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Industry Fights for Right to Produce Foods in Ways That Can Seriously Hurt You

Story at-a-glance -

  • The vast majority of animals raised for food in the US are raised in factory farms, producing about 300 million tons of manure annually
  • Hog farms use spray-irrigation to eliminate this toxic waste, the runoff from which chokes waterways with algae blooms and contaminates ground water
  • The noxious emissions from spray-irrigation of manure have been linked to decreased lung function, cardiovascular ailments, neurological problems, asthma, reduced immune function, and premature death

By Dr. Mercola

The food industry goes to great lengths to uphold the illusion that your food is grown in an idyllic farm setting. The reality is quite different, as revealed in the featured video, shot by Mark Devries.

Using spy drones, he’s been investigating the environmental impact of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) since 2012. In the featured clip, he’s flying over one of Smithfield’s factory farms — the largest pork producer in the world.

Several warehouse-style buildings are lined up next to a giant open air cesspool the size of four football fields, filled with the excrement from the thousands of pigs housed in the buildings.

Pig CAFOs — A Well-Hidden Health Threat

The vast majority of the nearly 112 million pigs raised for food in the United States are raised in factory farms such as the one shown in the video. As noted by Devries, there are 2,000 pig CAFOs in North Carolina alone.

The highest concentration of hog farms in the US is found in Duplin County, where an estimated eight million hogs produce about 14 billion gallons of waste each year. On a national level, cattle, dairy cows, hog, and poultry CAFOs produce about 300 million tons of manure annually.1

The average hog farm generates as much waste as a medium-sized city, but they certainly don’t have to dispose of it like one.

When the cesspool of toxic waste is full, it must be emptied, and to do that, they simply spray it across the landscape using a high-pressure hose that shoots it out like a fine mist.2

Runoff from the spray-irrigated fields ends up choking nearby waterways with algae blooms, and can contaminate ground water.3

As the spray drifts downwind, it causes all sorts of problems for those unfortunate enough to live there. First of all, there’s the stench. Living in the vicinity of a CAFO is akin to living next to a landfill or a chemical factory.

People can’t open their windows or hang laundry out to dry. It's not unusual for people to report the fumes coming from the CAFOs are so bad they can't make it from their house to their car without stopping to retch.

Headaches, eye irritation, and nausea are commonplace. But this isn't only a matter of bad odor and temporary side effects though; it's a serious health threat.

Living Near a Factory Farm Can Be Hazardous to Your Health — and People Are Starting to Recognize It

Manure contains over 160 different known pathogens, viruses, and bacteria. The waste in these cesspools can also contain varying amounts of:4

  • Barn cleaners and other cleaning chemicals
  • Herbicides like Roundup, which is in the animal feed
  • Antibiotics
  • Hormones
  • Municipal and/or industrial wastes

The noxious emissions from spray-irrigation of manure (which also contain elevated levels of ammonias and hydrogen sulfide fumes) have been linked to decreased lung function, cardiovascular ailments, neurological problems, asthma, reduced immune function, and premature death.

Research by Peter Goldsmith of the University of Illinois reveals that public disgust with and distrust of CAFOs has now reached significant levels. As reported on John Ikerd’s blog:5

“[P]eople in Illinois who participate in public hearings consistently indicate they have ‘no confidence’ in Illinois laws regulating CAFOs or the government officials who are supposed to enforce CAFO regulations.

Goldsmith revealed that ‘70 percent of the individuals opposed the proposed facilities and 89 percent of statements made by local residents and other interested citizens challenged the legitimacy of proposed CAFOs.’

He found a mere ‘5 percent of the residents supported CAFOs’ – the vast majority of supporters being outside consultants for CAFO operators and government officials.”

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Faced with Damning Evidence, Big Ag Turns from Science to Emotional Appeals

From the beginning, there were people opposed to the industrialization of agriculture, and in years past the industry’s public relations campaigns revolved around science.

The opposition was invariably accused of acting from a place of emotions rather than sound scientific evidence.

Ironically, as the scientific evidence has dramatically mounted against industrial farming methods, the industry has altered their approach to appeal to people’s emotions instead, and PR experts have noted that the “scientific approach” has lost its effectiveness when it comes to shaping public opinion.

As just one example of the damning research published over the past several years, an extensive 2.5 year-long study6 of industrial livestock production commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts concluded that:

The current industrial farm animal production (IFAP) system often poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment, and the welfare of the animals themselves.”

To increase confidence and trust in industrial agriculture, the industry has launched a multi-million dollar campaign to present modern farmers in an attractive and environmentally responsible light.

But the facts speak for themselves. CAFOs and large-scale monocropping of junk food ingredients (corn and soy), have become a driving force of environmental destruction and threatens human health in more ways than one.

Antibiotic-Resistant Disease, Another Health Hazard Associated with CAFOs

Animals raised in factory farm settings are not only kept under horrific living conditions. They’re also fed an unnatural diet and drugs, which has environmental ramifications (spreading antibiotic-resistant bacteria into soil and water, for example), and affect the health of the animals and the humans who eat them.

The widespread use of antibiotics for non-medical purposes has spawned superbugs resistant to many of the antibiotics used in human medicine, and for a number of years now, experts have been warning we may soon enter an era where we have no effective antibiotics left.  This would spell the end of modern medicine as we know it.

Antibiotic-resistant diseases have steadily risen, and now claim the life of about 23,000 Americans each year.7 Hospitals are notorious hotbeds for drug-resistant disease, and hospital-acquired infections now affect one in 25 patients. Certain medical instruments, such as duodenoscopes and colonoscopes, have been implicated in a number of hospital-acquired drug-resistant outbreaks,8 the most recent one reported by Huntington Memorial Hospital.

Children exposed to antibiotics during childhood also have an increased risk of health problems in adulthood, including a 50 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes, according to recent research,9,10 and CAFO animal products may actually be a primary source of antibiotics for most people. CAFO meat may also be a source of potentially lethal infections — not simply because you’re eating antibiotics and therefore building resistance, but because the meat is frequently tainted with drug-resistant bacteria that can cause disease if the meat is improperly handled or undercooked.

For example, researchers have compared E.coli samples found on supermarket meat with E.coli samples collected from patients with drug-resistant urinary tract infections (UTI), genetically linking more than 100 antibiotic-resistant UTIs to tainted supermarket meat products.

As reported by National Geographic,11 Klebsiella pneumonia is another foodborne bacterial hazard that can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections, and meningitis, and it too is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Overall, antibiotic-resistant infections have a price tag of more than $35 billion in societal costs12 in the US alone.

Industry Fights to Avoid Antibiotic Use Reporting

As reported by AgriPulse,13 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a proposal14 this past May to track antibiotic sales on a species-by-species basis, but is receiving strong opposition from the industry. At present, drugmakers report total sales of individual drugs only. Breaking down where these drugs eventually end up would help the FDA evaluate the links between usage patterns and antibiotic-resistance trends, allowing them to take more targeted action to curb the spread of antibiotic-resistance.

According to the obviously heavily conflicted industry, such data “would be difficult to produce, misleading, and would likely be used unfairly to target segments of the industry.” The industry is also opposed to using estimates in lieu of firm data. Industry groups opposing the FDA’s proposal include the Animal Health Institute, which represents drugmakers, and the American Feed Industry Association.

While collecting this kind of data would be a step in the right direction, it will not necessarily provide a complete picture, as it still would not differentiate between medical necessity and growth promotion usage, for example. Still, it would certainly be better than the existing flawed system.

Drug makers have been asked to voluntarily restrict the usage of antibiotics that are medically important in human medicine by disallowing their use for growth promotion purposes. But this approach, big surprise, has not made any dent in this problem. FDA data shows that usage of medically important antibiotics in livestock increased by three percent between 2012 and 2013. In total, antibiotic usage in agriculture rose by 20 percent between 2009 and 2013, and this is entirely the wrong direction we need to be going.

Medical Use of Antibiotics Also Needs to Change

While the vast majority of antibiotics sold end up being used in food animals, the use of antibiotics in human medicine also needs to be restricted. In the UK, Professor Mark Baker with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is calling for disciplinary action against doctors who prescribe too many antibiotics.

He also warns that patients who refuse to listen to the sensible advice of their doctors, and insist on getting an antibiotic when they really don’t need one are creating problems both for themselves and society at large. In an ongoing effort to combat the overuse of antimicrobial drugs (which includes antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, and antiparasitics) in medicine, NICE recently released updated prescription guidelines15 for children and adults.

The guidelines are part of a broad-scope Antimicrobial Stewardship program, and include the recommendation for health care facilities to monitor antimicrobial resistance, and to review rates and trends of antimicrobial drug prescriptions and resistance. It also acknowledges the pressure many doctors receive from their patients, and addresses patient education on the appropriate use of these drugs (as just one example, you cannot treat a viral infection with an antibiotic, as it only works on bacteria).

Calls for similar stewardship programs have been made in the US. As reported by Reuters:16 “[C]loser coordination between healthcare facilities and public health departments could save 37,000 US lives over five years by preventing infections from antibiotic-resistant germs...” In addition to the 23,000 deaths that occur from drug-resistant infections in the US each year, another two million people contract a drug-resistant illness.

According to the CDC, if health agencies were to notify hospitals and nursing homes of drug-resistant outbreaks, it could help reduce the spread by each facility taking stricter precautions. Ditto for when a hospital transports an infected patient to another facility. The receiving facility should be notified of the infection and take appropriate action to prevent transmission. In cases of an outbreak, the facility should also use diagnostic tests to determine if other patients might be asymptomatic carriers.

Safer Food Sources

I encourage you to support the small family farms in your area, particularly organic farms that respect the laws of nature and use the relationships between animals, plants, insects, soil, water, and habitat to create synergistic, self-supporting, non-polluting, and GMO-free ecosystems. Whether you do so for ethical, environmental, or health reasons – or all of the above – the closer you can get to the "backyard barnyard," the better.  Ideally, get your meat, chickens, and eggs from smaller community farms with free-ranging animals, organically fed, and locally marketed.

This is the way food has been raised and distributed for centuries... before it was corrupted by politics, corporate greed, and the blaring arrogance of the food industry. You can do this not only by visiting the farm directly, if you have one nearby, but also by taking part in farmer's markets and community-supported agriculture programs. Organizations that can help you locate raw and farm-fresh foods in the vicinity of where you live include: and  provide lists of certified organic farmers known to produce safe, wholesome, and raw dairy products, as well as grass-fed beef and other organic produce. You can contact your local Weston A Price chapter leader directly if you have questions. 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
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) – CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farmsEat 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 and are two excellent websites to peruse if you’re looking for raw milk. They can tell you what the status is for legality in your state 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