This post is the first in a series—Connecting Agriculture Policy to Your Health—by CLF-Lerner Fellow Lacey Gaechter.
Last year the US District Court of Appeals took a huge step forward to protect public health from pollutants released by industrial-scale livestock facilities. This March, however, Congress negated the Court’s ruling when it passed the FARM Act. It was easy to miss this undermining of the 2017 decision since Congress rolled the FARM Act into the 2018 Omnibus Spending Bill as a rider.
What is the FARM Act?
The federal Fair Agriculture Reporting Method (FARM) Act is a formal, legislatively guaranteed exemption for industrial-scale livestock producers to the laws requiring other industries to report releases of hazardous materials. Read More >
Unlike agricultural water discharges which are regulated for large farms defined as CAFO by the EPA and the Clean Water Act, most agricultural air emissions are not regulated. Water discharges and air emissions that are related to industrial scale agricultural operations in rural areas are big concerns for local communities. The Yakima Valley in Eastern Washington State is one of these areas. The historical use of this irrigated valley for agriculture has left a legacy of wells and groundwater contaminated with nitrates, chemicals and biological agents. At this time there is disagreement among local stakeholders about the source of these contaminants. There are no swine or poultry operations in the valley and dairy practices in the valley have changed in the last 20 years from small pasture based operations to industrial scale operations. The EPA and Washington Department of Ecology are currently conducting a groundwater study which was developed in 2008 using a community based research plan. Many individuals in the community are certain that the extent of the groundwater contamination is due to the expansive dairy operations in the Valley. Additionally it is becoming more apparent that large scale operations can have dramatic effects on regional water and air quality.
National consumer advocacy organization Food & Water Watch (FWW) just released the latest version of its Factory Farm Map, which charts the concentration of factory-farmed animals across the country and their subsequent affect on human health, communities and the environment.
As most factory farmers and the state and local agencies that regulate them are often unable and/or unwilling to provide information about the locations of factory farms, researchers at FWW analyzed data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Using USDA Census data from 1997, 2002, and 1997 for beef and dairy cattle, hogs, broiler meat chickens and egg-laying operations, FWW researchers calculated the number of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in each county in the United States. In addition to county-by-county analysis, viewers can filter the map by species of animals farmed, zoom in to the state or county level, and view maps by year.
The user-friendly Factory Farm Map shows that, though the total number of farms raising livestock in the United States has declined in recent years, these farms have increased in size. In other words, independent animal farmers are disappearing while large factory farms are getting bigger, and bigger factory farms mean more pollution and economic hardship in many rural communities across the nation.
Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher
by Frederick L. Kirschenmann A collection of Kirschenmann’s greatest writings on farming, philosophy, and sustainability Theologian, academic, and third-generation organic farmer Frederick L. Kirschenmann is a celebrated agricultural thinker. In the last thirty years he has tirelessly promoted the principles of sustainability and has become a legend in his own right. Marion Nestle says, “Kirschenmann is right up there with the other agronomic philosophers-Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson. His book is an unfailingly interesting reflection on his own farming experience. It should inspire everyone to start planting and to think deeply about the food we eat.”
The CAFO Reader edited by Daniel Imhoff A collection of essays by farmers Wendell Berry, Becky Weed, and Fred Kirschenmann, Republican speech writer Matthew Scully, journalist Michael Pollan, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., members of our Center for a Livable Future staff, among many others The CAFO Reader gives a full picture of the environmental, social, and ethical implications of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO), and includes a section of essays on “Putting the CAFO Out to Pasture.” A CAFO is an Environmental Protection Agency designation for a farming facility that keeps numerous animals raised for food in close confinement, with the potential to pollute. These facilities often produce extreme amounts of waste, which ends up in toxic lagoons, sprayed on the land, and eventually in the watershed; require the use of high doses of antibiotics, thereby adding to the growth of drug-resistant bacteria; and are exempt from most animal cruelty laws. The CLF-penned article is about the role that CAFOs play in the rise in drug-resistant bacteria. Read More >
Kirby, who kicked off a national book tour last week, stopped in Baltimore to visit with staff at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and discuss his latest project with students and faculty. In his research for the 492-page book, the New York Times best-selling author had consulted several times with CLF Director Bob Lawrence.
“Animal Factory documents the scandal of today’s industrial food animal production system in the same compelling way Upton Sinclair alerted Americans to the abuses of the meatpacking industry in his 1906 The Jungle,” says CLF’s Lawrence.
“Animal Factory” follows three American families in different regions of the US, whose lives have been utterly changed by these CAFOs: Weaving science, politics, big business, and everyday life, Kirby accompanies these families and their struggles.
The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Capitol Hill briefing, yesterday, on Industrial Animal Farms and Worker Health and Safety was informative and compelling. It was also contentious. While Dr. Steven Wing, University of North Carolina epidemiologist and environmental justice expert, discussed the transformation of agricultural practices over the last few decades he was interrupted by a Congressional staffer who took issue with Wing’s statement that many of the family farms are disappearing and being replaced by industrial food animal operations. The interruption was brief, but the issue of “family farms” was raised again during the question and answer session.
Several briefing attendees claimed that their families had owned farming operations for generations, some of whom now run confinement livestock operations, also known as industrial food animal production (IFAP) facilities. Tensions grew when two attendees boisterously expressed their beliefs that even though many family farmers have shifted their farming practices to industrial models that they are still technically running family farms.
On the heels of CLF’s Congressional Briefing Dec. 2, the Pew Environmental Group will be holding a Capitol Hill briefing tomorrow to discuss the impact on workers and communities of CAFO’s. The briefing, Industrial Animal Farms and Worker Health and Safety, is being held in collaboration with Rep. Raúl Grijalva, Co-Chair, Congressional Progressive Caucus. It is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 17, from 10 – 11:30 am at the US Capitol, Room HC-8. Please RSVP to Shannon Heyck-Williams if you plan to attend.
In the Dec. 2 briefing, leading experts in economics, public health and public policy and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), a leading voice on antibiotic resistance, discussed the impact of resistant infections on the U.S. healthcare system and the need to phase out inappropriate use of antibiotics as growth promoters in the production of food animals. The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) hosted the event with Rep. Slaughter.
The economic burden of antibiotic resistance on the American healthcare system is measurable and staggering. In 2008, the Institute of Medicine reported thatantibiotic-resistant bacteria, including MRSA, cost the U.S. $4-5 billion a year. Accordingly, the CDC estimates that 2 million Americans contract resistant infections and out of those, 90,000 die. A full recap of that briefing can be found here.
The New York Times’Mark Bittmanposes the interesting question in yesterday’s column, “Could Industrially Raised Meat Be Illegal?” Bittman pontificates that if the EPA has classified greenhouse gases as a human health hazard “as the EPA has declared, and the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act authorizes strict regulatory action on substances if there’s a reasonable basis to conclude that there’s an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment, and industrially raised livestock causes an estimated 18 percent of greenhouse gas, could there be a legal case for tougher regulation of animal production?” Interesting thought.
Dairy CAFOs in New Mexico are under increased scrutiny today following this morning’s report from NPR’s John Burnett. The reporter discusses the unrelenting pollution caused by large dairy operations in the state along “dairy row,” a section of Interstate 10 between Las Cruces, NM, and El Paso, TX. “Everyday, an average cow produces six to seven gallons of milk and 18 gallons of manure,” Burnett tells listeners. “New Mexico has 300,000 milk cows. That totals 5.4 million gallons of manure in the state every day. It’s enough to fill up nine Olympic-size pools. Every single day,” he says. It’s worth a read or listen to. There are photos and audio on NPR’s web site.
Cows at a Wisconsin dairy produce about 1.5 million gallons of manure each month. Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times
Take a look at a new New York Times video, “The Danger of Livestock Waste,” produced by Brent McDonald. The many manure lagoons and field spraying in the state have led to the contamination of Idaho aquifers and private wells, causing high levels of nitrates, which have forced some families to buy bottled water. Another article, by reporter Charles Duhigg, in yesterday’s NYT “Toxic Waters” series, “Health Ills Abound as Farm Runoff Fouls Wells,” looks at the problems caused by a 41,000 dairy cow operation in Brown County, Wisconsin. Duhigg points out that more than 100 wells there have been polluted by agricultural runoff in recent months, causing residents to suffer from chronic diarrhea, stomach illnesses and sever ear infections. The story is the latest to focus national attention to the human health issues caused by unregulated agricultural runoff. There’s also an excellent slide show accompanying the piece.