CAFOs for dummies
A war between fact and opinion is waging between the National Park Service and the U.S. Farm Services Agency over the environmental assessment submitted with the loan for that concentrated animal feeding operation on a commercial hog farm in the Buffalo National River watershed near Mount Judea.
Amid the controversy, this CAFO-dummy went searching for what that rural community in Newton County might expect.
But surely the scenario I discovered can’t become as bad in this watershed, especially since the Department of Environmental Quality, our state’s guardians of the precious Buffalo River, granted C&H Farms Inc. a let-’er-rip permit to operate so close to this town of about 500 souls.
It seemed wise to examine Iowa’s experiences since that state raises more hogs on these massive industrial farms than any other.
An extensively footnoted assessment of health, local economies and the environment related to CAFOs was completed several years back by the Institute of Science, Technology and Public Policy at Maharishi University in Iowa.
While Iowa in 2002 still produced roughly the same amount of pork as a century earlier, the number of the state’s smaller hog farmers had plummeted from 59,134 farms in 1978 to 10,205 by 2002. That’s because most of the 17 million Iowa hogs were increasingly being raised in the CAFOs, where thousands of hogs are contained indoors before being shipped to the meat-packing plant.
Corporations that derive economic benefit from CAFOs hail this as the future of agriculture. However, the CAFOs also are causing measurable harm. The assessment reported many problems, including significant amounts of toxic animal waste released into water and air without environmental controls in place, which in turn, appears to be a factor in increased illness rates near CAFO facilities; increased bacterial drug resistance (risking public health) due to routine administration of antibiotics to confined hogs; marked decreases in land values and quality of life near CAFOs; and the decline of small-scale farming and the local economy.
Hog waste contains viruses, parasites and bacteria that can contribute to antibiotic resistance in humans. This waste is often contained in holding cesspools called lagoons, from which it is applied to surrounding land or sprayed into the air on application fields. The air around CAFOs can contain unhealthy concentrations of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, inhalable particulates and endotoxins.
Asignificant percentage of employees working in CAFOs reported serious respiratory problems, some attributable to inhaled microbes, as well as headaches and stomach problems. In one study noted in the report, Iowans living in a 2-mile radius of a 4,000-hog facility reported more respiratory and other symptoms than a control group not living near a CAFO. Hydrogen sulfide gas produced by hog waste is known as a potent neurotoxin that can damage the brain and nervous system. Those exposed to concentrations of even 0.1 to 1 part per million can display symptoms such as abnormal balance and delays in word recall.
The health threats from a hog factory are due to tremendous amounts of manure generated continually in one place and dropped into the anaerobic “pits” that, lacking oxygen, putrefy the matter quickly. One finding said that 10,000 hogs can generate as much daily waste as 25,000 to 50,000 humans. That means 6,500 hogs would equal a city at least the size of nearby Harrison.
According to the institute, University of Iowa scientists in 2006 found that children at schools near CAFOs may be at higher risk for asthma. Students at a school under study a half-mile from a CAFO showed a prevalence of diagnosed asthma in 19.7 percent of cases, while only 7.3 percent from a control school more than 10 miles from the CAFO exhibited asthma. A topographical map shows Mount Judea’s school to be no more than 0.8 of a mile from C&H Farms’ fields as the crow flies.
CAFOs can disrupt quality of life for neighboring residents, the institute noted. “The rural lifestyle, which has always prized outdoor activities and visits from friends and family, is threatened when homeowners need to protect themselves from the air and manure coming from the CAFO. Social capital declines, and deep-seated rifts often arise between CAFOs and their neighbors.”
“Prior to their construction,” the report continues, “CAFOs are often promoted locally through claims that they will bring economic vitality to the area. However, the research conducted after operations begin indicates otherwise. The evidence shows a loss of jobs, depressed property values, loss of income for local businesses, and a huge drain on county resources resulting from CAFOs.”
Since our state’s purported defender of our environment chose to approve this CAFO, please assure me that things here won’t come to resemble Iowa’s experiences … (crickets chirping) … still waiting.
Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at email@example.com. Read his blog at mikemastersonsmessenger.com.