Hogwash: Confined Animal Feeding Operations

Inside a Hog Confinement

Inside a Hog Confinement

I would like to discuss an issue that has been important to me for several years, but does not get much attention outside the Midwest or agriculture heavy states like North Carolina. In these states much of the landscape is covered by large indoor animal feeding units. These confinements, or Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOS), hold thousands of hogs or turkeys and are typically disliked by the people living near them.

Unfortunately, CAFOs are also common here in Texas. The last several years have seen an increase in the number of CAFOs in Texas. McLennan and Erath counties are home to many CAFOs that house cattle and chickens, and their is a major hog confinement industry in much of the panhandle.

Regardless of what kind of animals are produced in CAFOs they inevitably generate several tons of animal waste, which is accompanied by persistent and strong foul odors that are easily detectable miles away. This also generates spills and runoff that contribute heavily to water pollution, making local rivers and lakes undesirable for fishing, swimming and most other purposes. The confinements are often owned by absentee land owners, including some of America’s largest corporations, who are frequent recipients of government money which is used to expand their operations.

Here are some of the facts:

1. A typical hog confinement can hold up to 10,000 pigs.

2. Confined livestock produce an estimated 500 million tons of excrement per year.

3. CAFOs release Hydrogen Sulfide, Ammonia, particulate matter and other highly toxic pollutants into the air and water.

4. These pollutants are detrimental to human health and individuals living near these have high levels of: diarrhea, excessive coughing, sore throats, fatigue and depression.

5. Workers in CAFOs are found to be at high risk for respiratory diseases: asthma, acute bronchitis, sinusitis, rhinitis, and pulmonary endema.

6. Manure from these is stored liquid forms in lagoons that spill and leak into soil and water.

7. A spill from a single lagoon in North Carolina once released 25 million gallons of liquid hog waste into local water ways. Hundreds of smaller spills of thousands of gallons occur each year. EPA estimates: 35,000 miles of contaminated rivers.

8. CAFO runoff has caused  Pfisteria outbreaks (This is a microbe was responsible for killing 14 million fish and closing 364,000 acres of shellfish beds.  It also causes sickness and skin lession in humans) on the East coast and has contributed to the development of a dead zone (devoid of Oxygen) in the Gulf of Mexico about the size of New Jersey.

9. Animals kept in these buildings are kept alive with antibiotics (24.6 million pounds per year).

10. Large concentrations of antibiotic filled animals create a breeding ground for new diseases. In fact, CAFOs are believed to have contributed to the Bird flu epidemic and the Cryptosporidium contamination that killed over 100 people in Milwaukee.

11. They have contributed to the end of family farming. For each CAFO built 10 family farms are eliminated or forced into corporate contracts. Nearly 60% of production is done by just 4 companies.

CAFO based farming has increased in recent years and is in many ways a product of government intervention in the agricultural sector. Many of these facilities could not operate at the level they do without government subsidies, which have been made possible by provisions found in recent versions of the Farm Bill. These provisions qualify CAFO owners for subsidies and tax credits. The biggest culprit is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) which makes CAFO owners eligible for funding designated for farm operations trying to take measures to reduce their negative environmental impact. This is money is generally used to install additional manure storage lagoons, which are needed in order for the owners to expand their operation. Under the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act, has made it possible CAFO operations to receive up $450,000 in EQIP funds over a 6- year period.

This essentially amounts to government money used being used to expand private business operations in a way that is frequently environmentally harmful. This is highly ironic considering that the Environmental Quality Incentives Program was originally created to help small farmers improve environmental conditions on their own property. Like in many other cases, programs created with the best intentions have become easily abused by large agricultural operations to increase their environmentally destructive activities. There is an increasing amount of public opposition to the continuation of government subsidies for these operations which are both environmentally destructive unpleasant to be around. Like many provisions included in recent versions of the Farm Bill, much of this can be seen as a form of corporate welfare.

It should also be noted that all of this is highly unnecessary, their are environmentally sustainable methods of producing all types of livestock included pigs that have been practiced for a long time.  Also there are new techniques that are constantly being pioneered.  Being that Hogs facilities are among the biggest polluters it should also be pointed out that pigs are really a remarkably inefficient source of food.  It takes 6 pounds of feed to produce a single pound of pork.  Beef is even worse, with a ratio of 15 to 1.

Aside from the pollution aspects, animals in CAFOs are treated very poorly.  They are tightly packed together and have little to no-room to move around.  They are forced to live in highly unsanitary conditions that are so bad they need to be pump full of antibiotics to survive.  Livestock animals like pigs and chickens highly social and quite intelligent and confinement living is highly unnatural them.

I propose we require existing Confined Animal Housing units to meet standards recommended by the 2002 Iowa State/University of Iowa study and give local governments increased ability to restrict the placement of Confined Animal Housing Units. Most importantly we need to discontinue government programs that subsidize these operations. This should be something people from all sides of the political spectrum agree on, from free-marketers to environmentalists.

There has been some success in fighting CAFOs in this country.  Communities that live near proposed CAFO locations have been able successfully resist the building of many of them.  Also California recently passed proposition 2, last election day, which banned chicken CAFO from being built in California.  The news of this proposition was much overshadowed by the Passage of proposition 8 (a proposition that banned Gay marriage in California), which appeared on the  same ballot.

This is an issue that many people in this country, outside of agricultural regions, have very little awareness or understanding of. It is also an issue that could be corrected if more of the population understood its cause of and were vocal about it. People tend to be outraged by the idea of corporate welfare and government subsidized environmental destruction.