The Harmful Effects of Industrial Farming
When it comes to large scale farming the United States of America are pioneers. They were the very first to use intensive livestock rearing methods for hog farms, cattle sheds and sheep pens. An Environmental Protection Agency study estimated that there are currently more than 19,000 concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in the USA. All this is having huge socio-economic and environmental impacts.
Intensive animal agriculture is responsible for the release of around 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. This is more than every plane, car, lorry and boat put together. Although fossil fuel emissions account for 57 percent of global greenhouse gases – in the form of CO2 – there is evidence that agriculture is still more damaging because of the gases produced. Agricultural emissions are comprised of approximately 35 percent methane and 65 percent nitrous oxide. Methane and nitrous oxide are 86 times and 296 times more damaging than CO2, respectively.
Methane and nitrous oxide are both formed when livestock waste breaks down. A swine farm carrying 5,000 animals produces upwards of 50,000 gallons of contaminated water and 12,500 lbs of solids per day. Although manure is valuable to the farming industry, in quantities this large, it becomes problematic. Ground application of raw manure is one of the most common methods of disposal due to its low cost but the environmental costs can be enormous!
Raw, untreated animal sewage can contaminate waterways through field runoff, spills, and cracks in confinement pits. Water contamination has huge environmental impacts on flora and fauna. It can also have huge impacts on human health.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 53 percent of the US population relies on groundwater for drinking water, often at much higher rates in rural areas. Contamination of groundwater, as a result of CAFOs, can lead to nitrates and nitrate poisoning – which can result in birth defects, miscarriages and infant death.
Respiratory illnesses have also been linked to the air emissions from CAFOs and children and the elderly are most at risk. A University of Iowa study found that Iowa children who attended school near a factory farm had a 25 percent asthma rate compared to only 12 percent for the control group. Furthermore, children living on CAFO sites had a 44 percent asthma rate, and children living on CAFO sites that use sub-therapeutic drugs had an astounding 56 percent asthma rate. But that’s not the only health risk – this toxic air also contains hydrogen sulphide, which has been proven to raise people's blood pressure just by breathing it,.
The main complaint associated with CAFOs is the smell. The anaerobic (non-oxygenated) reaction occurs when manure is stored in pits or lagoons for long amounts of time is the primary cause of the smell. Depending on the weather conditions and farming techniques, odors from CAFOs can travel up to 6 miles. These odors can cause serious lifestyle changes for residents close to CAFOs and can alter many daily activities. There have been reports of parents keeping their children home from school because the smell outside their home is too bad. There have also been studies that show negative moods, such as tension, depression and anger, resulting from exposure to these bad odors.
Despite all this, only seven states require CAFOs to submit an odor management, reduction, or control plan (Alabama, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas) and only Missouri and Oklahoma have penalties in place for violating odor-related regulations.
With a growing population, the demand for food and space is only going to increase. Intensive farming, when well-managed, could be greatly beneficial in meeting the demand for food whilst keeping the drain on resources relatively low. However, the current system of waste disposal needs to be addressed.
2018 has seen a flurry of large lawsuits against CAFOs. In North Carolina, a jury awarded neighbors $473.5 million in damages due to the nuisance of hog waste from the confinements owned by farmers working with Smithfield Foods. This was the third lawsuit in 2018 against Smithfield Foods in which juries found in favor of the neighbors. But we need solutions not lawsuits!
A pioneering project – which aims to take the waste from CAFOs and convert it into safe, highly productive fertilizer – is currently underway in the US. This new technology could be the solution we’ve been looking for. Stay tuned for more information on Crena Resources.
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