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Industrial farm system a health threat

WASHINGTON &mdash The current industrial farm animal production system often poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals themselves, according to an extensive 2 1/2 -year examination conducted by ...

WASHINGTON &mdash The current industrial farm animal production system often poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals themselves, according to an extensive 2½-year examination conducted by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, in a study recently release.

Commissioners have determined that the negative effects of the IFAP system are too great and the scientific evidence is too strong to ignore. Significant changes must be implemented and must start now. And while some areas of animal agriculture have recognized these threats and have taken action, it is clear that the industry has a long way to go.

During the past five decades, the number of farms producing animals for food has fallen dramatically, yet the number of food animals produced has remained roughly constant. It is the concentration of farm animals in larger numbers in close proximity to one another gives rise to public health concerns that are attributed to IFAP.

Animals in such close confinement, along with some of the feed and animal management methods employed in the system, increase pathogen risks and magnify opportunities for transmission from animals to humans. This increased risk is a result of at least three factors: prolonged worker contact with animals, increased pathogen transmission within a herd or flock and the increased opportunities for the generation of antimicrobial resistant bacteria (because of imprudent antimicrobial use) or new strains of viruses.

Communities near IFAP facilities are subject to air emissions that can affect certain segments of the population significantly. Adverse community health effects from exposure to IFAP air emissions either fall into the respiratory symptoms, disease and impaired function category, or in the neurobehavioral symptoms and impaired function category.

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Environment

As with public health impacts, much of IFAP premises. Animal waste in such volumes may exceed the capacity of the landscape to absorb the nutrients and neutralize pathogens. Thus, what should be a valuable byproduct (such as fertilizer) becomes a waste that must be disposed of.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the annual production of manure produced by animal confinement facilities exceeds that produced by humans by at least three times. Unlike most human sewage, the majority of IFAP is spread on the ground untreated. Manure in such large quantities carries excess nutrients and farm chemicals that find their way into waterways, lakes, groundwater, soils and airways. Excess and inappropriate land application of untreated animal waste on cropland contributes to excessive nutrient loading and, ultimately, eutrophication of surface waters. An excess of nutrients in a body of water can causes a dense growth of plant life and the death of aquatic animal life because of lack of oxygen.

IFAP runoff also carries antibiotics and hormones, pesticides and heavy metals. Antibiotics are used to prevent and treat bacterial infections and as growth promoters. Pesticides are used to control insect infestations and fungal growth. Heavy metals, especially zinc and copper, are added as micronutrients to the animal diet.

Air quality degradation also is a problem in and around IFAP facilities because of the localized release of significant quantities of toxic gases, odorous substances and particulates and bioaerosols that contain a variety of microorganisms including human pathogens.

Rural America

Life in rural America long has been challenged by persistent poverty. Among the causes is the lack of economic diversity in rural economies. Workers have few options in the event of a plant closure or other dislocation, and unemployment rates are high. Consequently, IFAP frequently is considered an attractive new source of economic opportunity by local economic development officials, but with this transition comes significant change, including public health threats.

Although the proponents of the industrialization of animal agriculture point to the increased economic efficiency of IFAP operations, the commission is concerned that the benefits may not accrue in the same way to affected rural communities. In fact, industrialization leading to corporate ownership actually draws investment and wealth from the communities in which specific IFAP facilities are located.

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