New Investigation: Surge of Poultry Factory Farms in North Carolina Added Waste From 515.3M Chickens to That of 9.7M Hogs
North Carolina, a state known for the devastating environmental and public health impacts of industrial-scale hog production, now has more than twice as many poultry factory farms as swine operations, according to a new investigation from the Environmental Working Group and Waterkeeper Alliance.
The groups' research found that in 2018, manure from 515.3 million chickens and turkeys joined the waste from 9.7 million hogs already fouling waters and threatening North Carolinians' health. By scouring satellite data, examining U.S. Department of Agriculture imagery and conducting site visits, EWG and Waterkeeper experts identified more than 4,700 poultry and about 2,100 swine concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOS.
The analysis comes as state regulators are debating the terms of the state permit regulating waste management from swine CAFOs.
"If you're setting standards for pig waste, you can't ignore the recent explosive growth of the poultry industry, which has largely flown under the radar," said Soren Rundquist, EWG director of spatial analysis.
The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, is required to update its CAFO waste permits every five years and is currently gathering public and industry input on the swine permit. The agency must consider the cumulative impact of similar operations—hogs, poultry and cattle—on the environment.
DEQ's top CAFO regulator recently admitted to lax enforcement in the agency's oversight of swine operations. And in 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency opened an investigation into whether the state's management of swine facilities and their waste discriminates against African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans, as described in this letter from EPA to the DEQ. A settlement was reached last May.
Although the state implemented a moratorium on new swine operations in 1997, the poultry industry has tripled since then—from 147 million birds to 515.3 million today.
"Most of the poultry industry operates largely with impunity," said Will Hendrick, staff attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. "Unfortunately, there is a lot of geographic overlap of poultry and swine operations, particularly in the coastal plain. That means North Carolina's rivers, already choking on millions of gallons of pig manure, are now forced to cope with tons of chicken waste, as well."
In Duplin and Sampson counties—historically the epicenter of hog pollution—nearly 82 million chickens and turkeys are now packed in among four million pigs.
People who live near or work on swine CAFOs are more likely to suffer from potentially deadly diseases like asthma, bacterial infections and high blood pressure, according to a 2018 Duke University study. In four recent federal lawsuits, juries have found in favor of North Carolina neighbors of CAFOs, although the state legislature has made such lawsuits much more difficult to file.
Nutrient pollution from the nitrogen and phosphorus found in farm animal waste can cause issues like toxic algae blooms that kill fish and other marine life, choke out native plants and contaminate drinking water. Due to the rapid growth of the industry, poultry operations are now a much larger source of nutrient pollution in North Carolina than swine farms.
Many North Carolina CAFOs are located in areas prone to flooding, especially as climate-change-related weather leads to more frequent, more severe storms. Although the 1997 hog operation moratorium was precipitated by hurricanes hammering farms in North Carolina floodplains, at least 74 poultry farms have been built in floodplains, many along three rivers—the Lumber, Neuse and Cape Fear—that flooded during both Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018.
Poultry waste, which is mixed with carcasses and bedding to form a substance called dry litter, is stored in large piles before being applied to farm fields. It can easily be blown by wind or washed by rain into nearby rivers.
"There is ample evidence factory farm pollution simply doesn't stay on farms," Rundquist said. "As DEQ finalizes the swine waste standards, it must account for the enormous recent growth of the poultry industry. The health of North Carolinians and their environment depend on it."
On Jan. 31, the North Carolina DEQ announced a 30-day public comment period on CAFO waste permits, as well as two public meetings. The first meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Feb. 19 at James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville. The second will be held at 6 p.m. on Feb. 26 at Statesville Civic Center in Statesville.
The Storm Moved on, But North Carolina’s Hog Waste Didn’t: “It's not going to get better until we make changes. The… https://t.co/ROIsiQLPEn— Moore Charitable (@Moore Charitable)1547211785.0
One of the biggest winning groups in Tuesday's midterm elections didn't even get to cast a ballot: the nation's farm animals.
We did it, California!!!! https://t.co/spdZK2DbNf— Yes on Prop 12 - Prevent Cruelty CA (@Yes on Prop 12 - Prevent Cruelty CA)1541572701.0
But the new law could impact animals well outside California's borders, as The Huffington Post pointed out:
Proposition 12, also known as the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative, also will eventually ban the sale of agricultural products in California that don't meet the state's new requirements. That means the new law may influence how farmers across the country raise their animals.
The law will be implemented in two stages.
1. By 2020, all California egg-laying hens must have at least one square foot of space, and each veal calf must have at least 43 square feet of space.
2. By 2022, female breeding pigs must have at least 24 feet of space, all chickens must be raised cage-free with at least 1 square foot of space each, and all agricultural products sold in California must have been raised in conditions that meet these standards, even if they come from other states.
Thank you California! With your #YesOn12 vote, thousands of farm animals will be spared of pain and suffering from… https://t.co/7uUQ5lqVrg— San Diego Humane Society (@San Diego Humane Society)1541600361.0
California voters already tried to legislate more room for animals in 2008 with the passage of Proposition 2. But that law didn't end up being effective enough for animal rights advocates because it only called for more space without setting numbered requirements. That meant that state officials decided that farmers could still keep chickens in cages as long as they were large enough.
But Proposition 2 provided a successful trial run to see whether its requirements for out-of-state farmers would hold up in court. Twelve states sued to stop the law from applying to producers in other states, and judges so far have rejected those suits, The Palm Springs Desert Sun reported.
However, the implementation of both laws is threatened by a provision in the House version of the Farm Bill, as The Desert Sun explained:
The so-called "King Amendment," introduced by Steve King, R-IA, whose district produces more eggs than any other in the nation, stipulates that states can't impose animal welfare standards onto products imported from other states.
King says the law would mitigate "the serious economic harm the California law is currently causing to egg producers and consumers in Iowa and elsewhere."
There is no guarantee that King's amendment will make it into the final draft, though. More than 30 senators have written a letter opposing the amendment, and the 2014 version of the Farm Bill excised similar language before passing.
While Proposition 12 was supported by a wide coalition of animal welfare and environmental groups including the Humane Society of the United States and the Sierra Club California, not all animal lovers thought it was a good idea.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) opposed the proposition because, they argued, it would still allow birds to remain caged until 2022, and didn't mandate nearly enough space after that date.
"We can't and don't consider it remotely humane to confine birds to a miserly 1 square foot of space—and this wouldn't even be required until years in the future," PETA wrote in a blog post explaining its position.
@lwoodhouse Here is why PETA opposes prop 12. https://t.co/gCHFpIpCj6— PETA: Turkeys are killed at 6mo, don’t eat babies (@PETA: Turkeys are killed at 6mo, don’t eat babies)1541450530.0
Over the past decade, rapid advances in solar energy technology, falling costs of clean energy systems and government-sponsored incentives have driven the popularity of installing solar panels to a record level. For readers wondering, "who is the best solar installer near me?" here's the good news: To capitalize on the projected growth of solar power, a large number of new solar installers and electricians are opening up shop across the country, which creates healthy competition for your business.
The growing number of competing solar installers presents both challenges and opportunities for a customer. One one hand, having more options may make for a more difficult decision. But on the other, savvy investors can use competition between local installers to their advantage. The competition between solar companies can lower the cost of solar panels, saving you thousands of dollars.
To make sure you're getting the best bang for your buck, we recommend getting free quotes from a few certified solar installers near you. You can get connected with top solar companies in your area by filling out the 30-second form below.
So, How Do I Find the Best Solar Installer Near Me?
To get a concrete understanding of the cost and process of installing a solar panel system on your home, it's best to contact a solar installer near you. Typically, most solar installers will offer a free consultation during which they analyze your current energy use, roof layout, budget, product availability and energy goals. Then, they'll offer a proposal customized to your specific needs.
To ensure they're securing the best possible value from their investment in renewable energy, savvy customers will get proposals from several companies and compare costs and warranties. Companies frequently run specials and promotions on solar products or energy efficiency packages, so be sure to ask about those when reaching out for quotes.
When choosing the best solar installer for your job, look for a company that provides homeowners with assistance when applying for the federal solar tax credit as well as any applicable local rebates and solar tax incentives. If applicable, installers will also help you get connected to the net metering program offered by your utility company, and most will walk you through solar financing options if you're unable to pay cash for your system.
It's a good idea to be familiar with financial incentives and financing options prior to your consultation to ensure an installer covers everything available. If an installer doesn't have a thorough knowledge of local programs or doesn't offer help with applying for rebates or solar loans, it may not be the best company to do business with.
Here are some other things to consider when looking for the best solar installers near you:
- Licenses and certifications: Legitimate installers hold state-mandated electrical licenses as well as North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certifications.
- Customer reviews: Checking a company's Better Business Bureau rating and reviews from customers around the web can give you a better sense of an installer's service.
- Additional services offered: Some installers have tree removal, roof repair, solar battery installation and energy monitoring services. If you need these or other solutions to complete your installation, look for a full-service installer.
- Financing options: Whether you're paying in cash, taking out a loan or wanting to lease solar panels, make sure the installers you're considering have the financing options you need.
How Do I Read a Solar Proposal?
Choosing a few top solar installers near you and booking consultations is the easy part. Once you get proposals from each company, however, things may get a bit more confusing. Reading and understanding those proposals is one of the most important steps in choosing a solar installer. Here are a few items to look out for in a proposal:
|Solar Proposal Element||What to Look for from Solar Installers Near You|
The size of a solar energy system is measured in kilowatts, which is abbreviated to kW. A kW is a common unit of energy measuring power generation — or consumption.
The size of your system will be based on how much energy you use in your home and will determine how many solar panels you need to purchase. For example, if you need a 5kW system and are purchasing panels with a 340-watt output, you'll need 15 panels. (5kW / 340W = 14.7 panels)
Estimated annual solar production
Your estimated annual solar production is a measure of how much energy your system is expected to produce in one year. You can compare this figure with the usage shown on your utility bills to calculate how much energy your system will offset.
Estimated energy burden
When creating a proposal, a solar installer will ask how much electricity your home uses each year. They use this to calculate your estimated energy burden, which reflects how much money you could expect to spend on energy without a solar system.
Watch out for number inflation here, as installers will often factor in rising utility rates over time. If an installer estimates a high energy burden, it makes it easier for them to calculate high estimated lifetime savings. If you get multiple proposals and one reflects a much higher estimated energy burden than the others, the installer may be using shady sales tactics.
Estimated lifetime savings
By comparing your energy burden with your estimated annual solar production, solar installers can estimate the lifetime energy savings generated by a system.
Compare this key figure to other proposals to evaluate which company may offer the best return on investment (ROI).
What Should I Expect from My Solar Panel Installation?
So, you've compared your proposals and picked a winner. A trustworthy solar installer will walk you through the process from beginning to end, but here's a good idea of what to expect when installing solar panels:
|Solar Installation Step||What to Expect from Solar Installers Near You|
Sign contract and submit paperwork
Customers should be prepared to provide a copy of a utility bill, a down payment (depending on their chosen financing) and a signature for their net metering agreement if applicable.
Obtain permits and approvals
Similar to some other home improvements, an approved permit from the presiding city or county is required for solar projects in most areas. The solar installer will handle the permitting, but this process can take a few days to weeks depending on the efficiency of the area.
Most energy providers also require approval for solar installations in their network. This can come in the form of a net metering agreement or interconnection agreement.
Once all the permits and approvals are secured, the company will schedule a day to install the solar panels, inverters and other equipment.
The timing will vary depending on the complexity of the installation, but most are completed in less than one day.
Both the presiding permitting office and utility company need to inspect the installation before it can be turned on. The solar installer will handle the inspection logistics, but scheduling and completing an inspection can take a few weeks.
Obtain PTO and turn system on
Once your utility provider approves the inspection and processes the necessary paperwork, it issues permission to operate (PTO). Obtaining PTO is the final step before a system can be turned on.
After this happens, your solar installer will notify you and walk you through the steps of turning the system on or come and do it for you if necessary.
FAQ: Solar Installers Near Me
Who is the best solar panel provider?
Though we can recommend some top solar companies that operate across the U.S., the best solar panel provider and installer for you will depend on where you live. We encourage readers to compare quotes from local companies, read reviews and talk to neighbors who have installed solar panels. Referrals are also a popular method for finding a trusted installer.
What is the average cost of installing a solar system?
The cost of installing solar will vary greatly depending on the size of the system, your location and the type of solar panels and other products you choose. On average for a modest system, one can expect to pay between $15,000, and $20,000 after the tax credit is applied.
Is installing solar panels worth it?
Unless you deal with a shady property, a rainy climate or an unfit roof, solar panels are one of the most reliable investments you can make. Most solar panel installations pay for themselves in energy savings within five to 10 years and last an expected lifetime of 25 years. Even if you intend to move, solar panels add to property value, so your investment is protected.
How much will solar help me save on my electric bill?
Energy savings depend on a variety of factors such as monthly energy usage, the size of the system and the size and shape of the roof exposed to sunlight. The best way to calculate estimated savings on your electric bill is to consult a solar installer near you.
By Wyatt Massey
Sue George never intended to be an activist. The soft-spoken, retired elementary school teacher was content on her century farm near Lime Springs, a town in the rolling hills of northeast Iowa with a tad under 500 people.
Then, the hog operations moved in.
George lost the need to be "Midwest nice," she said. "I'm not willing to let our way of life go by the wayside for these people who are coming in and putting all of this manure and all of this pollution into our area. I'm not."
So George organized her neighbors and created a legal document to protect her farm, and town, from the large-scale hog operations she said are destroying a way of life and polluting the environment.
The state, already leading the nation in pork production, is experiencing a rapid rise in large-scale hog operations. Between 1982 and 2012, the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture census, total hog production in Iowa rose from 14.3 million a year to 20.5 million. During the same time period, the number of farmers producing hogs dropped from 45,768 to 6,266.
To continue increasing hog production, the remaining farm owners build specially designed facilities to keep the animals indoors where their food and waste can be controlled. People are divided about whether these concentrated animal feeding operations, also known as CAFOs, either are the future of American farming or symbolize profits trumping concerns for rural livelihoods, the environment, and animal welfare. In Iowa, this is more than a mere disagreement about farming techniques. It is a fight over what the Iowa landscape will look like, a fight between rural residents and industrial agriculture.
Large-scale hog operations are prevalent throughout western and central Iowa and have begun moving into the northeast. One CAFO operation expanding into northeast Iowa is Reicks View Farms. Representatives at Reicks View Farms have not replied to requests for interview.
George's group campaigned against the operations moving into her region of Iowa, including Reicks View Farms. The group, founded in early 2017 and called Northeast Iowans for Clean Air and Water, includes farmers, local business owners, and Amish families. Through weekly meetings at homes and farms, conversations over potlucks and on front porches, they organized, advocated, and supported legislation to stop the construction. They placed signs along the highway opposing the new operations. They asked the Department of Natural Resources not to approve the facilities. George testified before the state legislature. She even met with one of the new owners, a man she taught when he was in elementary school.
"We did everything right," George said. "And it still didn't work." The confinements went up and the hogs moved in.
When campaigning state and local government failed, George and dozens of other Iowa families turned to the law instead.
More than 40 families joined George in forming a covenant—a binding legal document in which all the members agree to a set of terms. A local lawyer donated his time to draw up the terms, which stipulated that none of the properties in the covenant—more than 5,500 acres total—would ever house a CAFO or allow a CAFO to spread liquid manure on their land.
CAFO is a catchall term for production facilities housing more than 1,000 animal units, defined by the USDA as the equivalent to 1,000 pounds of animal weight, which is 1,000 beef cattle or 2,500 swine. CAFOs keep animals inside for more than 45 days a year and fall under the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water Act. However, each state regulates the operations differently.
Concentrating animals in one location requires more strict manure management than animals raised on pasture. Large farms produce millions of gallons of manure a year, which is more fecal waste than is produced in some American cities, according to the National Association of Local Boards of Health. The manure in most hog facilities falls through slatted floors into holding tanks. Then it's hauled off and spread as fertilizer for crops.
Manure from CAFOs can contain E. coli, MRSA, antibiotics, and animal growth hormones. When the manure is not spread properly, these contaminants pollute waterways and private wells, as well as contribute to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. According to Local Boards of Health group, "states with high concentrations of CAFOs experience on average 20 to 30 serious water quality problems per year as a result of manure management problems." All CAFO manure lagoons leak, according to the EPA, though certain designs can lower leakage to acceptable levels.
Water quality is a chief concern for members of Northeast Iowans for Clean Air and Water and something the covenant cannot necessarily protect. Some local facilities are near rivers, where manure runs off when a tank leaks or heavy rains fall. The area's natural hills and karst topography—made up of limestone and especially susceptible to sinkholes—increase the likelihood that improperly applied liquid manure will run into waterways. The area is known for its natural trout streams, too. Trout fishing generates $1.6 billion annual revenue for Iowa and surrounding states. The fish need clean water to reproduce.
Several Lime Springs residents will drink only bottled water. A hog confinement sits a half-mile from Russell Stevenson's farm, where he has lived and worked for decades. As a member of the covenant, Stevenson is concerned not if his private well will be contaminated, but when, he said. "It is not pig farming," Stevenson said of CAFOs. "It's a pig factory, and they ought to be regulated like one."
Members of the covenant and activists throughout the state say CAFOs should be treated like the factories and corporations they resemble, instead of being given pollution tax exemptions and land zoned for agriculture. The operations can claim they are traditional family farms. John Ikerd, agricultural economics professor at the University of Missouri, said CAFOs are free from many of the environmental and public health regulations other operations generating similar amounts of waste must follow. The EPA's Clean Water Act only regulates confinements of more than 2,500 hogs. Otherwise, the EPA does not regulate the confinements unless they dump waste directly into a waterway.
If the burden of proof was on the CAFO operator to prove the operation was not a threat to public health, no CAFOs could be built, Ikerd said. "Under the existing regulations, the burden of proof is on the public in general to prove that somebody is going to get sick from a particular CAFO, and that's very difficult to prove."
Bill Goetsch has farmed the area since he graduated from high school in the early 1980s. His wells were already contaminated when neighbors approached him about the covenant. A CAFO is a short walk up the valley from his home.
Goetsch said he was already concerned about his water, but now smells are coming down the valley. A study from Iowa State University and the University of Iowa determined air emissions from CAFOs "constitute a public health hazard." About one in four CAFO workers in the U.S. suffers from a respiratory disease, such as bronchitis and asthma-like symptoms. A study of North Carolina residents found people living near CAFOs faced an increase in the same respiratory diseases suffered by CAFO workers. Lime Springs resident Joann Wangen said her adult children make comments about the smells when they visit her and her husband, Rick. Her guests had to stay inside during a recent Thanksgiving because the smells were so bad, she said.
Many advocates point out failures in the design of the state's master matrix, which guides the siting of proposed operations. The process awards points depending on the building's distance from homes, schools, and water sources; the overall point score determines whether a project is approved and where it's sited. Critics of the current matrix point out how equal points are awarded to CAFO owners for doing things with vastly different implications. For example, proposals that include tree planting or that provide enough space for a truck to turn around in are weighted the same as having an emergency containment area for manure spills. A 2018 study found the DNR approved 97 percent of requested building permits.
Confinements of up to 1,249 hogs—considered a small operation—do not need to create a manure management plan or file a construction permit. Confinements of up to 2,499 hogs do not need a construction permit, either. According to DNR data, 3,745 sites in Iowa have fewer than 2,499 hogs. But the total number is likely much higher than that. A 2017 report using satellite imagery identified more than 5,000 hog and cattle lots in Iowa the DNR did not know about. More than 1,000 of those facilities are believed to require state oversight.
Weak state regulations mean CAFOs can move in wherever they please, members of Northeast Iowans for Clean Air and Water said. They point to an operation being approved on an environmentally sensitive site in Allamakee County. Former Iowa DNR director Chuck Gipp said if a CAFO could be built there, then a CAFO could be built anywhere. The hog facility was approved.
Tyler Bettin, public policy director for the Iowa Pork Producers Association, said the matrix system removes the burden from county supervisors to approve the building of each new operation and allows the DNR to better enforce regulations. "The master matrix continues to be very effective," he said. "It's a stair-step approach to regulation, so it requires our larger farms to go above and beyond the minimum requirements."
George is among the advocates in Iowa wanting to revise the matrix to be more rigorous in assigning points. She'd also like it to give more control to counties and local supervisors, who can account for community desires and unique geographic features, like karst terrain or wetlands.
State Sen. David Johnson is among the political voices calling for stricter CAFO regulation. He helped design the state's matrix in 2002. Johnson introduced 15 state bills related to CAFOs, such as stopping all CAFO construction until the number of impaired waterways in Iowa drops from 750 to 100 and the matrix is redesigned.
None of the bills Johnson introduced made it out of the agriculture committee.
George's covenant is intended to fill the gap left by these failed state and federal legislative attempts at increasing regulation of CAFOs. By ensuring that confinements will not be introduced onto designated lands, the covenant is protecting a small area of Howard County.
This fall, the group may look to expand the number of people and properties involved in the covenant. The agreement gives George some freedom from worrying about whether another hog operation will move into her backyard. Creating the covenant took a lot of time and hard work, she said, but it strengthened local connections in ways she did not expect. "We have a common bond between us," she said. "I feel that we're a tighter-knit community, and we're all on the same page."
Individuals and groups across the state have contacted George about the covenant. She has information ready for them—an example of their covenant, a timeline of their process and important questions to ask the group.
Iowa isn't the only state with a growing CAFO presence. Trouble with CAFOs and environmental damages got national attention in 2016 in North Carolina when Hurricane Matthew flooded manure lagoons into waterways and the Atlantic Ocean; Hurricane Florence has flooded manure lagoons again. Similar battles between local communities and CAFO operators are playing out in Kansas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arkansas, Illinois and Minnesota. According to the USDA, the U.S. has more than 45,000 CAFOs.
For many consumers, the farms are out of sight and out of mind. People need to know the price that small communities are being forced to pay to produce these goods, Stevenson said. "It boggles my mind that there are so many people who live in towns and cities and they have no idea what's going on [on] these farms."
Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.
"This was an unprecedented storm with flooding expected to exceed that from any other storms in recent memory. We know agricultural losses will be significant because the flooding has affected the top six agricultural counties in our state," said agriculture commissioner Steve Troxler in a press release.
The footprint of flooding from this storm covers much of the same area hit by flooding from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, which only worsens the burden on these farmers.
When Matthew hit the state, it flooded more than 140 hog and poultry barns, more than a dozen open hog waste pits and thousands of acres of manure-saturated fields, the Environmental Working Group and Waterkeeper Alliance reported.
Poultry is the number one agricultural industry in North Carolina, with a statewide economic impact of $36.6 billion a year, according to the North Carolina Poultry Federation.
Sanderson Farms, the third largest poultry producer in the country, issued a statement on Monday that 1.7 million of its broiler chickens "were destroyed as a result of flooding." Sixty of its 880 broiler houses in North Carolina flooded and another six broiler houses experienced damage. Four breeder houses out of a total of 92 in the state flooded.
Additionally, Sanderson said about 30 Lumberton-area farms, housing approximately 211,000 chickens in each, have been isolated by flood waters. More chickens could die if the company is unable to reach those farms with feed trucks.
"Losses of live inventory could escalate if the company does not regain access to those farms," the statement read.
The state is also the nation's second leading producer of hogs, with more than 2,100 farms that raise about 9 million hogs each year, according to the North Carolina Pork Council.
The 5,500 hog deaths from Hurricane Florence have already exceeded the 2,800 killed during Hurricane Matthew, the industry trade group wrote in a statement Tuesday.
"Our farmers took extraordinary measures in advance of this storm, including moving thousands of animals out of harm's way as the hurricane approached," the statement read. "We do not expect the losses to increase significantly, though floodwaters continue to rise in some locations and circumstances may change."
Animal rights group PETA called the animal deaths a "tragedy."
"These millions of deaths were preventable, but as long as a market exists for animal flesh, some people will turn a profit at the expense of animals," a spokesperson told EcoWatch in an email. "PETA urges everyone to take personal responsibility, not shrug this tragedy off, and actually help stop future suffering by going vegan so that animals are no longer forced to endure the many types of cruelty inherent in the meat industry."
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) was similarly "heartbroken" over the deaths.
"HSUS is heartbroken by the reports of the catastrophic numbers of farmed animal deaths resulting from the flooding related to Hurricane Florence," the organization told EcoWatch via email, adding that the animals "needlessly lost their lives."
"Having an emergency plan, regardless of the numbers of animals at your home, facility, or farm, is the responsibility of the humane steward caring for their welfare," HSUS added. "If the sheer number of animals makes evacuation extremely difficult or impossible, then a hard look needs to be taken at the number of animals being cared for and the opportunity for them to be considered in an emergency plan. The cost of not doing so, as we can see here, has a devastating impact on the community, the environment and the animals, and are further examples of why we need to reduce the reliance on these massive factory farms."
Meanwhile, as of Tuesday, at least 77 pig waste lagoons have either breached or are at risk of breaching, the New York Times reported, citing data from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.
North Carolina's hog and other concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, produce almost 10 billion gallons of fecal waste a year, according to the Environmental Working Group and Waterkeeper Alliance. Flooded CAFOs could release a potent mix of pollutants that can potentially harm human health and the environment.
Waterkeeper Alliance has conducted overflights at some of the industrial sites and agricultural operations impacted by Florence and is investigating the possible hazards left in the storm's wake.
"We've been working to address environmental hazards caused by industrial waste mismanagement in North Carolina for over two decades," said Will Hendrick, Waterkeeper Alliance staff attorney and manager of the Pure Farms, Pure Waters campaign in a statement received by EcoWatch. "As defenders of the state's rivers, lakes and streams, we're committed to documenting conditions and alerting the public to threats to public health and environmental quality stemming from Hurricane Florence."
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Duke University Study: N.C. Residents Living Near Large Hog Farms Have Elevated Disease, Death Risks
By Olga Naidenko and Sydney Evans
Residents of communities near industrial-scale hog farms in North Carolina face an increased risk of potentially deadly diseases, Duke University scientists reported in a study released this week.
Researchers found that compared to communities without big hog farms, in the communities with the highest hog farm density, there were 30 percent more deaths among patients with kidney disease, 50 percent more deaths among patients with anemia, and 130 percent more deaths among patients with a blood bacterial infection, called sepsis. The communities near the heaviest concentration of large hog farms also had a greater risk of infant mortality and lower birth weight.
Duke scientists analyzed 2007-2013 data for disease-specific hospital admissions, emergency room visits and deaths across North Carolina. They compared the incidence of those health indicators among North Carolinians who live one to three miles from a hog farm to residents who live six to 12 miles away. An estimated 650,000 North Carolinians live within three miles of a large hog farm, according to an EWG geospatial analysis of state data, which was not part of the Duke study.
*Elevated risk of deaths, hospital admissions and emergency room visits from health problems such as anemia, kidney disease, and sepsis, increase for residents living at approximately 1, 3, and 6-mile distances from a hog farm.
Source: EWG, from 'Mortality and Health Outcomes in North Carolina Communities Located in Close Proximity to Hog Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations,' NCMedicalJournal.com, September 2018.The study adds a striking level of detail to prior reports of higher frequency of asthma, bacterial infections, high blood pressure and various respiratory and neurological disorders for workers and residents in the vicinity of large concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.
Studies like this do not prove that contaminants from hog farms are responsible for these illnesses. Other factors, such as availability of local health care facilities and residents' lifestyles, also play a role. However, the overall evidence shows a strong correlation between the proximity and density of hog CAFOs and nearby residents' health—a strong argument for added public health protections, such as limits on the number, size and locations of factory swine farms.
As the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Waterkeeper Alliance reported in 2016, every year North Carolina's CAFOs produce almost 10 billion gallons of fecal waste, enough to fill more than 15,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. Much of this waste is stored in open-air pits, then sprayed on farm fields as fertilizer. Manure pits foul the air and water with bacteria, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds.
EWG analyzed the latest data from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality on animal facilities permitted as of January 2018 and residential parcel information available on the NC OneMap GeoSpatial Portal.
We determined that 252,070 homes fall within a three-mile zone from an animal farm or a wet manure storage pit. Based on U.S. Census data showing a statewide average of 2.6 residents per household, an estimated 650,000 or more North Carolinians live within three miles of a hog CAFO.
Click on the map below to see EWG's interactive map of hog CAFOs within three miles of homes in North Carolina.
The most impacted counties are in southeastern North Carolina, where the concentration of pig farms is heaviest. In 2014, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported that African-American, Hispanic and American Indian residents in those counties are disproportionately affected by the air and water pollution from animal farming.
An earlier study, based on the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Service's health surveillance data, found that children attending schools within three miles of a hog farm had more asthma-related symptoms, doctor-diagnosed asthma and asthma-related medical visits than students who attended schools farther away.
The senior author of the new study was Dr. H. Kim Lyerly, the George Barth Geller Professor of Cancer Research; professor of surgery, immunology and pathology; and director of the Environmental Health Scholars Program at Duke University. He emphasized that communities living near hog farms had significantly worse health outcomes, including higher rates of infants with low birth weight.
"Interventions, such as screening and/or early detection, could be employed in these communities to reduce the burden of these diseases," Lyerly said. "The overall benefit to the communities and to the state would be significant."
"The average number of hogs per farm in North Carolina is much higher than in two other states with extensive pig farming, Iowa and Minnesota. Yet, North Carolina's population is greater, which means the number of people affected is substantial," said Dr. Julia Kravchenko, assistant professor in the Duke University Department of Surgery and the primary researcher for the study.
Air and water quality affects communities near CAFOs nationwide. Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Inspector General issued a report faulting the agency for dragging its feet for 11 years and failing to assure that CAFOs comply with the requirements of the federal Clean Air Act.
When Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina in 2016, it flooded more than 140 feces-strewn industrial-scale swine and poultry barns, more than a dozen open pits brimming with liquid hog waste and thousands of acres of manure-saturated fields. As Hurricane Florence—far bigger than Matthew—bears down on the state, Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Waterkeeper Alliance are prepared to again assess the impact on North Carolina's concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs.
Florence is poised to be the strongest hurricane to hit the Carolinas in 30 years. Its torrential rains are likely to drench the swine and poultry barns and manure pits that are scattered statewide, but heavily concentrated in the lowlands of southeastern North Carolina.
When floodwaters reach CAFO barns, manure pits or fields where liquid waste is sprayed as fertilizer, nearby lakes, rivers and streams may become contaminated with a devil's brew of pollutants that can be extremely hazardous to human health and the environment. The contaminated water may contain deadly pathogens, such as E. coli or salmonella, which could make drinking water and recreational waters dangerous.
North Carolina's hog and other CAFOs produce almost 10 billion gallons of fecal waste a year—enough to fill more than 15,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. Within the 100-year floodplain of 47 coastal counties, 62 CAFOs house more than 235,000 hogs and 30 other operations house more than 1.8 million chickens. There are 166 open-air waste pits directly within the 100-year floodplain, and another 366 within 100 feet of the floodplain.
In November 2016, EWG and Waterkeeper used aerial photos, satellite imagery and geospatial mapping to provide the first publicly available, detailed analysis of Hurricane Matthew's impact on CAFOs along the Neuse, Black and Cape Fear rivers. The organizations will conduct a similar assessment in the days after Florence passes.
"Obviously, our first concern is for people directly threatened by the storm," said Soren Rundquist, EWG's director of spatial analysis. "But by mapping the impact on CAFOs, we want to drive home the recklessness of placing densely concentrated industrial-scale livestock operations in a low-lying area regularly deluged by tropical storms."
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By Lauren Turner
April Joy Farm is also the first Clark County farm to be approved by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries to offer an apprenticeship program to train aspiring farmers.
The aptly named, 24-acre April Joy Farm, near Ridgefield, Washington, has its bases covered when it comes to bringing joy to the art of farming. Farmers April and Brad Thatcher's motto is "Good food grown with love."
April grew up in Ridgefield, near Annie and Pete Peterson, the owners of what would later become April Joy Farm. In fact, April spent many happy childhood days helping with chores there, and she fell in love with their land. Even though April earned her college degree in engineering and worked for several years in that field, she never imagined that she would become a farmer. But in 2003, the Peterson farm became available and, with her parents' help, April was able to purchase the farm and become its steward.
Brad with the "kindly king of the barnyard", Dashing the rooster. April Joy Farm
When April started, established markets for producers were lacking, so she connected with chefs, grocers and families. She designed and built infrastructure. There were two existing barns, but no fencing, irrigation, packing shed, greenhouses or appropriately sized machinery and equipment. "I had to develop a viable business model from scratch and convince my community that farming is a professional career," she said. April produced her first crops in 2008.
April met Brad in 2011, they were married in 2012, and he joined her in the farming venture. "I'm the nuts-and-bolts project manager who can pull many ideas together to create a process or strategy," she said. "Brad takes those raw systems and applies controls and refinements to make things flow. His expertise has significantly improved the profitability of the farm."
The produce at April Joy Farm is 100 percent certified organic by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. The farm runs a community-supported agriculture program for about 60 families, and members sometimes donate their shares to needy families. Additionally, the farm partners with its school family resources center to distribute produce when there are abundant harvests.
April and Brad also take humane farming to a whole new level, claiming to have a deep and reverential partnership with their livestock. April Joy Farm is the first farm in the Pacific Northwest to become Animal Welfare Approved (AWA), and their farm animals have names and specific roles on the farm. For instance, their pig, Rosie, is considered the matriarch on the farm. She has been the consummate mother to many piglets over the years.
April Joy Farm is the first Clark County farm to be approved by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries to offer an apprenticeship program to train aspiring farmers. Its first intern will launch her farm business next spring, and a second intern is working on a business plan. "It's a joy to see these 'seeds' germinating," said April.
April Joy Farm boasts a long list of community partnerships and continually seeks grants to help improve the health and sustainability of the farm. The farm was awarded a National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Salmon-Safe grant to install a four-bay Aerated Static Pile composting facility that uses forced air to control the heat of the compost piles to process organic materials more efficiently. A solar array installed with a Rural Energy for America Program grant produces 50 to 60 percent of energy needs on the farm. The farm has done numerous cost-sharing projects with the NRCS's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), planting native plant buffers of bird-sheltering trees and water-filtering shrubs. You can hear the passion in April's voice when she speaks about projects that improve and protect the soil—"the most vital component of farming," she said—as well as those that provide diverse pollinator habitats dispersed among their crops, advocate for animal welfare, and educate others on the perils of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The farm is also planting orchards adjacent to their pigs' pastures so that they can forage through the pastures.
April and Brad Thatcher are committed to the ecological health of their soil, animals and community. With their unique model, they hope to spread the joy of the art of farming.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
By Rhea Suh
One month on, the longest and most senseless U.S. government shutdown in history is taking a grave and growing toll on the environment and public health.
Food inspectors have been idled or are working without pay, increasing the risk we'll get sick from eating produce, meat and poultry that isn't properly checked. National parks and public wilderness lands are overrun by vandals, overtaken by off-road joyriders, and overflowing with trash. Federal testing of air and water quality, as well as monitoring of pollution levels from factories, incinerators and other sources, is on hold or sharply curtailed. Citizen input on critical environmental issues is being hindered. Vital research and data collection are being sidelined.
We're treating career public servants like temp workers, with 800,000 federal workers placed on furlough—committed professionals, forbidden to do their jobs or required to work without pay.
White House economists are warning that the shutdown has become a drag on the national economy, as government employees lose out on $200 million in forgone wages for every day they're idled.
And for what?
President Trump refuses to sign congressional budget legislation funding about one-fourth of the government unless it contains some $5 billion to build a border wall. That hasn't drawn the congressional support required to pass, and about six in ten Americans oppose spending money to build the wall.
Everyone wants border security—provided it's humane and lawful. But when U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics show that illegal crossings at the U.S.–Mexico border are near a 50-year low, who could blame Congress for not squandering taxpayer money on Trump's wall? In any event, it's hard to think of a reason ever to shut down the government and make Americans pay the price.
U.S. Army veteran Angel Stephensen, a furloughed federal worker performing airport security without pay, spoke for much of the nation this week when she told The Washington Post, "We're political pawns being held hostage by a tyrant."
That's not putting America first. It's putting wall before country, with real costs to Americans everywhere.
In Arizona, the U.S. Geological Survey has had to put critical work on hold, suspending monitoring on the Colorado River for contamination from uranium mines upstream from the iconic Grand Canyon. In Grand Canyon National Park, meanwhile, work on some $330 million worth of needed road and building maintenance has been brought to a halt.
The shutdown of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lab in Georgia has put a stop to the monitoring of drinking water and surface water quality from the rivers and streams in North Carolina's Lower Cape Fear watershed. This web of rivers, streams, creeks and wetlands run hard by some of the most intensive industrial hog, turkey and chicken operations in the country, as well as large industrial polluters. As a result, large parts of the Cape Fear River basin are heavily contaminated with high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, toxic chemicals and organic waste laden with disease-causing bacteria.
In Alabama, federal employees had to halt their work cleaning up arsenic, lead and other toxic pollution from industrial operations in a mostly African-American community on the northern outskirts of Birmingham. As at hundreds of other Superfund sites—areas contaminated with toxic chemicals and other hazardous waste from factories, processing plants, landfills and abandoned mines—federal cleanup efforts have been put on hold by the government shutdown.
In Virginia, research on trout and other critical watershed concerns in Shenandoah National Park has been interrupted for the longest time in the 40-year history of the program. "This is the biggest [sampling] gap we've had," ecologist Jeff Atkins told Science magazine. "Now, there is always going to be this hole." Atkins's lament echoes that of researchers across the country facing curtailments of studies into everything from wolf and moose populations in Michigan to hurricane impacts in Florida.
At the Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California, protected desert trees that typically live 150 years or longer have been chopped down by vandals to clear the path for illegal driving with off-road vehicles. Rather than close all national parks, as has happened during past shutdowns, the U.S. Department of the Interior has allowed them to remain open, subject to the discretion of local superintendents. Turns out, though, we need National Park Service staff to keep the parks clean, safe and protected from harm.
The same goes for protected federal wilderness lands. In one such region in Montana, outlaw snowmobilers have raced through prohibited areas, putting skiers at risk and courting lasting damage to fragile landscapes and irreplaceable habitat.
In parks across the country, with facilities closed or clogged beyond use, visitors have relieved themselves in the open, despoiling natural areas and creating sanitation issues. "It's a free-for-all," Dakota Snider, who works near Yosemite National Park, told Time magazine. "It's so heartbreaking. There is more trash and human waste and disregard for the rules than I've seen in my four years living here."
With public hearings postponed, or public comment deadlines approaching, citizens are unable to reach EPA officials to locate information or get answers to questions. Critical community input has gone lacking on an array of important projects that can have lasting impact, including proposed gas and oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; needed cleanup of lead contamination from a demolished housing site sitting atop an abandoned smelter in East Chicago; and remediation of a landfill containing hazardous waste in Nassau, New York.
Furloughs at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Interior Department agency that oversees offshore energy development, have put East Coast wind farm development on hold, as three public hearings on a proposed project off the Massachusetts coast have been scratched.
Somehow, though, the Interior managed to scare up the funds to recall furloughed workers to continue processing lease applications for oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and on public lands in Colorado and elsewhere. For clean energy, in other words, the government is closed; for fossil fuels, it's open for business.
Across the country, we depend on inspections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make sure our food is safe and doesn't spread disease. Most of the inspectors for both agencies have been furloughed or are working without pay, and much of this vital work isn't being done.
The risks are real. Last year alone, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigated 22 multistate foodborne outbreaks, the most in at least a dozen years, ranging from salmonella in raw chicken and turkey to E. coli in ground beef and romaine lettuce. And now we're taking food inspectors off the beat?
Let's get real. There's little our government does that touches our daily lives more directly than protecting the environment and public health. We depend, all of us, on a functioning government to perform the inspections, monitoring and enforcement these protections require. And we rely on competent civil servants to staff the national parks and oversee the public lands and waters that belong, in every sense, to you and me.
Making sure these services are provided, in a professional and reliable way, is not some favor to be granted at the president's pleasure, nor some bargaining chip to force spending on pet projects that lack majority support. Rendering the services we pay for through our taxes is a basic requirement of governance, the heart of the civil compact that ties free and independent people to government by the consent of the governed.
Trump has broken faith with that pact. It's time to get our government up and working again, as every American has the right to expect. Time to restore the great promise that guides what President Lincoln called "government of the people, by the people, for the people."
How the #GovernmentShutdown Could Impact the Nation’s Environment https://t.co/7OBrP0EHJQ— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1545968651.0
Rhea Suh is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
By Sacoby Wilson
As U.S. livestock farming becomes more industrial, it is changing rural life. Many people now live near Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)—large facilities that can house thousands of animals in close quarters. Neighbors have to contend with noxious odors, toxic emissions and swarms of insects, and have had little success in obtaining relief—but this could be changing.
On April 26, Murphy Brown LLC, a division of Smithfield Foods, was required to pay $75,000 in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages in a nuisance lawsuit filed by ten residents of Bladen County, North Carolina over impacts from a nearby hog farm. On June 29, another North Carolina jury awarded $25 million to a couple in Duplin County in a similar lawsuit against Smithfield Foods. Other cases are pending in North Carolina and Iowa.
Smithfield Foods is the largest hog processor and producer in the world, so these verdicts are major victories for people organizing against industrialized animal agriculture. Based on my experience studying environmental health at the community level, I see them as breakthroughs after decades of government failure to protect rural communities from negative impacts of CAFOs.
Threats to Health and the Environment
They also produce massive quantities of waste. Unlike human biosolids, which must meet regulatory standards for pathogen levels, vector attraction reduction and metal content, no such standards are required for CAFO waste. Studies have linked exposure to hog farm emissions, such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, to symptoms including increased stress, anxiety, fatigue, mucous membrane irritation, respiratory conditions, reduced lung function and elevated blood pressure.
Hog waste can contaminate ground and surface water reserves through runoff, leaching and rupturing of storage facilities. High quantities of nitrates and phosphates, from both animal waste and fertilizers used to grow feed, can also contaminate rivers and streams.
Bacteria and residual antibiotics present in hog waste have the potential to cause acute illness and infection, as well as antibiotic resistance. Rural communities are especially vulnerable to water contamination because many rely on private well water, which is not regulated by government agencies.
U.S. hog farms are concentrated in the Midwest and Southeast.
Impacts Beyond the Farm
The Bladen County lawsuit charged that waste management techniques employed by Kinlaw Farm, a local hog producer for Murphy Brown LLC, put neighbors' health at risk and severely lowered their quality of life. The farm stored liquid manure in on-site lagoons and sprayed it on local fields as fertilizer.
High volumes of waste and frequent mishandling exposed nearby residents to noxious odors. The lagoons attracted swarms of insects onto neighboring properties, and plaintiffs complained in the lawsuit that trucks packed with dead animals drove through the neighborhood at all hours of the day.
Such conditions characterize the lives of people who live close to CAFOs. People who cherish the freedom of rural life are anguished when pollution and overpowering smells make it impossible to perform everyday tasks and engage with their community. Many feel imprisoned within their own homes.
In May 2018 Shane Rogers, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and USDA environmental engineer, published an air quality investigation that provided evidence to support the nuisance lawsuit. Using samples collected from the air and exteriors of homes neighboring Kinlaw Farm, Rogers was able to isolate hog feces DNA at 14 of the 17 homes tested. All six of the dust samples collected from the air contained "tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of hog feces DNA particles."
Based on such high concentrations, Rogers deemed it highly likely that these contaminants could enter the houses. The presence of fecal matter in homes may provide grounds for a trespassing claim, as it falls under the definition of a physical invasion of another person's property.
Pork producers respond
Although the North Carolina settlement is a major step forward for rural communities, the industry is pushing back. Smithfield Foods has condemned such lawsuits as "nothing more than a money grab by a big litigation machine." The company asserts that because Kinlaw Farm fully complied with all federal, state and local laws and regulations, such lawsuits only threaten the livelihoods and economic prosperity of thousands of North Carolinians employed by the industry.
A few weeks after the April verdict, the judge reduced the settlement from $50.75 million to $3.25 million, pursuant to a North Carolina law which caps punitive damages at either three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded or $250,000. This allotment does not address community members' suffering, and jurors were unaware of the law limiting punitive damages when they reached their decision.
In response to 23 nuisance cases filed by more than 500 residents, the North Carolina legislature recently voted to expand its right-to-farm law, overriding Gov. Roy Cooper's veto. These laws were originally designed to protect farms from people who moved in nearby and then complained about noise and odors. However, industries in some agricultural states have pushed legislatures to expand the statutes to make it harder to sue CAFOs.
An Underregulated Industry
In my view, current measures in place to protect rural communities from factory farms are grossly insufficient. CAFOs have been defined as point sources of pollution under the Clean Water Act for more than 40 years. This means they should have to obtain permits to discharge waste into river, streams or surface waters. But due to industry pushback, lobbying and privacy concerns, it is estimated that only 33 percent of CAFOs operated with such permits as of 2017.
Environmental advocates also contend that CAFOs qualify as stationary pollution source under the Clean Air Act. Instead, the EPA has pursued a voluntary approach for more than a decade that centers on studying how to monitor CAFO air emissions.
In sum, I see governmental agencies as complicit within a system of production that prioritizes private interests rather than the well-being of communities and the environment. Research has shown that these operations disproportionately burden communities of color in rural North Carolina, so this is a major environmental justice issue.
In order for CAFOs and communities to coexist harmoniously, the entire structure of the present food system must change. In addition to strengthening regulations on factory farm emissions and discharges, I think regulators should provide incentives for CAFOs to invest in sustainable technologies and alternative waste management systems.
These farms should also be offered incentives to publicly report quality and safety data and expected impacts on host and nearby communities. This kind of information would increase rural residents' negotiating power.
Given the Trump administration's anti-regulatory slant and proposed budget cuts, the federal government is unlikely to lead in this area. However, the North Carolina verdicts and pending cases in Iowa could lead to greater industry transparency and empower more rural citizens to take action against CAFOs in their communities.
Iowans Fight Back Against Factory Farms—So Can You https://t.co/e6GP5y4o8H #FactoryFarming #CAFOs @OrganicConsumer… https://t.co/TE8J2qifem— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1517508218.0
Disclosure statement: Sacoby Wilson received funding for research on hog CAFOs from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National institutes of Health from 1998-2005.
Crystal Mehdizadeh, a bachelor's degree candidate in public health science at the University of Maryland-College Park, contributed to this article.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
By Eric Holt-Giménez
Over eight decades ago, the Dust Bowl devastated over 100,000,000 acres of agricultural land and the Great Depression threw 15 million Americans out of work. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted the New Deal with sweeping national programs for work, agriculture, food, and land conservation.
Forty years of bipartisan consensus on neoliberal economic policies has produced unsustainable levels of global warming. It's also polluted our water, destroyed our soils, contaminated our air and poisoned our bodies. This destruction has gone hand in hand with the rise of unprecedented economic inequality.
It is time to demand real—Rooseveltian—leadership from our elected officials on climate and equity issues. But policy gridlock runs deep. As the Sunrise Movement points out, either politicians advance policies without mobilizing their base for support, or social movements mobilize without elected officials to turn demands into policy.
To create a policy sea-change, we'll need both strong, broad-based movements and responsive, elected leadership.
This is why the Green New Deal is so exciting. It's a plan to bring together progressive politicians and social movements. The Deal proposes turning our country into an energy-efficient, carbon-capturing, full-employment, living-wage nation by 2028. This will require a major government effort with massive social investment and bold economic policies to correct inequalities.
Could the Green New Deal turn the climate Titanic around before all the icebergs melt? That depends on whether or not the lower decks take control of the helm.
The Green New Deal will need copious amounts of political will, and there are only two ways to create that: big money or the power of social movements. Compliant politicians and the unbridled accumulation of wealth got us into this mess. It's up to social movements to get us out.
Which social movements in the U.S. have enough skin in the game to tilt the country's political will on equity and climate? The growing climate justice, indigenous peoples, and economic equity movements have been instrumental in addressing these issues in decisive and creative ways. But we need more.
It's time for the nation's farm and food justice movement to step up.
Why food and farming? First, because the industrial food system emits most of the planet's greenhouse gases, and farming is reeling under the impacts of climate change. Second, because food and farming are the nation's biggest, low-wage employers. And third, because the farm and food justice movement—spread wide and thin across both rural and urban landscapes—is fighting not just poverty, poor health, low wages and bad working conditions, but is seeking to reduce food's environmental footprint as well.
The farm justice movement is the agrarian wing of the food movement. It promotes regenerative and agroecological farming practices like crop rotations that use perennials to stop erosion, improve water quality and ensure soil health, and diversified farming systems with grains, tree crops and livestock. These practices have been spreading throughout rural, urban and peri-urban areas, where permaculture and organic farming thrive. For these practices to provide viable livelihoods, we also need deep structural reforms, hard investments and economic incentives. The public banks mentioned in the Green New Deal could play a key role.
To stop the industrial overproduction of food—the root cause of food waste and agricultural emissions—we need strong supply management programs, equitable land access, conservation programs, diversification of farm income, antitrust enforcement and market reforms. If farmers are also provided with a guaranteed farm parity price for their product, they can conserve land instead of overproducing.
Prominent social justice organizations like the Climate Justice Alliance and the It Takes Roots Alliance support the Green New Deal, conditioned on a participatory "just transition." That is, "[Programs] centering on reparations, decolonization and building a democratic economy through the advancement of the social and solidarity economy." In other words, no regressive climate policies (like France's explosive carbon tax) that cool the climate on the backs of low-income and middle class people.
Social movements have an opportunity to join together as never before—not just to get behind the Green New Deal—but to form a broad-based, multi-racial, working class movement to build political power. Visionary leaders from these movements are already knitting together strategies for solidarity, education and action.
This is essential because without strong grassroots involvement, a Green New Deal could be co-opted by industry to greenwash their operations and avoid a just transition. For example, government grants and tax breaks could go to giant CAFOs to build methane digesters for the livestock industry's vast manure ponds. We need to prevent disaster capitalism—profiteering on working people's climate misery—in which every crisis is an opportunity for amassing more corporate wealth.
If farm and food justice demands are articulated in the Green New Deal, it could help us transform our food system. This would have a major impact on our economy, our health and our environment.
For example, if the Green New Deal proposes "[Upgrading] every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety," then farmhouses, sheds, barns, and suburban and inner-city farm sites stand to benefit. If we attain "100% of national power generation from renewable sources" combined with a "national, energy-efficient, 'smart' grid," it should allow towns and neighborhoods to produce power in ways that plow economic resources back into the community. Of course, any renewable energy production on agricultural landscapes must avoid making these areas uninhabitable sacrifice zones. For this, the Green New Deal must ensure community-based, democratic management.
If we are to "[Decarbonize, repair and improve] transportation and other infrastructure" in the food system, we need to keep as much of the food dollar as possible in local communities by growing and consuming our food in close proximity. The photosynthesizing power of green plants and the carbon-storing capabilities of soil humus could be vastly increased through the Green New Deal's "Funding [of] massive investment in the drawdown and capture of greenhouse gases," allowing for the reforestation of riparian areas, woodlots and agroforestry plots, and even small-scale kelp farming.
The Plan for a Green New Deal opens the door to address longstanding justice issues by:
"[Taking] into account and [being] responsive to the historical and present-day experiences of low-income communities, communities of color, indigenous communities, rural and urban communities and the front-line communities most affected by climate change, pollution and other environmental harm; and [mitigating] deeply entrenched racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth (including, without limitation, ensuring that federal and other investment will be equitably distributed to historically impoverished, low income, deindustrialized or other marginalized communities)."
These measures need to be part of our social justice platforms to address the inequitable levels of climate and environmental vulnerability. We need jobs with living wages to build family and community wealth. Food-producing communities need to be desirable places to live where the health, education and welfare of everyone is guaranteed. This will encourage young people to build on family and social networks and become active political and economic citizens who can determine their own destiny.
A Green New Deal could also help bring the food movement out of its political silo.
Many food activists seem to operate under the assumption that we can somehow change the food system in isolation from the larger political-economic system in which it is embedded. Changing everything in order to change our food system seems like an impossibly big task. But the food system can also be a lever for whole systems change.
The Green New Deal just might be the fulcrum upon which the farm, food and climate movements can pivot our society towards the just transition we all urgently need and desire.
81% of voters support a #GreenNewDeal to face the climate crisis! "Why not try to save the planet, and create mill… https://t.co/h2qf6kKYGt— Friends of the Earth (@Friends of the Earth)1545683404.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
By Ronnie Cummins
A new study calling for a "radical rethink" of the relationship between policymakers and corporations reinforces what Organic Consumers Association and other public interest groups have been saying for years: Our triple global health crises of deteriorating public health, world hunger and global warming share common root causes—and that the best way to address these crises is to address what they all have in common: an unhealthy, inequitable food system perpetuated by a political and economic system largely driven by corporate profit.
The study, the result of three years of work by 26 commissioners from several countries, was released this week by the Lancet Commission on Obesity. Boyd Swinburn, a University of Auckland professor and co-chair of the commission, as reported by Channel News Asia, said:
"Until now, undernutrition and obesity have been seen as polar opposites of either too few or too many calories. In reality, they are both driven by the same unhealthy, inequitable food systems, underpinned by the same political economy."
According to the report, nearly a billion people are hungry and another 2 billion are eating too much of the wrong foods, causing epidemics of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Boyd said that malnutrition in all its forms, including undernutrition and obesity, is by far the biggest cause of ill health and premature death globally, and that both are expected to be made "significantly worse" by climate change.
A Familiar, But Welcome Call for Reform
We have long called for the reform of our degenerative industrial agriculture system. We've drawn attention to the impact of industrial agriculture on global warming and deteriorating health. And we've highlighted the remarkable potential for organic regenerative agriculture to naturally draw down and sequester carbon, through nature's own photosynthesis.
We've also called on global policymakers to connect the dots between degenerative agriculture, poor health and climate change.
We've said all along that the influence of self-serving corporations over policy is largely to blame for U.S. and global policymakers' collective failure to address our degenerative food and farming system, and the devastation that system has wrought on human health and the environment.
This latest study comes at a time when climate scientists have sounded their most urgent and alarming warnings to date. It also comes at a time of keen interest in a Green New Deal, whose backers are calling for nothing less than radical solutions to the most pressing issues of our time.
Degeneration Nation: The Frightening Truth
Welcome to Degeneration Nation, where the frightening truth is this: Big Food companies, fast food chains, chemical and seed giants such as Bayer/Monsanto, and corporate agribusiness, aided and abetted by indentured politicians in both the Republican and Democratic parties, are slowly but surely poisoning us with unhealthy, nutrient-deficient, contaminated food.
The pesticides, GMOs, hormone disruptors and antibiotic residues in non-organic produce, grains and meat, coupled with the excessive sugar, salt and bad fats in the processed foods and beverages that make up the majority of the American diet, have supersized and degenerated the body politic. An epidemic of chronic diseases directly related to our toxic food and environment has spread across the U.S. and much of the world.
The overwhelming evidence is that human health is seriously deteriorating, and that the underlying causes of this health crisis are directly related not only to our highly toxic industrial practices, but also to our degenerate food, farming and land-management practices.
In the agricultural sector alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies more than 1,400 pesticides and 1,800 so-called "inerts" chemicals in use, in addition to a toxic stew of animal drugs, antibiotics, synthetic fertilizers and GMOs. Few of these have been properly tested, singly or in combination, for safety.
The public health and economic consequences of our degraded environment and food system are alarming. A recent Rand Corporation study found that 60 percent of Americans suffer from at least one chronic health condition, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and arthritis; 42 percent have two or more; and that these chronic diseases now account for more than 40 percent of the entire U.S. health care spending of $3.5 trillion.
One out of every two Americans will get cancer at least once in their lifetime. According to recent research, U.S. men born in 1960 have a lifetime cancer risk of 53.5 percent. For women, it's 47.5 percent.
Seventy percent of U.S. drinking water is contaminated with Monsanto's top-selling herbicide, Roundup, while 93 percent of consumers now have traces of this toxic poison (active ingredient glyphosate) in our urine.
The authors of "What's Making Our Children Sick?" report that one in 13 U.S. children have serious food allergies; 6 to 24 percent have serious intestinal problems; 20 percent are obese; 60 percent have chronic headaches; 20 percent suffer from mental disorders and depression. One in every 41 boys and one in every 68 girls are now diagnosed with autism.
Beyond destroying our health, chemical and fossil fuel-intensive factory farms and GMO monocultures are polluting our water and air, degrading our soils, forests and wetlands, killing off biodiversity and heating up the planet.
The delicate rhythms of nature—the Earth's carbon cycle circulating between the atmosphere, oceans, soils and forests, the water or hydrological cycle and the climate—are unraveling.
Cook Organic, Not the Planet
The Lancet Obesity Commission study is clear: Climate change, obesity and poor nutrition can all be linked in some way to the mass production of processed, nutrient-poor food. This is an idea that doesn't get as much attention as it should.
When most people think about climate-destabilizing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the impact of fossil fuels—our non-renewable fossil fuel-based energy system for transportation and for utilities and manufacturing, including the construction and the heating and cooling of our homes, offices and buildings.
What few people understand is that a full 44 to 57 percent of all global GHG emissions are generated by chemical- and fossil fuel-intensive industrial farm production, food processing, packaging, refrigeration, transportation and destructive land-use practices, such as deforestation, heavy plowing, lack of cover crops and wetlands destruction.
Let's take a closer look at the 44 to 57 percent of human GHG emissions coming from our industrial, GMO, factory farm food system, and compare how transitioning to regenerative food, farming and land-management practices would not only drastically reduce these emissions, but actually draw down excess atmospheric carbon and sequester it in our soils, trees and wetlands—and in the process, produce more nutrient-dense, chemical-free food.
Direct Use of Oil and Gas in Farming: 11 to 15 Percent
Most climate analysts agree that fossil fuel use on farms and ranches, including chemical farm inputs (fertilizers and pesticides), is responsible for at least 11 to 15 percent of all global CO2, methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Most of these emissions come from the use of fossil fuel-powered farm and irrigation equipment and petroleum-derived chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
In addition, the excess manure generated by factory farms, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) as the industry calls them, releases significant quantities of methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere and the oceans.
How can we reduce these on-farm emissions? By converting chemical- and energy-intensive farms to organic and regenerative crop production and planned rotational grazing and free range livestock production. This will require a combination of conscious consumers and farmers working together, on a local-to-global scale to reject factory farm, GMO, chemically tainted, highly processed food, and radical changes in public policy and investment practices.
Food- and Farming-Derived Deforestation: 15 to 18 Percent
Global "land use change" or deforestation is generally recognized as contributing to approximately 20 percent of all GHG emissions over the past 200 years.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says that expansion of agriculture, especially for export crops such as GMO soybeans (primarily for animal feed) in Latin America, or palm oil (for biofuels and processed food) in Asia, accounts for 70 to 90 percent of global deforestation.
Worldwide, industrial agriculture is pushing into grasslands, wetlands and forests, destroying what were previously carbon-sequestering forests and grasslands. Food and farming's contribution to deforestation thus accounts for 15 to 18 percent of global GHG emissions.
Over the next 50 years we need to preserve the forests we have left, and plant and nurture a trillion or more new trees. Since the areas of tropical forest deforestation are also the areas of greatest poverty and unemployment, reforestation and forest restoration can provide several hundred million jobs to those local residents and forest dwellers who need them most.
Food Transport / Food Miles: 5 to 6 Percent
Globally it is generally agreed that transportation accounts for 20 to 25 percent of all GHG emissions. According to the ETC group, "we can conservatively estimate that the transportation of food accounts for a quarter of global GHG emissions linked to transportation, or 5-6 percent of all global GHG emissions." In the U.S. it is commonly estimated that the average food item in your grocery store or restaurant has travelled 1,500 miles before it reaches its final destination. Multi-ingredient processed foods burn up even more food miles.
If we are to significantly reduce global emissions we will need to drastically reduce the food miles and carbon footprint of our food purchases and focus on fresh non-processed or minimally processed and packaged food produced locally and regionally, including food produced through urban agriculture. Before the second World War most food consumed in the U.S. and other industrialized nations came from a 100-mile radius of where people lived. During the Second World War, 40 to 50 percent of all food consumed by Americans came from urban "Victory Gardens," while 30 percent of all food in Great Britain similarly came from urban gardens.
Food Processing / Packaging: 8 to 10 Percent
Food processing has become a major part of the industrial food chain. In the U.S., the overwhelming majority of food purchased in grocery stores or restaurants (70 percent) is processed food.
ETC group states that the " ... transformation of foods into ready-made meals, snacks and beverages requires an enormous amount of energy, mostly in the form of carbon. So does the packaging and canning of these foods. Processing and packaging enables the food industry to stack the shelves of supermarkets and convenience stores with hundreds of different formats and brands, but it also generates a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions—some 8 to 10 percent of the global total."
More and more consumers are recognizing that highly processed food, whether served at home or in fast food restaurants is bad for our health, and that wasteful packaging, misleading advertising and plastic bags and packages are harmful both to our health (especially children's health) and to our environment, including the oceans.
This awareness has caused a boom in sales of fresh organic produce and animal products in natural and organic food stores and farmer's markets. Many cities and even entire nations are now moving toward banning plastic bags. Unfortunately, U.S. consumers still spend almost half of their food dollars eating in restaurants and fast food outlets where highly processed, packaged foods dominate the menu. Similarly, in schools and cafeterias pre-cooked processed foods delivered by food service conglomerates have displayed hand-cooked meals prepared from fresh ingredients.
If we are to reduce the 8 to 10 percent of global fossil fuel emissions coming from food processing and packaging we will need to get back to healthy, organic, regionally produced foods, cooked from scratch with natural ingredients. This will not only benefit our health but will also be better for the health of the climate and the environment.
Food Refrigeration & Retail: 2 to 4 Percent
Approximately 15 percent of all global electricity consumption is for cooling and refrigeration. Of course global food sourcing depends upon keeping fresh produce and animal products cold.
As ETC group says: "Considering that cooling is responsible for 15 percent of all electricity consumption worldwide, and that leaks of chemical refrigerants are a major source of GHGs, we can safely say that the refrigeration of foods accounts for some 1-2 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. The retailing of foods accounts for another 1-2 percent."
Again, reducing our food miles, buying locally and regionally—this is not only good for the planet, but good for our health and the economic well-being of our local farmers and ranchers as well. Until the electricity grid is converted over to renewable energy, food refrigeration, and refrigeration in general (especially air conditioning), will continue to belch out an unsustainable amount of greenhouse gases.
In the meantime we can all do our part, not only by turning down our thermostats, but by buying fresh foods produced locally and regionally, pressuring politicians to require local purchasing for schools and institutions, or better yet, by growing some of our own.
Throwing Food Into Landfills Instead of Composting: 3 to 4 Percent
Our industrial food and farming system currently discards 30 to 50 percent of all the crops and the food that is produced. Not only is this a prodigious waste of the fossil fuel energy and labor involved in producing this food, but the food waste itself generally ends up in garbage dumps and landfills, (rather than being converted into compost) releasing substantial amounts of methane and other GHGs.
Quoting again from ETC Group: "Between 3.5-4.5 percent of global GHG emissions come from waste, and over 90 percent of these are produced by materials originating within the food system."
Our planet has five pools or repositories where greenhouse gases are absorbed and stored: the oceans, the atmosphere, the soils, vegetation (plants, especially perennial plants, grasses, and forests) and hydrocarbon deposits.
Our global challenge over the next 25 years is to stop putting more carbon into the atmosphere and the oceans, leave the remaining fossil fuels (oil, coal, uranium and natural gas) in the ground, and move a critical mass of excess atmospheric carbon (250 billion tons of carbon) back into the soil, by transitioning to regenerative food, farming and land-use practices. By doing this we will not only be able to reverse global warming—we'll also produce healthier food and healthier people.
A Call for the Food Movement to Rally Behind the Green New Deal https://t.co/RrxyYDJUmH— Non-GMO Project (@Non-GMO Project)1547770800.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
Ready for some inspiration? Check out this video of a press conference that took place earlier this month in Iowa.
The conference begins with the powerful voice of Diane Rosenberg, executive director of Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors. Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors is a member of the Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture, a coalition of 27 state, community and national organizations that addresses everything that's wrong with factory farms, or as Big Ag calls them, confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
"We are pro agriculture. We support responsible, respectful and regenerative livestock production that poses no harm to communities and the environment. And we call for a moratorium on new and expanding CAFOs until there are less than 100 water impairments in Iowa. We are here today to support and announce a slate of bills introduced by Sen. David Johnson to close many of the loopholes that weaken protections for people and the environment from factory farms."
After Rosenberg spoke, a local farmer whose family farm is under threat thanks to two new CAFOs in her neighborhood, explained how her community did everything to stop these factory farms, but "the system in Iowa failed us. The DNR regulations failed us. All we want is clean air and water. We want to continue to live on our family farms."
After a few more community members shared their personal stories, Iowa state Rep. Sharon Steckman explained how "Iowa has more hogs than North Carolina and Minnesota combined. More than 23 million hogs producing 10 billion gallons of liquid manure a year. That is enough manure to equal what is produced in the UK, France and Canada combined."
She told the crowd that the state needs to get a handle on Iowa's water quality and the matrix before any new construction can be considered.
Another speaker spoke passionately of how in a few short years he's witnessed the loss of 94 percent of independent pig farmers:
"In its place we have explosive growth of industrial feeding operations moving in, which has caused massive health, environmental and quality of life issues across the state and we're looking at hundreds of thousands, if not millions of hogs, increasing every year. They are saying maybe 30 million by 2020. Enough is enough."
The video concludes with an enduring speech by Bill Stowe, Des Moines Water Works CEO.
"We are here today to support Sen. Johnson and Rep. Steckman, and moving forward to protect the waters of this state. Iowa will not be a sacrifice state. We are not guinea pigs for industrial agriculture to continue to practice harmful impacts on our environment. Let's work together as Iowans to constructively move forward with responsible agriculture to protect our public health and protect our state."
Inspired? Want to get involved? Want to help Iowans and family farmers in all states where CAFO's pollute the environment?
Here's how: Boycott factory farms.
"Boycott factory-farm meat, dairy and poultry, i.e. everything that isn't labeled or marketed as organic or 100% grass-fed or pastured. We need to stop the overconsumption of CAFO meat and animal products in general. Americans consume on the average 10 ounces a day of meat, whereas natural health experts recommend three, none of which should come from factory farms.
"Factory farming, a trillion-dollar industry, is the lynchpin of the GMO industry and the primary driver of deteriorating public health, environmental destruction, water pollution and global warming."
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