and use updated technologies to reduce odors (Animal Feeding Operations- Best).
Although the number of CAFOs around the world have drastically increased, worldwide opinion on the matter still carries negative conations. The World Bank has stated that they see increasing danger of environment degradation, poor, rural farmers being run out by large agriculture corporations, and global food security and safety being comprised by the insertion of CAFOs. The reduction of competition through vertical integration of the agriculture industry poses a large threat to the stability of food prices throughout the world (Importance). The strongest opposition though has come from the use of antibiotics in animals. The overall opinion on the matter is that it poses an international threat of antibiotic resistant pathogens spreading to human populations, especially in third world countries (Kwa). Many international companies will not import meat and dairy products in which the animals have been given these antibiotics. Many other countries also have stricter standards of the humane treatment of animals. European Union (EU) countries have standards set in place that animals have to be kept and transported in larger pens rather than the tightly contained crates. One country that is setting a higher standard for confined animals is Germany. Germany requires that their pigs have access to a certain amount of daylight per day, toys for amusement, and farmer interaction every day (Paarlberg). Although these aren’t monumental changes, they can shape the landscape of the industry. They’re baby steps in the right direction of a more humane way of food production.
The overall opinion of CAFOs in America and around the world tend to be pretty unanimous; CAFOs are a threat to human welfare but are necessary evil in a world with skyrocketing populations and increasing demand for food. A common belief is that CAFOs are the only fundamental way of meat and dairy production that can produce enough to meet the increasing demands. However, environmentalists have had great success in bringing to light new farming techniques and combating CAFOs with stricter regulations. Environmentalists are pushing to see CAFOs be regulated the same way other industrial complexes would be, rather than be regulated as farms. This would require CAFOs to meet certain chemical waste requirements that other industries are forced to maintain. The health and safety of animals at the jobsites would also be set in place since the animals would be considered workers in the factory farms, along with air emission standards to ensure the protection of local community’s health and air quality. Animal waste should also be required to meet much higher standards. This means that waste should be regulated in the same manner as human waste and that the CAFOs should have their own waste treatment facilities that follow under the same guidelines that municipal waste treatment centers fall under (Ikerd). Although none of these regulations are enacted yet, they show a public demand for stricter enforcement of CAFOs. 2003 saw the first major change in factory farming operations since the 1970’s and has continued its push for stricter regulation ever since. Every year the EPA is drawing up stricter guidelines for CAFOs to follow and is in a constant battle with large farming groups to get these requirements passed in a court of law.
Another way environmentalists are addressing the issue is a more positive example and has seen great success. New sustainable methods of animal farming are taking place right under our thumbs and are being led by innovative and creative pioneers in the field of agriculture. The system is one that goes back to the traditional methods of grazing, pasture-based agriculture. There’s been a revival in animal husbandry, where the animals are cared for in a manner that the producer would do well if his animals are kept in optimal environments where their ability to survive and flourish are enhanced and the condition of nature in which they thrive on vary. The free-range, grass-based alternative to CAFOs is being presented at a time when public concern continues to increase over health and food safety issues and the inhumane treatment of animals in the industrial farming sector (State of Food). Demand for sustainably produced food is the golden ticket of moving the agriculture industry out of the industrial wasteland it currently resides in. The loss of trust towards our corporations and government is more apparent than ever in the wake of the economic crisis, which may have been the best outcome to come in the aftermath of the great recession. U.S. consumers have a much higher preference (three-fourths of consumers) for locally grown foods on smaller farms (Ikerd). Individuals are once again beginning to concern themselves of where their food comes from, the way the animals are treated, and the antibiotics and hormones being ingested by animals. Now that organic food is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, the opportunity to recreate the entire food system is in our hands. These new methods of pasture-based grazing farming can be just as efficient as CAFOs; they just require better management coming from more intelligent, thoughtful and caring farmers.
The CAFO and large agriculture supporters argue that the economic impact of eliminating CAFOs would be disastrous to the economy and the world. They believe there are simply no alternatives to CAFOs in regards to the growing demand for food production. They believe the elimination of CAFOs would deny people throughout the world a vital source of protein and that the economic stability of rural regions would collapse (Ikerd). This simple-minded, short-term view is why significant change is so difficult to obtain. Clearly the agriculture industry would not be able to just eliminate CAFOs without a strong alternative for meat and dairy production. What can be done though is the process of slowly switching CAFO operations back to the traditional pasture based methods over time. This transition could be smooth and eliminate the majority of pollution and harm done to humans and the environment. Pastoral-based animal facilities can see the same amount of efficiency and be able to meet the same demands CAFOs would, they would just have to decentralize the farming industry and give the power back to the rural individual farmers whose land it once belonged to. By empowering many individuals on a smaller scale rather than a few individuals on a large scale, economic prosperity would be more evenly distributed and small, rural economies would flourish like they once used too. Although investors and the corporate entities may see a small loss in profit at first, it’s through them that they can create these means of economic prosperity a reality, which would in t be more beneficial to the shareholders and company in the long run. By investing in the local farmer they can empower individuals and create greater competition to bargain for prices. Consumers would also have a better understanding of where their food comes from as well as the same or lower prices due to the increased competition. The switch away from industrial corporate agriculture would be a huge benefit for communities, the consumer, and the overall U.S. economy.
Even the UN has recognized the way of combating food insecurity through CAFOs is inhumane and that the need to switch to a more sustainable agriculture system is of dire urgency. They believe the small-scale, pasteurized farming can stabilize individuals in developing nations where food scarcity is high. Just as the need to empower rural U.S. farmers is important, the UN sees the need to empower small-scale family farmers in poor and developing nations as well. They see small-scale farmers in these nations being able to support and provide lower prices in food to the poor population by eliminating the need to import food at high costs (Importance). Grass based livestock also is cheaper and more economical in poor countries since the investment requirements and production costs are both low (Ikerd). The UN has given many great strategies and methods for introducing these ideas in both developing and developed nations. It calls for the use of local breeds that are adapted to the climate stress and food sources in the area. It suggests the integration of pasture management by changing land use and irrigation to help conserve the ecosystems and balance of nature that exist so that grazing systems don’t produce arid, dry areas from overgrazing. Animal’s diets would be improved by using more grass-based rather than grain diets that will help reduce the methane produced during digestion. The methane generated from waste can be stored using different anaerobic methods and scientists are experimenting with ways of using the captured methane to provide a source of energy to help with heating and lighting. Livestock management systems are suggested to adapt to affordable and humane practices of indoor and outdoor care for farm animals, this includes providing sunlight, shade and water, reducing livestock numbers to have more land per animal which will in turn produce healthier animals, and herding the livestock to graze different areas of food sources so that overgrazing of areas doesn’t occur and the land doesn’t lose its benefits. The most difficult task for nations such as America though is correcting the market distortions and policy failures that have been created without causing economic disparity (State of Food). Since the true economic cost of producing food is not accounted for, many prices would increase at first and certain industries would suffer due to negligence and mismanagement in the agriculture industry. Pharmaceuticals and chemical engineering companies would see a great decrease in profits since 70% of the antibiotics created and sold go toward livestock. Companies that produce heavy machinery and innovative technology used in factory farming would also see a big loss due to limited use of machinery and greater use of land and human based production. Although these negative effects would take a toll on certain economic industries, the losses can be minimized by a slower conversion over to pastoral based farming and closing of CAFOs. Although it is necessary that we switch over as soon as possible, other economic and social considerations that may cause short term disparity need to be taken into account.
An example of the impact Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations can have on local communities is one that hits close to home for me. For over a century, my family has held acres of untouched woods in the Wisconsin Rapids area. This land was bought by my grandfather’s parents when they came over from Denmark and has remained in our family ever since. It’s an area I can fondly recall visiting when I was a young child with my grandfather. We would drive his motorhome to Wisconsin and he would teach me about the woodland area and the environment. He showed me the tactics used to preserve the land and the way of cutting down older trees so healthy ones can grow in their place. My grandfather also took me up in small planes so we could get an aerial view of the property and learn how to mark the land we owned. I developed a deep connection to this land since it’s the place where my ecological concepts were first laid out.
Recently though, my grandfather, Thor, who is now 84, has joined the likes of the fellow townsfolk in the county to team up with environmentalist groups such as Socially Responsible Agriculture Project (SRAP) to help fight the threat of the Golden Sands Dairy CAFO being built in Saratoga. Golden Sands would be another of Wysocki Farm’s large dairy operations that have already wreaked havoc throughout the state of Wisconsin. The fight ensues as the locals try to preserve their air quality, fisheries, and land value against the goliath-like entity that is the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), headed by the Paul Ryan nominee Scott Walker whose ties to the big agriculture are far too apparent. It’s important to note that another Wysocki CAFO in Armenia has had a proven and detrimental impact on the surrounding Juneau Country. The smell of ammonia, difficulty breathing, and water samples with large nitrate contaminations of both ground and surface water clearly hasn’t struck up any concern with the DNR; but local convictions and water samples show that this poorly regulated example will continue to happen under the Scott Walker-operated DNR (MAL.) The insertion of the CAFO will have many negative effects to the county around it.
The first impact citizens are concerned about is the ammonia air pollution in an area. The area is home to many outdoor recreational facilities and the ammonia mixing with other particles in the air could present large problems for the community. Another impact this CAFO will have on the surrounding area is the clean water wells that the county draws from will have significant amounts of their water taken to support the huge demands for water needed by the CAFO. This in turn, will force locals to have to buy their water from a source stemming from Lake Michigan, which will increase water costs. Another effect to the water is that the ground and surface waters have a strong chance of being polluted. The Wisconsin DNR has been pushing to raise the allowable nitrate concentration limits from 10 mg/L to 28 mg/L. This is almost triple the amount that state has set precedence on. Anything over the 10 mg/L is deemed to be dangerous for drinking and bathing. Robert Lawrence, director of John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future has presented many of the concerns he has for management of manure from CAFO’s, especially in regards to the health of Wisconsin citizens. The main concerns he listed are as follows: spread of infectious diseases, ground and surface water pollution, air pollution, odors, and associated health, social, and ecological impacts from the above (Lundstrum). In many of these counties the amount of cattle far exceeds the population of humans. Concerned citizens have been fighting these large farming operations for years but it has been an uphill battle against financially strong and politically powerful agricultural operations. These companies are backed by many important and influential people with vested interests in their farming success.
The insertion of the Golden Sands CAFO in Saratoga will negatively impact tourism which is one of the largest economic producers in the county. The county is also set to be home to a top of the line golf resort, Sand Valley, which will be a huge economic boost to the area in recreation and tourism. No project coordinator in their right mind though will build a world-renowned golf course next to a CAFO. On one hand, the insertion of the CAFO will drastically devalue the land in the surrounding county, compared to the gold resort which will increase the value of the land. The golf course will also create an agenda to maintain an ecologically sound area around it in order to continue to attract visitors. I don’t believe that a state that already has 250 strongly unregulated and unmonitored CAFO’s needs any more (Environmental Prize Winner).
Luckily it’s not all doom and gloom in the local fight against CAFO’s. Many rural farmers have held their ground against these large CAFO institutions and their political backers with the help and support of environmental groups. SRAP has provided many communities with free assistance to those working to protect themselves from these large agriculture operations that have destroyed the view of what we used to believe the farming life consisted of. Impacts to the community have begun to surface and this generation is beginning to see the negative effects that come with CAFO’s and begun to support sustainable efforts in the agriculture industry (Masar). Since DNR’s such as Wisconsin’s have ignored the societal and environmental impacts of CAFOs, other organizations have begun to take arms with locals to help fight against the financially backed CAFO’s. This is just one of the many initiates brought on by local communities to take a stand and fight back for their community against the industrial agriculture curtain that’s trying to engulf the entire American farmland.
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