In 1961, the world’s total meat supply was approximately 71 million tons. In 2007, it more than tripled to 284 million tons, according to United Nations. Americans eat approximately twice the global average, weighing in at a hefty eight ounces a day. Although America houses approximately five percent of the world’s population, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Division reports that Americans kill and process 10 billion animals a year — accounting for 15 percent of the world’s meat consumption. These enormous “factory farms” produce millions more than just meat each year, and the environmental and public health concerns surrounding them are growing. No matter what your views are on the meat industry — vegans and meat lovers alike should agree that the effects of these “mega-farms” are less than appetizing.
The Devil Is in the Details
In addition to pig droppings, entrails, and stillborn fetuses in various decaying states, these lagoons are hubs for dangerous chemicals like ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and at least six other dangerous chemicals, Rolling Stone originally reported. The “lagoon” solution also houses more than 100 microbial pathogens that can be fatal for humans and animals, including salmonella and the parasite Giardia. Each gram contains more than 100 million fecal coliform bacteria, according to the EPA — enough theoretically to take down an army.
A Public Health Hazard
One problem with toxic waste is that it stretches beyond the sheer quantity — the deadly runoff is mixed with dozens of poisonous chemicals. There have been multiple deaths related to falling into these “lagoons.” In Minnesota, a worker began to choke to death on the fumes, and another also died attempting to save him. In Michigan, a respected member of a Mennonite community fell to his death, only to be followed by his 15-year-old nephew, his cousin, and older brother, Rolling Stone also reported.
Where Does It Go?
What’s a farmer to do when his Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) lagoon is full? Generally he just sprays it into the air or spreads it across fields. In addition to coating the local flora and fauna with a slimy, wretched-smelling goop, this practice has also spawned a rise in respiratory and other health problems, in towns, down wind of these CAFOs. One instance, a woman in Minnesota called a poison control center, only to find out that she had every symptom of hydrogen-sulfide poisoning except death, according to the same article.
When a lagoon breaks or encounters a flood, fish in nearby rivers invariably die and the ecosystem suffers. Although organizations like the NRDC have long fought for legislation that would label these lagoons eligible for the National Priorities List, profit inevitably seems to be the driving force behind the reluctivity to change. Smithfield Chairman Joseph Luter III more than a million to help defeat state legislation on the matter of cleaning up waste lagoons. Remediation companies like Sevenson Environmental already have their hands full cleaning up the over 1,300 Superfunds, and toxic sites on the National Priorities list in the U.S. There are no easy solution, but education and awareness are the best place to start. The EPA has a plethora of information about CAFOs as does the NRDC, so let’s spread the word, not toxic manure, before more people, plants and eco-systems have to suffer.
Author Bio: Jim King is from a large family of farmers, Jim supports sustainable living, organic farming practices and knowing how to live off the land. He writes from his home in New Hampshire.