By Dr. Mercola
Genetically engineered (GE) crops and confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) go hand-in-hand, and they are not only driving disease statistics into the stratosphere; they’re also destroying communities.
The promises to contain the waste, disease, and infections that these factory farms create are nothing but wishful thinking. In reality, the toxic waste cannot be contained.
In a very real sense, we’re committing suicide by way of our unsustainable, polluting, degenerative food and agriculture system—a system that is subsidized and paid for by US tax payers,1 through severely broken federal policies.
How CAFOs Destroy Communities
On November 25, the Associated Press2 reported that Missouri approved a new hog-breeding operation near Kingdom City in central Missouri. The farm will be permitted to raise as many as 10,000 hogs on 20 acres.
Neighbors and environmental activists have filed a petition to appeal the permit, on the grounds that inadequate waste management may affect property value3 and quality of life for residents in the surrounding area. According to the featured report:
“The opponents questioned the engineering and waste management plans... [Chief of the operating permits section of the state's Water Protection Program, Chris] Weiberg wrote the state's review could consider only whether a document was submitted that showed the project's design met state regulations.
Under existing regulations, ‘the Department does not examine the adequacy or efficiency of the structural, mechanical or electrical components of the manure system, only adherence to the regulation... [I]ssuance of a permit does not include approval of such features,’ Wieberg wrote.”
A Minnesota town, where residents have gone to great pains to clean up their lake—Lake Hendricks, which was severely polluted by phosphorus, a chemical in commercial fertilizer and animal waste—is also up in arms over the announcement of a new dairy CAFO.
Current plans situate the factory farm in such a way that waste run-off would likely destroy all their hard work. According to the Star Tribune:4
“[T]he operation will produce as much sewage as a city of 657,000 people and operate with less regulation than any similarly sized feedlot in Minnesota. The waste will be held in lagoons situated just 600 feet from Deer Creek, which flows directly into Lake Hendricks, just 4 miles away.
And while the owner plans to inject the effluent into surrounding cropland as fertilizer, similar livestock confinement operations in South Dakota have experienced spills and field runoff capable of polluting rivers and lakes.”
The disregard for human health, animal health, and the environment is part and parcel of what is so wrong with the present system, which focuses on efficiency and cost effectiveness at the expense of just about everything else.
A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
A recent Business Insider5 article shows aerial photos of factory farms across the US, which reveal, in disgusting detail, how the American countryside is being destroyed by their presence.
At present, 99 percent of food animals in the US are raised in these large-scale feedlots, yet many Americans still do not realize exactly how their food is raised, and all the “hidden” costs associated with cheap food. As noted in the featured article:
“For the last several years, British artist Mishka Henner has collected images of the feedlots via satellite, to document a largely hidden phenomenon. Initially, he was searching satellite imagery to look for oil fields.
When he came across the feedlots, Henner was shocked he didn't know about such a central part of our food production. ‘The feedlots are a brilliant representation of how abstract our food industry has come,’ Henner told Business Insider.
‘It’s an efficient system for extracting the maximum yield from animals. That’s the world we live in now. We want to extract the maximum yield from everything, no matter what business you are in.’
...Thousands of cattle on a small parcel of land produce an exorbitant amount of waste with nitrogen and phosphorus that would render it useless as a fertilizer. With nowhere for the manure to go, farms must create ‘manure lagoons’ — ponds or reservoirs filled with toxic waste...”
Factory Farms Are Major Polluters
All of this toxic waste, which includes antibiotics, pesticides, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, migrates into surrounding lands and groundwater.
For example, in November, at the annual meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, researchers reported6 that the 2013 flooding in Colorado resulted in massive waterway contamination, as antibiotics and microbial drug-resistant genes were flushed far and wide from CAFO waste pools.
In the Netherlands, animal health authorities recently discovered bird flu in samples taken from wild ducks.7 Chicken farms are suspected as the source of the disease and, so far, 300,000 birds at four CAFO locations have been culled to ensure the infection doesn’t spread.
CAFO waste also contributes to air pollution, and CAFO workers and neighboring residents alike report higher incidence of asthma, headaches, eye irritation, and nausea. According to the Environmental Protection Agency8 (EPA), US states with high concentrations of CAFOs report 20-30 serious water quality problems annually.
One of the reasons so few Americans are aware of these issues is because of “ag-gag” laws, which legally prevents people from filming or photographing conditions on factory farms. Ag-gag laws are being heavily promoted by lobbyists for the meat, egg, and dairy industries to essentially prevent anyone from exposing animal cruelty and food-safety issues at CAFOs.
Industrial food producers are also encouraging their “farmers” to change the terms they use for their horrific practices to less-offensive sounding words, such as swapping “gestation crates” with “individual maternity pens.”
Five states have ag-gag laws already in place, and another 10 introduced anti-whistleblower laws last year. According to USA Today,9 ag-gag laws in Utah and Idaho are currently being challenged in federal court.
Industrial Farming Is Destroying Food Quality
Philip Lymbery, an animal-welfare activist and author of the book Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat, notes that one of the techniques used to perpetuate factory farming is in fact secrecy, and there’s little doubt that that is why ag-gag laws were lobbied for in the first place.
If you don’t know there’s a problem, you won’t demand change. This is also why the food industry is fighting tooth and nail to prevent labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the US, as well as legislation that would prevent them from fraudulently labeling GMOs as “Natural.”
In the US, most all conventional meat and poultry (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, etc.) is raised in CAFOs. It’s a corporate-controlled system characterized by large-scale, centralized, low profit-margin production, processing, and distribution systems.
This is the cheapest way to raise meat, for the largest profits. But the ultimate price is high, as there's a complete disregard for human health, the environment, and ethical treatment of animals and plant workers alike.
This system depends on keeping consumers in the dark about how the food is produced, and what the hidden costs are, because the reality is unsavory enough that many, if not most, people would change their ways were they to find out the truth...
Increasing Number of Books Address the State of Our Food System
Information is power, and now more than ever before, there are plenty of resources for those who want to educate themselves. For example, a series of recent articles, listed on NewAmerica.org,10 delve into the various aspects of the monopoly that is America’s meat market. In one, titled The Meat Racket, Christopher Leonard reveals how the US meat industry has been seized by a mere handful of companies, and how this tightly controlled monopoly drives small livestock farmers out of business.
Other articles detail the drugs used in CAFO farming, and the risks this drug based farming poses to human health, such as creation of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, which I’ve addressed on numerous occasions. A recent book review in the Wall Street Journal11 also discusses a number of books on the state of our food system. Salon Magazine also recently ran an article12 on the subject of factory farming, penned by Lindsay Abrams, in which she discusses journalist Ted Genoways new book, The Chain—an expose of the American pork industry. She writes in part:
“What journalist Christopher Leonard recently did for Tyson and the chicken industry, Genoways... does for pork, recounting the history of Hormel Foods... as it evolved from humble beginnings to an industrial giant with a nearly myopic focus on expansion and acceleration, regardless of the costs.
And boy, are there costs... a mysterious neurological disorder linked to a machine that has workers breathing in a fine mist of pork brains... abuse suffered by the animals on whom workers’ frustrations are instead taken out; and a decline in food safety that, unbelievably, is set to become the new industry standard.”
Genoways book reveals how societal issues “fan out in all directions,” as he puts it, from the way our pork is produced. Not only are there many disturbing safety issues, but according to Genoways, these hazards also end up disproportionally affecting immigrant workers, who are already being exploited by the system.
We Can Change the System One Family at a Time...
Part of the problem is that the current farming model is focused on growth; not steady profit, and certainly not sustainability. I believe the movement toward sustainable food and ethical meat is very important, both in terms of human health and animal welfare.
Organic, grass-fed and finished meat is really the only type of meat that is healthy to eat, in my view. Fortunately, many grocery chains are now responding to customer demand, and will provide at least a small assortment of grass-fed meats. The least expensive way to obtain grass-fed beef and other locally produced organic foods is from your local farmer. The following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh foods in your local area that has been raised in a humane, sustainable manner:
- Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
- Eat Wild: With more than 1,400 pasture-based farms, Eat Wild's Directory of Farms is one of the most comprehensive sources for grass-fed meat and dairy products in the United States and Canada.
- Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
- Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
- FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.