Conventional industrial meat production is destroying the environment. Feedlots, known in the industry as “concentrated animal feeding operations” or CAFOs, are creating seas of animal waste across the United States. These so-called farms, which exist to fatten up and slaughter as many animals as possible as quickly and profitably as possible, are cruel and inhumane to the animals they raise, and they poison our drinking water, air, and even our food. CAFOs actually create “lagoons” of feces–basically cesspools of untreated waste that leaches into drinking water and runs off into our waterways, leading to algae overgrowth and killing the fish.
In North Carolina, the pig CAFOs produce 10 billion gallons of fecal waste a year, according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group. That’s enough to fill 15,000 Olympic size swimming pools every year. Many of these operations (I don’t like to call them farms!) are located in flood-prone zones, dramatically increasing the risk of overflowing untreated animal feces after hurricanes and flooding.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services conducted a study of public middle school children and found that children within 3 miles of a hog CAFO had a higher incidence of asthma. A study at the University of North Carolina school of public health reported that people who live within 1.5 miles of hog CAFOs experience “…increased stress and anxiety, irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, respiratory symptoms, and acute elevation of systolic blood pressure.”
On organic, sustainable farms, animals are free to graze on fields and in woodlands, with enough space to live naturally. Their waste is not a problem, but rather an important part of fertilizing the fields in rotational grazing systems. It is when waste is concentrated in too small an area (which of course follows from animals being concentrated in too small an area) that environmental and health problems occur. When hogs are allowed the space to roam and feed freely, are given healthy, organic feed, and offered shelter in the barn when weather calls for it, there is not a waste problem. There is not a health issue for the surrounding area. This is a FARM, not a FEEDLOT.
In addition to damaging the environment, and treating animals cruelly, CAFOs use practices that make meat less healthy for us to eat too. Animals in CAFOs are routinely given antibiotics throughout their short lives, NOT to treat illness, but rather to help them to gain weight (for faster profits) and to prevent the illnesses that would almost certainly follow from the poor conditions in which the animals are confined. They are bombarded with antibiotics, which end up in our food and are likely contributing to people’s growing resistance to antibiotic medications. The Environmental Working Group’s 2013 study of antibiotic resistant bacteria present in supermarket meats had alarming results. You can see the details here.
In short, feedlots, the most common system for mass production of meat in this country, are not sustainable in any way. CAFOs are contributing to the decline of our environment and declines in both human and animal health and well-being.
Thankfully, we do have choices. We can seek out the products of small, local family farms, or even bigger operations that treat animals humanely and follow sustainable practices that are better for the environment. Here is one resource that can help you find local sources of sustainably raised foods.
We may not be able to eradicate feed lots overnight, but we don’t have to support them either.
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Joanne Malino, a certified Integrative Nutrition Coach, co-founded Profeta Farms with her husband, Paul Profeta, and John Place. Joanne helps people to optimize their health and energy by choosing the best, cleanest, most wholesome foods available. She is passionate about providing a wide variety of local, organic, great-tasting foods to the surrounding area, and educating people about the importance of knowing where their food comes from. Read Joanne’s blog posts here »