A new and unsavory analysis by Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Waterkeeper Alliance sheds light on the true impact that industrial factory farms are having on communities and waterways in North Carolina and beyond.
Many thanks for exposing these threats to our priceless water, rivers and marine bays and estuaries - the nurseries of the seas and our fisheries industry.
The Chesapeake Bay is one of the greatest resources to fisheries but threatened by factory animal operations, especially chickens and hogs, that have for decades diminished/fouled the water quality of the bay and all the jobs associated with that irreplaceable marine nursery.
Whether fresh water rivers and lakes, marine bays, and aquifers, are threatened or polluted by Concentrated (or Confined) Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO's).
At the very least, the state could impose a law/create programmes to ensure that all waste be processed on site to extract methane and that the methane be used for water treatment where needed and/or for the safe use/disposal of byproducts.
Besides cleaning up the environment, this has been found to be economically viable in China.
Of course, a primarily vegetarian/vegan diet would be the better option.
Can we stop referring to animal faeces and urine as "waste"? Our own sewage, too. It's a vital resource despite the biohazards, we need to stop regarding it as an inconvenient obstacle to farm management.
For 4 billion years or so, the prime material of one creature has become the energy of another, and so we have cycled the same CHO and N into a sort of ad hoc communal and relative immortality.
So now symbolic reasoning would tell us these things are to be separated. Sure you keep feces away from what you eat. Sure you break the life cycles of parasites that would infest you. But if that meant not returning the matter to what uses that matter, it would not be worth it.
As we are, we pipe and ship feces to sea, and purchase synthetic NPK to raise plants. Neither works. By rendering the feces unused, the practice makes filth of what might be earth.
There are lots of contemporary things on this, including The Humanure Handbook. But of more interest for all who are not ready to build a compost toilet is probably Farmers of Forty Centuries, an old account of Chinese traditional farming, as seen from the outside by a European traveler.
"Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to turn the wind away," -- as per Hamlet, Act something, Verse something something.
And what better use for Caesar?
It's full of antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, along with pathogenic organisms from the chronically sick animals.
I'll have to go with "waste".
There is way more to this story than is presented in the article. Essentially ALL of the water/sludge, such as in the holding ponds in the photograph, is used for fertilizer. On the 10,000 cow dairy operation I worked for, the sludge was pumped to the fields through long (miles?) hoses, and injected into the soil about 12 inches deep - so no run-off, and very little odor. Everyone wants less synthetic chemicals sprayed on the ground, and this is the way to do it. Certainly, that waste water does not go into a river, the way treated sewage from many cities does. This is a case of the very large operations being more environmentally friendly than small operations. None of the small farms I was on could afford to handle their manure that way - they spread the manure on top of the ground - which causes a lot more run-off problems than injection. There are about 9 million dairy cows in the U.S. today, compared to about 25 million cows 70 years ago. The current system does a far better job of containing / processing / reusing manure waste water than did the old system of 10 -20 cows on each farm. The feeding of cows today is much more science-based than 70 years ago, this is only possible on large farms, because of all the fixed costs involved in doing lab tests on every load of every commodity, the size facilities required to handle bulk commodities, the cost of a (ususally) Ph.D. trained cattle nutritionist, and so on. The benefit to improved feeding is that the cows make way more milk on much less waste. Even though the U.S. consumes over twice as much milk as it did 70 years ago (counting all dairy products), the carbon footprint of dairy farms today is about 1/4 of what is was 70 years ago, and large farms as is shown in the picture are a major reason for that improvement.
Another thing this article does not tell you is that very large dairy farms utilize a large amount of the waste generated in making human-edible food. If these dairy farmed did not use all that stuff, it would probably end up in land fills, as a lot of it would take a lot more processing to make it into fertilizer. So, the big farms are environmentally friendly in that way.
The popular ideal of millions of small farms is not nearly as environmentally friendly as the big farm in so many ways. 70 years ago, we had a million or more small dairy farms, each of which used on average 4 acres of land per cow. In many cases, the cows were free to roam on that land. So we probably had from 40 million to 80 million acres continually "contaminated" by cow waste products and subject to erosion due to the cows constantly walking on it. I still see this today on most of the farms I've been on, except the very large farms. Today, with vastly improved crop yields, and better feeding, we still need only about 4 acres of land per cow, even though the cows produce about 6 times as much milk per cow as they did 70 years ago. So we are down to 30+ million acres for dairy operations, not 80 million, and those acres are mostly covered in crops, not being trampled by cows. Because of their size, and the resources they have, there are many things that are done on a big farm to improve efficiency and cow health that are not financially feasible on a small farm. Unless you actually work on those farms, you don't see it, and certainly don't appreciate how much better a job these big farms do of protecting the environment than can small farms ever hope to do. As I heard a small-operation farmer say: "we know how to farm way better than we can afford". I know that nearly all farmers try to do the best they can with what they have, and they do the best they can to improve soils, limit pollution, and maintain a profit. The really big farms - the 1,500 or so farms in the U.S. that together produce 75% of all the milk in the U.S. - are able to do the best job of protecting the environment because they have more resources with which to get the job done right.
http://prairierivers.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/factory-farms.pdf - Similar to the essay here, this leaves out a lot. Even though is reads like it is "the truth", it is just one more very cleverly written essay designed to sway the reader, not inform the reader. Unlike an essay written to actually educate, that piece hides its assumptions and continually tries to tell the reader what to think. That is not an honest essay - just another infomercial. Are the readers really content knowing that the food system is being totally controlled by people who have no regard for facts? Our lives depend on food, just as when we travel in an airplane our lives depend on a very complex technology plus some rational, level-headed people. Would you fly on an airplane, if the maintenance and aircraft control were taken over by untrained workers who were chosen because they could fly a paper airplane? No? Well, that's what is going on with the food system, and it is time to put a stop to it. How often have you heard that big corporations "don't care about people"? All the time, yes? Well, it's time to stop giving those companies that are proclaiming the loudest that food that they don't sell is all bad. It is time to quit letting unscientific, politically motivated activist organizations tell us what is good to eat and how that food should be produced. Letting those organizations control the food supply is no different that all the times in history when a highly politically motivated group has used highly emotional appeals to get the general public to at least go along with their fiction, after which another dictatorship was established. That is exactly what is happening to food, and it is time to wake up and put a stop to it. Do we really want unruly mobs using fraudulent claims to try to control businesses? What if it was YOUR employer that got attacked and put out of business because someone continued for years to lie about what you and your employer did? What if your child was dying, but because a highly emotion-driven activist organization prevent the production of the drugs that could save your child, your child died? Would the activist campaign still seem like the right way to decide what drugs were available? I agree that there are some things about modern agriculture that could be improved: less crop damage, less food poisoning events, less waste, less land used, less water used, less expensive diesel fuel, less expensive chemicals. I don't agree that running smear campaigns is productive or useful. If all those activist organizations really wanted to improve agriculture, they would raise money to support research and development of real solutions. That is what many wealthy people do: they pick a problem that they personally are concerned about, and put their money toward addressing the problem. The people who we have allowed to take control of the food supply don't do anything positive - all they do is make food more expensive by playing the fear factor. While nearly everyone claims to want "democracy", what we have in the U.S. is control of different aspects of life by diverse special interest groups who are driven strictly by ideology and the desire for political power. Do you really want what Eastern Europe suffered through for much of the 20th century, and what some places in the Middle East suffer through now? It has now been clearly demonstrated that the activist groups promoting "organic" do not care about the welfare of "the people" - they exercised their political power and exempted organic farms in California from rules designed to protect farm workers. Do you really want food produced by systems that are known be injurious to workers? Modern agriculture has done much to improve working conditions, but now the "organic" movement has set back that progress 50 years. It is just wrong, wrong, wrong, just like the link I started this comment with - pretend that you have prepared a thoughtful, reasoned essay, while hiding your conflict of interest, your funding, and your political ambitions. We need an agricultural system free of agendas and emotional ideology. If you really care about improving "the food system", it is time to quit with the negative emotionalism, sit down, get an education, and contribute to the solution instead of being in the way. Remember - you would not fly on an airplane maintained and operated by people who claimed they cared a lot about your safety, but who had no special technical training for the job. Well, there are a lot of us who don't want people who have no experience producing food beyond the backyard garden to be in charge of the world's food supply, and if you are honest with yourself, you don't either.
I'll answer your overly verbose comments one at a time.
Dairy cows lives and the milk they produce on traditional farms and mega-dairy operations are entirely different. The mega-dairy cows never see the outside of a giant hangar-like facility and do not eat grass that adversely affects the quality of the milk produced - it is like the cows lives, devoid of life.
You make industrial food production and feed-lot animals seem just a new, smarter and beneficial way to farm - that is rubbish propaganda and leaves out the bad side of corporate agriculture, dairy operations and all mega feed-lot meat production.
Arguing with your take on corporations, corporate farms, pharmaceuticals etc, etc is too enervating. Your assertions on a variety of connected issues is just bunk unless you back them up with facts and linked studies.
The comment "Modern agriculture has done much to improve working conditions, but now the "organic" movement has set back that progress 50 years. It is just wrong, wrong, wrong"
A typical example of your rambling absurd shilling for big-money domination of life on earth.........
The chemical analysis of milk is the subject of thousands of reports of scientific research that have been published over many decades. There is far more differences in milk from different breeds of cows than there is differences within breed due to feed intake. Cows on "traditional" farms did not have the benefit of all of knowledge about dairy cow nutrition that we now have, and the farms did not and do not have the resources to take advantage of that knowledge. Dairy cows on large, modern farms are fed far better than you or I - you and I have very little knowledge or control over our nutrient intake, beyond a rough idea of total calories, and maybe one or two other macronutrients. In contrast, the diet of dairy cows is adjusted for all macronutrients,a many micro-nutrients. There is a very extensive scientific literature on the relationship between milk composition and feed intake. Milk is the most extensively studied food of all foods that we eat. Much of the scientific literature about milk and dairy cow nutrition has been published in the Journal of Dairy Science. - hundreds of pages of scientific research every month. A dairy cow that ate only grass would not be a very healthy cow, anymore than you would be if you ate only lettuce.
I have worked on small farms and on large farms, so I do know way more about how agriculture is done than the people who are broadcasting the black-and-white, all-good vs all-bad propaganda about agriculture. The EWG wants you to believe that manure holding pits are somehow unique to "industrial farms". Every small dairy farm I have ever visited has a holding pond. In many areas of the country, the number of dairy farms has dropped to a third or less of what it was 30 years ago. So that means there are far fewer holding ponds, while at the same time the regulations for managing those ponds have improved with improved equipment and knowledge about the best way to use it to fertilize crops. Many years ago much of the holding pond water just soaked into the soil - and that happened at thousands of farms. Now, most ponds are constructed with liners and barriers to prevent leaching into the soil.
I'm not sure what you see as "the bad side of corporate agriculture". I worked on both small farms and large farms, and I saw much more wrong on some small farms than I ever did on large farms. Some small farms do pretty good, some don't. All dairy farms are dependent on one or more very large multinational corporations for supplying and maintaining equipment - as are all of us who consume dairy products. Personally, I am quite familiar with all the technology that goes into the food safety of milk and dairy products, and I would not have it any other way. Very large corporations provide they vaccines that help keep all farm animals healthy. Overall, my experience was that cows on a modern, well-equipped dairy farm of any size were healthier, better fed, more comfortable, and less likely to be injured than on the older, smaller farms. I'm not saying there are no issues on large farms, but at least on a large farm there are usually resources and access to trained agricultural engineers, scientists, and veterinary experts to deal with the problems.
I am not offering you the agenda-driven, political references such as you posted. I am just telling you what I saw, and I suggest you read a lot of the papers in the scientific journal I mentioned.
Sorry, but the first three "references" are obvious propaganda - no better than any other political promotion.
Unfortunately, the piece from Yale also focuses on only part of the picture. Yes, there have been a few screw-ups in manure management. But the overall effect on the environment is about like comparing fatalities due to automobiles with the fatalities due to air travel: one hundred people are killed every day in automobiles in the U.S., and hundreds more in the rest of the world, and we scarcely notice, unless we or our immediate family is personally involved. But let an commercial aircraft go down, and it's headlines around the world. Same thing with manure run off problems. It happened for decades on tens of thousands of small farms, involving many more cows than now. The Yale article is correct that as long as there is enough land, and the mechanical properties of the soil are favorable, a farm can spread manure in a way that minimizes runoff. But the article fails to discuss the new technology that eliminates runoff, that I previously mentioned.
In a world where people demand "facts" in 30-second sound bites, truth and thoughtful inquiry are lost. Conspiracy theories are always simple, black-and-white, characterizations of a complex world. We see on a daily basis what happens when ideology trumps reality, in the comedy show that happens every day in Congress. Nearly everything in our lives exists only because of the power and resources of large corporations. That much is inescapable. If you have a specific issue with "corporate agriculture", then that is something that can be discussed and addressed, such as the problem of manure holding tanks in areas subject to frequent flooding. But a blanket "bad side of corporate agriculture" is just a political sound bite that addresses no issue, like so many other political sound bites we here.
Personally, I don't want the production of my food controlled by people who clearly have as their objective political control of the system, particularly when their primary tactic is to mislead the 98% of the public that has zero knowledge of agriculture other than what political activists tell them. A democracy that allows itself to be controlled by a vocal minority quickly becomes a dictatorship.
As both (all) of your typically long to the point of exhaustion comments (usually defending big-poison-ag, GMO control of agriculture, seed/variety control to control/expand profits, and animal warehouse operations) are filled with ridiculous analogies and personal opinions, they cannot be believed or taken seriously.
I asked for data from a source outside your own mouth to back-up your assertions but you failed to provide any. Surely If what you claim (or any part) is accurate you can provide links to such documentation, studies, etc - since you don't, what you write is just opinion and propaganda.
Often your assertions are so myopic in scope and understanding they are laughable - "you and I have very little knowledge or control over our nutrient intake, beyond a rough idea of total calories, and maybe one or two other macronutrients" - "far more differences in milk from different breeds of cows than there is differences within breed due to feed intake" - a shallow incomplete statement.
If you think the linked articles I provided are themselves "propaganda" explain exactly why and how, and link to your own - simple as that, otherwise you are a shill and disinformation agent for corporate profits over sustainability, animal welfare and decent lives, and the liquid manure ponds that the majority of such factory operations use will continue to pollute ground water, bays and estuaries, rivers and lakes. Smaller farms and the lives of farm families should be supported, NOT destroyed by big-money and influence! They should be encouraged in as many different and wide-spread areas as possible, not concentrated. The family farm is and will hopefully always be an integral part of life........
It is not at all clear what point you are trying to make. The links you provided certainly support what I said about differences in milk due to breed. The article written for Kenya farming correctly emphasizes that the cow's production is dependent upon feed, and that there is no fixed "right" answer. Nowhere in either link do I see anything to the contrary. Your original statement that "do not eat grass that adversely affects the quality of the milk " is not addressed in either link. The article on Kenya farming correctly points out the need for particular types of roughage. The link to the site about choosing a dairy cow does not discuss feeding, and is a little misleading on yields, but if you are actually spending money to buy commercially viable cows you will look at a lot of factors; most really successful farms rely on genetics.
If your original claim about not eating grass was actually a confusion on your part between "grass" and "roughage", I assure you that cows in large dairy farms absolutely get the right amount of roughage. I'm sure this will be a surprise to you, but providing roughage + other feeds in a "total mixed ration" (as it is called in the dairy business) is safer, and healthier for the cow than for the cow to be out grazing part of the time and then eating other feed part of the time.
The link to "Alternet" is clearly propaganda - that does not remotely describe farms I worked on or have visited. The familyfarming link promotes only one theory about why farms are getting larger: the conspiracy theory that "the government" preferentially supports large farms. One sided = propaganda. The link to the comparison about the two different sized dairy farms was long on emotional appeals and ignored most everything else, the author is clearly trying to paint one farm "good" and one farm "bad". Having worked in both environments, my view is that the article is fundamentally misleading. I will also note, as one who has "pulled" thousands of calves, that the author's description of the birthing process would leave me concerned, but the author colored some other descriptions, so I don't know.
I'm not sure what kind of "documentation" you want. I'm speaking from first-hand, on-the-scene experience - 20 years worth. If you don't want to believe me, so be it, but if you want to talk about agriculture, and say that whatever an actual farmer says is a lie, then you are clearly not really interested in improving agriculture.
I'm not sure why you would criticize the use of analogies - that is a proper, accepted, and often-taught literary device for explaining a concept.
Basically, your blind acceptance of "big-poison-ag" and "GMO control of agriculture" is very disturbing, as it suggests that you are not willing to actually think about the real complexity of commercial agriculture, and, based on the links you provided about dairy cows/farming, your actual on-farm experience on a commercially viable farm is zero, or you would have realized that those links are not going to work in discussing dairy farming with someone (myself) who worked on dairy farms as long as I did.
Your belief that somehow GMOs "control agriculture" is absurd. The people controlling agriculture are the anti-biotechnology political activists who have succeeded in preventing many technological advances from being made available. I assure you that never once, while I was on the farm, was any decision ever made in which the fact that some crop was or was not GMO was a factor. Farmers decide what seed to plant based on the best available data. Seed salesmen have to sell the best available seed for a particular situation, taking into account many factors. Except for the new export-market issues, GMO or not GMO is not a factor in deciding what crop to plant. Unfortunately, a lot of political activists that have zero understanding of agriculture or science have made biotechnology into an emotional public issue, and it sounds a little like they sucked you into their net.