Interactive Map Tracks Factory Farm Operations in Michigan
Today's large-scale industrial agriculture relies heavily on Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that house large numbers of livestock in cramped quarters. As has been well documented, violations and questionable—even illegal—practices seem to run rampant on factory farms, the consequences of which have a negative impact on public health and the environment.
Center for Food Safety (CFS) has worked for years to bring these issues to light and this week they released a digital map of the CAFOs in the state of Michigan. According to CFS, the map—which will serve as a model for other states—includes the location and size of animal factories, as well as environmental violations, type of manure storage, nearby rivers and waterways, nearby schools, federal subsidies and other information.
“This map helps put these factories into the context of the communities they impact,” said Paige Tomaselli, senior attorney for CFS. “The industrial meat industry is trying to keep consumers in the dark, but these massive operations have significant impacts on the environment and overall health of a community. This map is designed to be a tool to help consumers and residents understand how these animal factories impact their lives.”
Massive amounts of excrement produced in these facilities have been found to contaminate drinking water and cause air pollution. Manure decomposition produces more than 160 gases—including pollutants and irritants like hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, carbon dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognize that "the closer children live to a CAFO, the greater the risk of asthma symptoms," yet CAFO air emissions are largely unregulated.
Nitrogen and ammonia from excrement put both the environment and human health at risk. CFS points out that nitrogen can lead to blue baby syndrome (a serious heart condition in newborn babies), while other bacteria and viruses can cause public health crises. It is estimated that more than one million Americans access groundwater that is moderately to severely contaminated by nitrogen.
“We hope that this new tool allows more communities who have been adversely impacted by these behemoth operations to take a stand. Access to accurate information is a vital first step,” said Tomaselli.
CAFO water pollution can be toxic to fish and other wildlife. In the Gulf of Mexico, nutrient-rich water from the Mississippi River basin empties into the Gulf and causes toxic algal blooms. Nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, are used to fertilize gardens and crops, but create aquatic "deadzones," in which excess nutrients choke out oxygen in the water and create an environment that does not support aquatic life. Last year the deadzone covered 5,840 square miles—an area the size of Connecticut.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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