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John Ikerd, an internationally respected respected University of Missouri professor emeritus of agricultural economics, has significant points to make about the realities of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). I call them corporate-supported meat factories such as the one that continues to generate intense controversy in our Buffalo National River watershed.

In his exhaustive study on the consequences of CAFOs, Ikerd said these factories originally were welcomed into Missouri. And within 10 years, 90 percent of Missouri's independent hog producers were forced out of business by their competition.

In decades since, Ikerd has worked with groups in 16 states and four Canadian provinces. He's also reviewed countless studies on CAFOs prepared by highly reputable research institutions. He cited one 2006 review of 56 socioeconomoic studies by the North Dakota Attorney General's Office that concluded:

"Based on the evidence ... we conclude that public concern about detrimental community impacts of industrialized farming is warranted. In brief, this conclusion rests on five decades of government and academic concern with this topic, a concern that has ... grown more intense in recent years, as the social and environmental problems associated with [large CAFOs] have become widely recognized."

Ikerd also writes that a 2008 Pew Charitable Trust funded study determined: "The current industrial farm animal production system often poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals. The negative effects are too great and the scientific evidence is too strong to ignore."

Ikerd found serious consequences from CAFOs are inevitable. "A particular individual CAFO may be designed and operated in such [a] way as to avoid these consequences for some specified period of time. However, the economic, ecological, and social consequences are inevitable for any significant group of CAFOs at any point in time and for any individual CAFO over a significant period of time."

Ikerd said between 1980 and 2008, federal data indicates traditional family hog farms declined by 90 percent. Between 1992 and 2004 alone, the number fell more than 70 percent.

On water pollution, he said the EPA found waste generated by large-scale hog and other CAFOs had polluted over 35,000 miles of river and contaminated groundwater in 17 states. Large "dead zones" have been created in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere by CAFOs and the industrial corn and soybean operations that provide their feed. "The environmental regulation of CAFOs has been far less stringent, and far less effective, than for other industries because CAFO supporters have been able to convince lawmakers that CAFOs are agricultural, not industrial, operations. Farming is exempted from many environmental regulations," he writes.

This expert in sustainable agriculture writes that negative effects on water quality are a consequence of waste from too many animals in areas too small to effectively assimilate it. When waste is over-applied, potentially useful nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus become pollutants, exceeding the ability of natural ecosystems to neutralize them. "Excessive nitrogen and phosphorus, along with residual antibiotics, pesticides, and heavy metals are flushed into streams and leached into groundwater," he added. "Thousands of miles of streams in the U.S. have been polluted by CAFOs following approved manure management plans."

CAFOs should be regulated like any industrial operation, he wrote, and animal waste should be regulated much like human waste to protect public health. These regulations "should reflect the same basic logic and principles as municipal waste treatment regulations, with appropriate adjustment for differences in health risks ... . Any confinement animal feeding operation over a specific size, for example 250 animal units, should be treated as an animal municipality, rather than a farming operation. Such operations should be required to have full-scale, multi-stage waste treatment facilities as deemed appropriate to protect public health."

It takes only about 280 feeder pigs to produce as much total solid biological waste as 1,000 humans, Ikert wrote, so 2,800 feeder pigs produce as much biological waste as a human community of 10,000. Pig waste is 39 times more concentrated than human waste, "so animal waste can quite logically be thought of as a form of toxic waste.

"Regulations remain lax because the corporations that control CAFOs have the economic and political power to prevent effective regulation. The people of rural communities simply cannot afford to wait until regulators are overwhelmed with mountains of scientific evidence documenting the negative effects of CAFOs. There are inevitable economic, social, ecological, and human health effects inherent in the industrial organizational structure of CAFOs. They are designed and operated to maximize profits, not minimize or even mitigate ecological, social, or human health risks."

Those who express scientifically justifiable concerns over the inevitable environmental effects of a CAFO located in an ecologically sensitive watershed are labeled by those behind CAFOs as emotional over-reactors and "radical, idealistic environmentalists who just don't understand modern agriculture," Ikerd wrote.

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Mike Masterson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 04/29/2017

Print Headline: Science, not emotion

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