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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/5/09

The CAFO stench is killing babies while the USDA laughs at farmers

Message Linn Cohen-Cole
Rachel Ehrenberg writes in Science News that the stench from livestock manure in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) is linked to infant illness and deaths.

Please, if you would put this into the context of the  "it's-a-lie-it's-about-food-safety" bills currently in Congress, and realize that the industrial ag corporations causing these deaths are the ones promoting "food safety."   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 new work is in line with several studies documenting the ill effects of megafarms, which typically have thousands of animals packed into small areas, comments Peter Thorne, director of the Environmental Health Sciences Research Center at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Higher rates of lung disease have been found in workers at large poultry and swine operations and respiratory problems increase in communities when these large-scale farms move in, Thorne notes.
Mr. Thorne, likely taking his life in his hands to be in Iowa and say such a thing, since CAFOs replace thousands of small pig farmers when Vilsack was governor there, adds this:
“This study is a very important contribution,” says Thorne. “This is an industry we really need — it provides food and a lot of jobs — the answer isn’t for everyone to become vegetarians.” But, he says, “I think we need a fundamental change in the way this industry is going."
How much more courage did it take for him to say the following?
"There’s a very strong case that under the Clean Air Act the EPA should be looking seriously at the livestock industry.”

And why did he not note that the small pigs farms that were lost in Iowa did none of these things?
The study, by economist Stacy Sneeringer of Wellesley College in Massachusetts, examined birth and death records from the National Center for Health Statistics and the increase in “animal units” per county across the United States from 1982 to 1997. (Animal units are a normalizing unit used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One animal unit equals roughly 1,000 pounds of average live weight; or 250 layer chickens (for eggs); or 1.14 fattened cattle; or 2.67 breeding hogs.) An increase of 100,000 animal units in a county corresponded to 123 more infant deaths per year per 100,000 births. Doubling livestock numbers was linked to a 7.4 percent increase in infant mortality.
Several potentially confounding variables were taken into account, such as per capita income, the availability of health care, climate, land and housing use, possible effects of other industries and whether large farms move to areas that already have poor infant health.
“I was surprised to see this association — I kept expecting it to go away but it didn’t,” Sneeringer says.
The next two words are critical to understanding why the public is so confused about where the problems really are with their food and with agriculture in general
Farm pollution is typically associated with groundwater contamination. Leaks in manure lagoons or runoff from fertilizers or pesticides get into streams and other waterways. But increased livestock production had greater effects in areas with low well-water usage, implicating air pollution.  
But what is being described is not "farm" pollution and did not happen on "farms" and does not happen on "farms."  The pollution happens only on industrial Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) which should never by any stretch of the language, be called "farms."  It is in that twisting of reality that the public is fooled into believing that "farms" are sources of contamination, rather than places where manure is clean and valuable and used to wonderful effect.
"Industrial factories of animals" does not equal "farms." 

In fact, the pollution described here not only doesn't happen on farms but happens because everything good that a farm provides has been entirely removed - animals living outside, animals moving around freely, farmers caring for them and about them, exposure to grass and sunlight, and no more pigs on a farm than a farm family can reasonably care for or live near and live well themselves.  

Ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and airborne particulate matter are all associated with livestock production, Sneeringer says. [She should have added the word "confined" to "livestock production."]  Exposure to the gases has been linked to respiratory distress in infants, while exposure in the womb has been linked to disorders that occur late in pregnancy or shortly after birth, and has also been linked to spontaneous abortions. Sneeringer found that about 80 percent of the infant deaths associated with increased livestock production [here, she does delineate the source better] occurred in the first 28 days of life.
“Livestock are the number one source of volatilized ammonia in the nation,” Sneeringer says.  
Again, Sneeringer needs to always distinguish between animals trapped in CAFOs and those living normal, healthy lives on farms.
Increasingly, farms [once again, CAFOs are not farms, and farms do use their manure, for growing crops and for growing good grass for the animals]  that generate manure don’t use it as fertilizer, Sneeringer points out.  Many large livestock operations have no crops to fertilize.
Precisely.  Because they are not farms but only animal "factories."

The manure may be shipped out to become pelleted fertilizer elsewhere, or sit in a big, sealed lagoon.  

These "sealed lagoons" are far from "sealed" and nitrates and other contaminants leak into the ground watercontaminating not only the CAFO but all the water in the area as well as rivers and lakes.
Several steps might be taken to assuage the problem, says Thorne. Aerobic digesters can oxygenate manure as it breaks down, eliminating some of the noxious gases that anaerobic bacteria produce. Fertilizer could be injected into the ground instead of sprayed onto fields. And large livestock facilities could be required to buy additional surrounding land, increasing the distance between people and pollution.
The obvious solution - getting rid of the CAFOs - is overlooked - returning to local farmers running small local farms.  Instead, more industrialization is suggested as well as loss of more land to industrialization.  

Yet, it is precisely the industrial disconnection of real farmers from their own animals that has led to this problem.  There are no families living on CAFOs.  The workers live elsewhere, the managers far away, and the CEOs even further.  What does it matter to them whether the place stinks and the gases are dangerous and the groundwater is poisoned and the animals tortured?  It's an industrial job for the workers and it's just profit sheets to managers and it's only stocks to the CEOs.  The reality of the animals and of the land and of the community are all deleted from the "accounting."

And this disconnect and disrespect is evidenced at the USDA where they entertain themselves by making jokes of farmers   
"FRIDAY AG HUMOR: There was once a man from the city who was visiting a small farm, and during this visit he saw a farmer feeding pigs in a most extraordinary manner. The farmer would lift a pig up to a nearby apple tree, and the pig would eat the apples off the tree directly. The farmer would move the pig from one apple to another until the pig was satisfied, then he would start again with another pig. The city man watched this activity for some time with great astonishment. Finally, he could not resist saying to the farmer, "This is the most inefficient method of feeding pigs that I can imagine. Just think of the time that would be saved if you simply shook the apples off the tree and let the pigs eat them from the ground!" The farmer looked puzzled and replied, "Time doesn’t matter to a pig!"

Notice what is being laughed at by the United States Department of Agriculture - farmers' closeness to animals and not living by efficiency but pleasure in their animals and what those animals teach them about nature's timing.  And, of course, ‘stupid’ farmers.  

Given the real stupidity of an industrial system for any living thing, given how many pig farmers went out of business when Vilsack was in office and CAFOs took hold, given that babies are dying from CAFOs (which the USDA is fine with), given that Vilsack promised transparency and then lied to the press that he was not considering bringing together the USDA and FDA only a week before the current "food safety" bills (which bring together the USDA and the FDA) were introduced into Congress, and given that those industry-driven bills will leave CAFOs in place and greatly increase their number, destroy what is left of our farmers and leave us at the mercy of the same corporations torturing animals, killing babies with stench, killing children with peanut butter, and killing adults (and everyone else) with contaminated meat, the joke is on us.  
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Met libertarian and conservative farmers and learned an incredible amount about farming and nature and science, as well as about government violations against them and against us all. The other side of the fence is nothing like what we've been (more...)
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