About Factory Farms

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Confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have a bad rep - and with good reason. These giant livestock factories cause a multitude of health, environmental, economic, and quality of life problems.

What is a CAFO?

A confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) is a giant livestock factory in which hundreds or thousands of animals are housed and fed in large confinement buildings. The animals have barely any room to move and no opportunity to pasture. In Iowa, CAFOs are predominately hog operations, but chicken, turkey and cattle operations are found in the state, too.

In hog confinements, the pigs stand on slatted floors and their wastes fall into huge lagoons beneath the confinement. These waste pits store anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of gallons of liquid manure for months at a time.

Because of the nature of the waste pits, the manure putrefies, emitting toxic ammonia and hydrogen sulfide gases. These gases are so harmful that farm workers have died from asphyxiation when they entered an improperly vented CAFO.

Even without accidents, the noxious gases negatively affecting neighbors when they escape into the environment. Eventually, the liquid manure is applied onto agricultural fields as fertilizer, further disturbing people who don't even live near CAFOs.

Because of the many problems associated with CAFOs, the American Public Health Association called for a moratorium on all new factory farms back in 2003. More recently, a two-year study released in 2008 study by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production outlined the risks of industrial agriculture.

There are many reasons to be concerned if there is a CAFO in your community.

Hazards to Human Health

The byproducts of manure and the rampant use of antibiotics pose a serious health threat to communities with CAFOs.

  • The ammonia and hydrogen sulfide gases produced by stagnating liquid manure can cause respiratory problems, nausea, diarrhea, headaches, burning eyes, confusion, tension, depression, and fatigue.

  • A University of Iowa study found children are particularly susceptible to asthma.

  • Unsanitary, crowded confinements can become a breeding ground for disease. To fend off infections, non-therapeutic antibiotics are added to livestock feed. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, over 70% of all antibiotics used in the US are fed to livestock for preventive care as well as to boost growth rates.

  • In 2001, the American Medical Association has warned in that the rampant use of antibiotics in factory farms is contributing to the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which it considers a serious impending health crisis. We are now starting to see the emergence of deadly strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

  • A University of Iowa study published in 2009 has linked MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) to factory farms, finding a new strain, ST398, in 70% of hogs and 64% of swine workers in one Midwest facility.

  • In Holland, it's been reported that 60% of all pigs are infected with ST398 and 30-40% carry the bacteria in either their respiratory tract or skin. A Dutch government study found MRSA ST398 in 10% of its slaughtered pork and a Dutch journal also reported on a woman not associated with hog farms that contracted MRSA ST398 while hospitalized.

  • Similarly, a Worldwatch Institute report linked Avian Flu to the location of large-scale poultry production to nearby cities.

  • In 2007, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warned, "excessive concentration of animals in large scale industrial production units should be avoided."

Environmental Damage

Animal feeding operations produce enormous amounts of manure - 100 times more than the amount of human sewage sludge processed in US municipal wastewater plants. Communities with CAFOs see the their streams, creeks, and ponds deteriorate as nitrogen, phosphorus, microbes, ammonia and antibiotics from liquid manure pollute their waterways.

  • Lagoon leaks and manure misapplied on fields can pollute streams and well water of nearby residences.

  • Agricultural runoff from spreading manure on crop fields wind up in local waterways from heavy rains and melting snow.

  • Accidental manure spills dump high volumes of toxins into waterways causing serious water pollution and fish kills, not to speak of making streams, ponds, and lakes unsuitable for recreational use.

  • Since manure contains antibiotics, antibiotic-resistant genes are spreading through waterways. A study conducted at the University of Illinois discovered that some antibiotic-resistant genes found in manure lagoons are transferred "like batons" from one species of bacteria to another.

Local Economy Degradation

  • Property owners see the value of their homes and property decrease as much as 30-40% when CAFOs move into an area. One factory farm forces an average of 10 family farms out of business. County economies can weaken as people move away; local businesses lose vitality, and sales and property taxes plummet.

  • Hog laden tractor-trailers drive over roads not built to accommodate their heavy weight or frequent trips. The result is the physical deterioration of a community's physical infrastructure. And who winds up paying for repairs? Local communities do, with local taxpayers experiencing higher taxes and reduced local services as communities struggle to keep up with the extra maintenance.

  • What about the economic benefits of factory farms to local communities? There aren't many. Few new jobs are created, new building construction materials are often outsourced, and the hog corporations, which are usually located out-of-state, pay no taxes to the community.

  • In fact, counties that experienced increasing numbers of CAFOs did not see increased levels of economic development. They also may have lost the opportunity to strengthen their economies with other development projects, says an Iowa Policy Project study conducted by Iowa State University.

Loss of Quality of Life

For many people, what was once a family's cherished home or a retired couple's dream house becomes a prison. Many neighbors of CAFOs report they are unable to leave their homes to enjoy their yards, gardens, or outdoor activities because of the gagging, nauseating odors or overwhelming fly infestations the confinements produce. CAFOs are definitely not good neighbors.

More information on The Issues:

Human Health Hazards Articles
Environmental Impact Articles
Air Pollution and Odor
Water Pollution
Socioeconomics Articles

Take Action Today!

In many counties throughout Iowa, and throughout many states, the proliferation of CAFOs and the lack of adequate governmental regulations is causing a serious environmental problem, injuring air quality, water quality, and the quality of life for those who live in the vicinity. If this is OK with you, do nothing. However, if you would like to help insure the quality of your environment and your ability to enjoy life in Iowa, there are some simple steps you can take that will help make a difference.*

1. Educate Yourself*
Read articles on this site and articles linked on the many pages of this site. The 30 minutes plus you spend reading will make you an informed citizen and voter. You will understand the issues, the threat to your quality of life, and what needs to happen to protect your quality of life. Sitting on the sidelines is not an option, unless you're comfortable living next to a CAFO and not caring how your community may be affected over time.

2. Contact Elected Officials*
Although they are supposed to be representing the interests of their constituents, they are clearly influenced by agri-business campaign contributions and agribusiness-funded political action committees (PACs). If they don't hear from you, they assume you're happy with the job they are doing and the way they vote. If you DO make the effort to contact them, your voice is amplified many times, as so few people make the effort. This page has all of the contact information, the rest is up to you!

3. Talk to your Neighbors*
Many people are either not informed or are ill-informed. Make the effort to visit with your neighbors; find out their position, and help them find the information they need to develop informed positions.

4. Report Suspicious Activity*
Call Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement at 515-282-0484 immediately if you see what might be a CAFO being constructed or if you see what might be an illegal manure dumping.

5. Consider Legal Action
Unfortunately in today's world, legal action is often the only option that will stop a CAFO in its tracks. David E. Sykes, P.C. offers litigation services for individuals and communities who are impacted by a CAFO in their neighborhood and are seeking to protect their families quality of life and declining property values.

*From the Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, Inc. website.

More Information on Factory Farming

There is no shortage of studies and reports by well-respected institutions and organizations on the damaging impacts of factory farms. Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbor, Inc. has compiled numerous articles and reports on the negative effects of factory farming on one's health, property values, quality of life, community, and the environment.

It's crucial to become educated on factory farming to learn how they can affect you and your family. These reports and articles will give you a solid education on the problems associated with confined animal feeding operations and why they are a bad idea for neighbors and communities.

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