New research examining two decades’ worth of livestock production data finds a positive relationship between increased production at industrial farms and infant death rates in the counties where the farms reside. The study reported in the February American Journal of Agricultural Economics implicates air pollution and suggests that Clean Air Act regulations need to be revamped to address livestock production of noxious gases.
Infant death from noxious gases? This is just part of the CAFO problem. These reports from the pig-loving University of Iowa discuss other serious health, economic, and environmental issues – including the effects of manure spills, fish kills, impaired watersheds, and decreased recreational opportunities: Study 1, Study 2.
There are numerous points in each of these reports that directly contradict Russell’s claim of biological containment. Still not convinced? What about an extensive 2½-year examination conducted by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (PCIFAP), which says:
Air quality degradation is also a problem in and around IFAP facilities because of the localized release of significant quantities of toxic gases, odorous substances, and particulates and bioaerosols that contain a variety of microorganisms including human pathogens. Some of the most objectionable compounds are the organic acids, which include acetic acid, butyric acids, valeric acids, caproic acids, and propanoic acid; sulfur containing compounds such as hydrogen sulfide and dimethyl sulfide; and nitrogen-containing compounds including ammonia, methyl amines, methyl pyrazines, skatoles and indoles.
The H1H1 swine flu outbreak has been devastating, even fatal, for many. One “silver lining” of this worldwide problem is the attention it has placed on modern pig farming practices.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: why do we have these CAFOs in the first place? The pork industry tells us it’s to protect the pigs. This is an obvious red herring, as pigs have coexisted with humans for thousands of years. And ironically, it is this partial separation and concentration of pigs and humans that makes strains of bacteria like the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA for short) so virulent (a separate and possibly more serious phenomenon).
Successful free-range pig farmers are making a strong comeback, spurred along no doubt by the success of Willis Farm’s collaboration with Niman Ranch. CAFOs are a failed experiment in farming that survives on subsidies and legal protectionism. If CAFO farmers were required to pay the full social, economic, and environmental cost for their practices, we would surely see a decline in this destructive practice.
A final personal note: I am not “against” the meat industry. I spent part of my childhood on a farm where I learned to raise, slaughter, and butcher the animals that we grew. I am not squeamish about meat production, and I personally eat meat and cook it professionally. However, we need to return to a method of raising animals that is productive for the environment, not harmful to it.