Quantcast

FACTORY FARMING SERIES PART I: Where Have All the Farms Gone?

Pew Environment Group

By Karen Steuer

Where Have All the Farms Gone? is Part I of a three-part series. Click here to read Part II. Click here to read Part III.

During the last 50 years, animal agriculture has gone through a seismic shift in the U.S. Long gone are the iconic scenes of American landscapes dotted with family farms and red barns. Most of these have been replaced by industrialized facilities controlled by large corporations that rely on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). In this system, cavernous warehouses crowded with thousands—even tens of thousands—of animals form the equivalent of an agricultural assembly line. And independent farmers, once the cornerstone of rural America, struggle to compete in a marketplace dominated by a few big corporations.

As large corporations (known as integrators) have applied an industrial model to farming, they have also generated a host of new problems.

The CAFO model relies on three interlinked practices in order to increase profits:

• Maximize the number of animals squeezed into the least amount of space and require the fewest number of employees to provide care.

 • Administer continual doses of antibiotics to the animals to prevent the diseases prevalent in their close-quarters housing.

 • Minimize the disposal cost for the substantial volume of animal waste produced by the facilities.

These practices may turn a profit for the big corporations, but they are disastrous for human health and the environment. Up to 1 billion tons of manure is generated by livestock operations every year, much of it from CAFOs. In some cases, the waste is stored in large lagoons or open piles that can leak or spill into adjacent land and water. In other cases, manure is liberally spread on fields in such overwhelming concentrations that soil and crops often cannot impede all of the nitrogen, phosphorus and pathogens from reaching public waterways.

The mishandling of manure has resulted in contaminated drinking water sources for 40 percent of the U.S. population in recent years, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. Tainted drinking water, destruction of fish and other aquatic life, and polluted recreation areas, however, are just part of the damage caused by CAFOs.

Countless independent farmers have been pushed out of business. Millions of animals have been confined to crates or cages and subjected to inhumane practices. The human health threat of antibiotic-resistant infections continues to rise. And the corporate integrators have largely been insulated from regulation, transparency, and requirements many other industries must follow with regard to pollution.

Shortly after the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released a groundbreaking report on this topic in 2008, the Pew Environment Group launched a campaign aimed at reforming this sector of agriculture. Pew is working to address these challenges by securing effective, sensible government oversight to protect water resources and human health, urging the industry to change its practices and building public awareness of the problems.

During the next several months, I will use this series to describe the environmental concerns associated with CAFOs, the impact on independent farmers, the industry's resistance to change and how this issue affects our quality of life in the U.S.

--------

Karen Steuer joined Pew in 2008 as director of government relations for the Pew Environment Group. Steuer has extensive experience in environmental work in Washington, D.C., dating to 1991, when she served as deputy staff director for the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Subcommittee on Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation and the Environment. Since then, she has served as a special assistant to Rep. William Delahunt of Massachusetts; as director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Program on Commercial Exploitation and Trade in Wildlife; as an independent consultant on environmental and wildlife issues with Green Answers; and as vice president, government affairs, for the National Environmental Trust. Steuer holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Goddard College.

Visit EcoWatch’s FACTORY FARMING page for more related news on these topics.

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Record flood water levels in Venice hit again on Sunday making this the worst week of flooding in the city in over 50 years.

Read More Show Less

By Brian Barth

Late fall, after the last crops have been harvested, is a time to rest and reflect on the successes and challenges of the gardening year. But for those whose need to putter around in the garden doesn't end when cold weather comes, there's surely a few lingering chores. Get them done now and you'll be ahead of the game in spring.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
(L) Selma Three Stone Engagement Ring. (R) The Greener Diamond Farm Project. MiaDonna

By Bailey Hopp

If you had to choose a diamond for your engagement ring from below or above the ground, which would you pick … and why would you pick it? This is the main question consumers are facing when picking out their diamond engagement ring today. With a dramatic increase in demand for conflict-free lab-grown diamonds, the diamond industry is shifting right before our eyes.

Read More Show Less
(L) 3D graphical representation of a spherical-shaped, measles virus particle that is studded with glycoprotein tubercles.
(R) The measles virus pictured under a microscope. PHIL / CDC

The Pacific Island nation of Samoa declared a state of emergency this week, closed all of its schools and limited the number of public gatherings allowed after a measles outbreak has swept across the country of just 200,000 people, according to Reuters.

Read More Show Less
Austin Nuñez is Chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation, which joined with the Hopi and Pascua Yaqui Tribes to fight a proposed open-pit copper mine on sacred sites in Arizona. Mamta Popat

By Alison Cagle

Rising above the Arizona desert, the Santa Rita Mountains cradle 10,000 years of Indigenous history. The Tohono O'odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and Hopi Tribe, among numerous other tribes, have worshipped, foraged, hunted and laid their ancestors to rest in the mountains for generations.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
The Navajo Nation has suffered from limited freshwater resources as a result of climate, insufficient infrastructure, and contamination. They collaborated with NASA to develop the Drought Severity Evaluation Tool. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Native Americans are disproportionately without access to clean water, according to a new report, "Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States: A National Action Plan," to be released this afternoon, which shows that more than two million Americans do not have access to access to running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater services.

Read More Show Less
Wild Exmoor ponies graze on a meadow in the Czech Republic. rapier / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Nanticha Ocharoenchai

In the Czech Republic, horses have become the knights in shining armor. A study published in the Journal for Nature Conservation suggests that returning feral horses to grasslands in Podyjí National Park could help boost the numbers of several threatened butterfly species.

Read More Show Less

Despite huge strides in improving the lives of children since 1989, many of the world's poorest are being left behind, the United Nations children's fund UNICEF warned Monday.

Read More Show Less