CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation): Environmentally Unsound & Unhealthy

“O” The Oprah Magazine (Nov 2011) did an article on CAFOs written by Kathie Dobie that totally affected me.  I have been aware of factory farming for years and would not eat food raised in this manner.  However, I didn’t realize the extent of the damage that these operations were inflicting on the environment, the people working with the animals in this industry, and those who live within the vicinity of these extremely toxic feed lots. After reading this article, I decided to learn more, so I could share this information with my readers.

Many people are not aware where their meat. milk and poultry are coming from and how these animals are being raised. They have no realization how eating foods that are raised in CAFOs are loaded with antibiotics, hormones and pesticides. Beyond the danger to human health is the effect massive quantities of deadly waste have on the air, the land and water for miles around these massive operations.

In the 1960’s I remember driving past large sections of countryside where cattle were being raised. We smelled the stench of these animals for miles before we saw them. It became totally unbearable the closer we came to them. I didn’t think about the people who lived in the vicinity. After reading the article in O, “This Is Not Farming – it put a face on people, such as Lynn and Dean Henning, who lived in these farming communities; and had to contend with all the problems that these CAFOs have created.

People living in the vicinity of these CAFOs are experiencing major health problems, because these toxic waste centers are producing massive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous. which is affecting the air, the soil and the water. The waste can also contain birthing fluid, blood, hormones, chemicals like ammonia and heavy metals like copper (copper sulfate baths are used to clean the cows’ hooves); antibiotics put into their feed, and antibiotic resistant bacteria; pathogens like E. coli, cryptosporidium, and salmonella; milk house wastes, including cleaning agents and bad milk; and silage leachate, which is basically liquid runoff from fermenting fodder.. This toxic stew can sit in lagoons for weeks or months until it is pumped up and spread on the land – whatever land the CAFO owns or can lease from other farmers. Eventually, the solid waste at the bottom of these lagoons is dredged and that too, is applied to the ground.

In the article “This is not Farming” there were at least 40 of these lagoons in a radius of ten miles of the Henning farm, capable of holding more than 250 million gallons of waste. The operators of these CAFOs apply this liquid waste over and over again. “It will be so rank that you can’t open your windows, you can’t hang laundry,” Lynn Henning says. Weekend family picnics are cancelled because a CAFO decided to spread on a Friday evening, knowing that the regulatory agencies will be closed until Monday morning. Children and grandchildren stop visiting. “We’ll have fly infestations. We’ll have rat infestations because of the dead animals and stuff,” she says. “You’ll pretty much know where the dead animals are from wherever the vultures are circling.”

CAFO cows die young. A dairy cow can live about 20 years, but most CAFO cows are slaughtered for beef at around 4, when their milk production declines or they become too ill to be profitable. Cows that die younger aren’t always disposed of correctly, dumped instead on top of uncovered compost heaps – the author of this article saw this twice during the rounds she made with Lynn as she collected vials of waste to be sent to state agencies for analysis. Not only have rats and vultures multiplied in this area, but so have coyotes.

But the stench and vermin are just part of the problem. CAFO omissions include the gases hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, airborne pathogens, and particulate matter; collectively they can cause nausea, eye irritation, coughing and respiratory issues. They can also contribute to the development of asthma, cause asthma attacks, decrease lung function, and increase the risk of heart attack. This onslaught has driven people to abandon their homes, because the owners couldn’t take the stench anymore, but they couldn’t sell their homes, either. Who would buy them? Well, sometimes the CAFO does for very little money – and then, according to Lynn, uses the house for migrant labor or knocks it down and has more land to spread waste on.

This toxic pollution has been created from thousands of animals being jammed together as O Magazine proclaimed: “Pack 2,000 cows flank-to-flank in steel barns and you get enough excrement to befoul an entire town – especially if it’s being spread so thick across the land that it seeps into the soil and poisons the water….” Lynn Hennings of Michigan is a lady who is working hard testing the environment around huge CAFOs and then passes the results on to people who could do something to stop this massive assault on the environment. Her family and friends have all developed serious health concerns from living near CAFOs, but they can’t afford to move.

Can you imagine living in an area, where you can’t open the window without inhaling air so noxious that it makes you nauseous? Life disintegrated for people living in Lynn’s area of Michigan after three factory farms started in the late 1990’s. In 2000 someone reported a CAFO for discharging manure into a creek (heavy rains later pushed it into Lake Hudson). The owner wrongly blamed the Hennings for calling in the complaint. Lynn didn’t like being blamed for something she didn’t do, so she decided to find out what was going on. She filed a Freedom of Information Act request, and read the complaint – which contained the information that the factory farm owner next door had dumped the manure and another neighbor had called it in. Then Lynn and her husband Dean drove over to Lake Hudson to take a look. They scouted the area to see how many more of these factory farms had moved in, and then they started looking at the creeks that stripe the countryside – and they looked bad.

That spring Lynn helped start the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan (ECCSCM) and began testing the local water and sending it on to state and federal agencies. In 2001 she became a water sentinel for the Sierra Club. Using her knowledge as a farmer and her natural talent for research, she began to map out how the CAFOS were polluting – connecting the manure discharges to their source. Though almost entirely self-taught, she and the ECCSCM eventually compiled more data on these local operations than the state agencies responsible for regulating them had found. These agencies are not only under-funded and understaffed, according to Lynn, but many of the employees dislike field-work, “A lot of these agencies have employees who are just there to get a paycheck until they retire…If they’re going to get paid the same amount to sit behind a desk and answer the phone as to go out and climb down in a crik and put cow shit in a bottle, they’re not going to go out if they don’t have to…”

Last year Lynn was awarded a prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. The annual award is given to six “environmental heroes” from six regions of the world: Africa. Asia, Europe, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America. The recipients are always ordinary people working within their local communities to protect the natural world, often at great personal risk.  Lynn said, “We’ve had dead animals put in our mailbox, put on our porch, and on our car. We’ve had our mailbox blown up. We’ve had combine damage. My granddaughter’s window was shot out in December 2009 – her bedroom window – while she was sleeping.” Lynn has been called a white-haired witch and Osama Bin Laden; she’s even been asked to find another place to worship by the pastor of her church because an associate of a CAFO owner kept trying to pick fights with her there. The pastor wanted peace, and the CAFO associate – who raised heifers for the owner – was a township official with more allies than Lynn.

It’s a shock to hear about farm families being bullied into submission by scare tactics, physical intimidation and legal threats. However, with their sparse and aging populations, these farm communities are especially vulnerable – as they don’t represent many votes, and they don’t have much money. And they are generally conservative, believing in hard work, minding your own business, and not kicking or complaining.

One afternoon while Lynn was monitoring water, a manure hauler started tailing her. Up ahead, another one was barreling toward her, charging down the middle of the road, leaving her no room to pass. Lynn pulled off the road, and the two haulers and one pickup truck belonging to a CAFO pulled in around her, blocking off her exit. The state police were called, and when the officer arrived, he told Lynn he was going to have to charge her with reckless driving. “I’ve got three witnesses, “ he said.   “Really?” was all Lynn said before pulling out her camera and showing the officer pictures of the semi coming straight at her, forcing her off the road. “You’re free to go, Mrs. Henning,” the officer said, “We will take care of this.”

Within a ten mile radius of the Henning farm there are twelve CAFOs. Between them they house 20,000 cattle and 10,000 hogs, which produce more waste than the city of Chicago. All within this small rural area. Some of these CAFOs were set up by a company in the Netherlands that recruited local farmers there and helped them relocate here, promising them the opportunity to farm in a place with plenty of land and fewer costly environmental regulations than exist in the Netherlands. The rest are owned by local guys who decided to go big after the Dutch dairy guys moved in. One of these local farmers who now operates a CAFO next to the Henning farm was in their wedding 32 years ago. Now he calls Lynn a “terrorist.”

The definition of Factory Farming in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – it is a term referring to the process of raising livestock in confinement at high stocking density, where a farm operates as a factory . A practice typical in industrial farming by agribusinesses. The main product of this industry is meat, milk and eggs for human consumption. However, there have been issues regarding whether factory farming is sustainable and ethical (or healthy?).

Confinement at high stocking density is one part of a systematic effort to produce the highest output at the lowest cost by relying on economies of scale, modern machinery, biotechnology and global trade. Confinement of high stocking density requires antibiotics and pesticides to mitigate the spread of disease and pestilence exacerbated by these crowded living conditions. In addition, antibiotics are used to stimulate livestock growth by killing intestinal bacteria. There are differences in the way factory farming techniques are practiced around the world. There is a continuing debate over the risks and benefits of factory farming. The issues include the efficiency of food production; animal welfare; whether it is essential for feeding the global human population; the environmental impact and the health risks.

In the US, about a quarter of the pesticides produced are used in houses, yards, parks, golf courses. and swimming pools – and about 70% are used in agriculture.These pesticides can make their way into consumers’ bodies which can cause health problems. A major source of this is comes from animals raised on factory farms. TheCDC writes that chemical, bacterial, and viral compounds from animal waste may travel in the water and soil. Residents near such farms report problems such as unpleasant smell, flies and adverse health effects. The CDC has identified a number of pollutants associated with the discharge of animal waste into rivers and lakes, and into the air. The use of antibiotics create antibiotic-resistant pathogens, parasites, bacteria, and viruses; ammonia, nitrogen and phosphorus can reduce oxygen in surface waters and contaminate drinking water; pesticides and hormones may cause hormone-related changes in fish; animal feed and feathers may stunt the growth of desirable plants in surface waters and provide nutrients to disease-causing micro-organisms; trace elements such as arsenic and copper, which are harmful to human health, may contaminate surface waters.

In the European Union, growth hormones are banned on the basis that there is no way of determining a safe level. …In 1998 the EU banned feeding animals antibiotics found to be valuable for human health. Furthermore, in 2006 the EU banned all drugs for livestock that were used for growth promotion purposes. As a result of these bans, the level of antibiotic resistance in animal products and within the human population showed a decrease.

Americans need to vote with their dollars and stop eating milk, meat and eggs, which come from CAFOs. They need to become aware that eating these “factory-farmed products” will destroy their health – as well as the environment. There is a book entitled : CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories – Over 50 billion food animals are raised and slaughtered every year (not including massive quantities of farmed fish). Grazing and growing food for livestock now occupy 70% of all agricultural land and 30% of the ice-free terrestrial surface of the planet. If present trends continue, meat production is predicted to double between the turn of the 20th century and 2050. Yet already, the Earth is being overwhelmed by food animals that consume massive quantities of resources, whose waste fouls waterways and farmlands, and when eaten excessively, downgrade our health. The book points out, it doesn’t have to be that way. This book CAFO offers a compelling vision for a healthier food system: one that is humane, sound for farmers and communities, and safer for consumers and the environment.

“The measure of a society can be how well its people treat its animals“ – Mohandas Gandhi  Without compassion for other sentient living beings – mankind will be judged by a greater judge than any on our level. Cramming animals into CAFOs by the tens of thousands, often unable to breathe fresh air, see the light of day, walk outside, peck at plants or insects, scratch in the earth, or eat a blade of grass – deprives these creatures of all that makes life worthwhile. I am sure that our Creator didn’t intend for his creatures to be treated this way.

It isn’t necessary to eat meat raised in such conditions. If people demanded humanely-raised meat, it would be far better for them. Eating food that is loaded with antibiotics, hormones and pesticides destroys the human body. It costs a fortune in medical treatments to treat one’s addiction to this toxic food.  People who eat meat from CAFOs on a daily basis are courting disaster. If people would opt for Certified Organic meat, milk and eggs. it would benefit their health and the environment.

I learned a great lesson back in the 1970s. When I gave up meat, fish and chicken for a 13 year period…I never felt nor looked better. I had people warn me that I was doing a very dangerous thing – but I learned that it was the best thing that I had ever done. I eventually did add back some specific fish, and occasionally lamb. I have been guided not to eat beef…not even if it is grass-grazed and certified organic. A steer is a large animal and is consuming a great deal of contaminants in the grass it consumes. Pollution exists world-wide. If penguins in the South Pole can have pesticides in their bodies,, you can assume that the bodies of all other animals and humans are loaded with it, too.

The only way that we can lower the amount of antibiotics, hormones and pesticides in our food and environment – is by eliminating these factory farms.Please pass along this information to others. Everyone needs to promote sustainable agriculture for the long term good of our planet. It starts with each and everyone of us.  –and IT STARTS NOW.

Healthfully Yours,

Barbara Charis

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