What We Talk About When We Talk About Industrial Agriculture & Climate Change

David Cassuto

Santos was interesting.  First, who knew there was a significant mountain range between Rio & Sao Paulo?  Even having flown this route many times, I was surprised by the size and extent of the range which we drove over.

My talk on biofuels, industrial agriculture and climate change was well-received in an odd but increasingly common way.   Though I mentioned animal treatment only tangentially and concentrated on the massive pollution and climate change culpability of factory farming, 90% of the questions and comments I received dwelt on animal treatment and even animal rights.         Continue reading

CAFOs — An Unregulated Assault on the Air & Water

hog-cafo-798035David Cassuto

Today’s NYT does a good job of describing the environmental and human health crisis wrought by CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations).  It does a less good job of describing the horrendous conditions imposed on the animals thus confined.  Still, a lot of tragedy gets captured in this little vignette:

In June, Mr. Natzke explained to visiting kindergarteners that his cows produced 1.5 million gallons of manure a month. The dairy owns 1,000 acres and rents another 1,800 acres to dispose of that waste and grow crops to feed the cows.

“Where does the poop go?” one boy asked. “And what happens to the cow when it gets old?”

“The waste helps grow food,” Mr. Natzke replied. “And that’s what the cow becomes, too.”

The thrust of the article concerns the lack of regulations controlling CAFO emissions as well as the ways that Big Ag squashes all attempts to change the status quo.  Consider this: Five thousand pigs produce as much raw sewage as a town of 20,000 people.  That statistic alone makes factory farming environmentally problematic and in need of regulatory oversight.  But there’s more.

Pig waste is more concentrated than human waste and tends to contain both pathogens and antibiotics.  Yet, waste from pigs does not go to a sewage treatment facility; it tends to go straight on to the ground, where it eventually makes its way into the groundwater and into the air, causing respiratory problems, antibiotic resistance, and more.  Habitat loss and degradation, erosion, water depletion, pollution and salinization, agrochemical contamination, the above-mentioned animal waste and air pollution are also serious and growing CAFO-related problems.  And still, industrial agriculture remains virtually unregulated.

Continue reading

Factory Farm Emissions: No Solution = No Problem

AP reports that EPA has exempted the nations “farms”  from having to “report to authorities the toxic, smelly fumes released from manure.”  I have complained elsewhere about the use of term “farm” to refer to industrial confinement facilities so I’ll not belabor that issue.  Instead, let me just note that the Bush administration has reached yet another new low on yet another important animal/environmental issue.

Typically, the government adopts a band-aid approach when dealing with the dangerous, fetid emissions (which are also potent greenhouse gases)  from confinement facilities.  It issues a token regulation or asks for voluntary compliance with some standard that does pitifully little to address the pollution problem while wholly ignoring the accompanying ethical quagmire.  Our lame-duck president (apologies to ducks everywhere) has done this strategy one worse.

He (through his minions) has decreed that there is actually no problem and therefore no need for any solution.  Reaching this conclusion required a stunning display of reasoning backwards.  Barry Breen, Director of the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, notes that “[w]hen there is a lagoon full of manure there is nothing our folks can do when they show up.” This impotence led the agency to conclude that there must not be anything to resolve.

Meanwhile, Senator Tom Harkin, Chair of the Agriculture Committee, criticized not the substance of the rule but its timing.  He complained that under the circumstances, the rule will almost certainly “be revisited by the new administration and Congress.”

Breathtaking.

David Cassuto