CAFOs are Proof that Factory Farming is Killing Us
by Evan DeMarco on Nov 08, 2022
Every year, farms in the United States raise about nine billion animals for food. Unfortunately, most of these farms are Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), notorious for their terrible conditions for animals and the pollution they cause.
Nearly every state has at least one CAFO, and there are tens of thousands across the United States. The waste from billions of animals contributes to water and air pollution, harmful algae blooms and other serious consequences.
CAFOs are proof that factory farming is slowing killing us: the price we pay for inexpensive, widely-available meat is a damaged environment.
A history of poor regulation
One of the reasons CAFOs have such a harmful effect on the environment is that they’re not well-regulated. Government agencies in charge of environmental safety aren’t even sure how many CAFOs there are, let alone where they’re located. That makes the problem harder to study—and more likely to harm the environment around them.
The biggest source of CAFO pollution is animal manure. Animals on a CAFO can create as much waste as a large urban city. Unfortunately, CAFOs don’t treat animal waste. They store it in piles and lagoons, where it’s often used for fertilizer. That might seem like a good thing, but the waste is often used in excessive amounts. From there, it can run off into bodies of water, or seep into the groundwater system. There are no meaningful standards to regulate this waste management system, or lack thereof.
Over the past two decades, various government agencies have worked to highlight the problem, yet nothing seems to get done. For example, in 2012, the EPA declined to regulate the issue and collect data on all the facilities, asking instead for data from the states.
Typically, CAFO owners know that new regulations will require major adjustments—likely very expensive ones. They have a vested interest in blocking these new regulations, which is why industry organizations frequently try to tie up data in court.
Meanwhile, states like Tennessee have passed laws to keep this information out of the public eye. This is dangerous: people who live near CAFOs may not even realize the additional risk they’re exposed to.
How CAFOs are killing us
You already know how manure can get into the groundwater and surface waters. It also produces noxious gases and increases the level of nitrates in drinking water. This is particularly dangerous for infants and fetuses: CAFO waste can cause “blue baby syndrome,” which occurs when a baby is unable to get enough oxygen.
Proximity to CAFOs is also linked with higher levels of asthma, chronic bronchitis and poor quality of life, including mental health problems. They can even breed “superbugs,” which spread fast and are hard to control.
Another way CAFOs are killing us: harmful algae blooms. These occur when harmful algae overtakes a body of water, which produces toxins harmful to marine and human life. Often, CAFO waste is the cause. Excess rain causes manure to wash into local water bodies. The nitrogen and phosphorous feed the blooms.
These harmful effects are often hidden from the public—you might be living near a CAFO and not even realize it. The Natural Resources Defense Counsel found that most states were hiding the existence of CAFOs, or were less than transparent.
How to reduce harm from CAFOs
Currently, the EPA doesn’t have any proposed regulations to deal with CAFOs and harmful algae blooms. However, there is some proposed legislation in Congress which may reduce sector consolidation, and force CAFOs to clean up their waste appropriately.
In the meantime, you can help the cause by contacting your local, state and federal representatives: call them and tell them you’re concerned about the lack of regulation. Another effective way to reduce CAFO harm is to stop eating factory farmed animals whenever possible.
Regenerative farms typically have better conditions for the animals, and they actively work to reduce their environmental impact. These practices promote leaner, nutrient-dense meat with less overall harm to the environment. If you’re going to eat meat, opting for regeneratively-farmed selections is a way of voting with your wallet.
Ultimately, we probably won’t see sweeping change unless federal legislation or regulatory agencies step in. Spreading awareness of the problem, and practicing what you preach, will help ensure our planet is better protected.