Understanding the Issues
Our current food system is not sustainable. Most of our meat, dairy and poultry products come from an industrialized food system controlled by a handful of giant corporations. One result of this industrialization has been the proliferation of factory farms known as CFOs (Confined Feeding Operations) and CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) throughout the country, including Indiana. CFOs are the smaller of the two, and warehouse at least 300 cattle, 600 swine, or 30,000 fowl; CAFOs, the largest factory farms, house at least 1,000 cattle, 2,500 swine, or 100,000 fowl. Indiana has nearly 2,000 CFOs and CAFOs where 85% of all livestock produced in the state are raised. With such large numbers of animals and their waste concentrated in small areas, CAFOs and CFOs create hardships not associated with traditional farms.
Threats to Water Quality
Factory farms generate a lot of waste — in Indiana, the same amount of animal waste as produced by 87 million people. Put another way, Indiana’s factory farms generate 14 times the amount of animal waste produced by Indiana’s human population. Unlike human (animal) waste, livestock waste is minimally regulated and allowed to be collected in massive, open and unlined pits and lagoons before it is spread or sprayed, untreated on farm fields. This practice poses a dangerous threat to water quality because the pollution strength of raw manure is as much as 110 times greater than that of raw human sewage, contains high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, as well as pathogens like E.coli and parasites. Based on government data, we know that the leading source of water contamination in Indiana is E.coli — contamination that is largely from livestock waste. The effects of water contamination from animal waste are serious. High levels of nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen contribute to eutrophication and toxic algae blooms which can kill fish and other aquatic life. In Indiana, more than 7,000 lake acres are impaired with excess phosphorous, more than 16,000 lake acres are impaired with excess algal growth, more than 12,000 stream miles are polluted with unsafe concentrations of pathogens.
Threats to Air Quality
Under existing regulations, factory farms are allowed to be built too close to residential areas creating unbearable living conditions and reducing property values for many rural Hoosiers due to the extreme noxious odors, dusts, gases, harmful air pollutants and fly infestations that can occur when thousands of animals and their waste are concentrated in one area. Unfortunately, air emissions, odors, dust, and vectors from factory farms are not regulated by state or federal agencies. And, there are many factory farms that are not subject to any federal or state oversight because they do not meet the regulatory threshold for animal numbers. Consequently, some counties and municipalities have stepped in to address these regulatory loopholes by passing local land use restrictions and zoning ordinances to protect residents and businesses. However, there are legislative efforts underway at the Indiana Statehouse to strip local governments of their authority to enact such measures.
Animals raised on factory farms are routinely given antibiotics to accelerate growth and ward off disease associated with living in confined conditions. The widespread use of antibiotics has contributed to the evolution and increase of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared antibiotic resistance to be among the top five health threats facing our nation. In addition, the American Public Health Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Infectious Disease Society of America, and the World Health Organization have all issued statements calling for restrictions on the use of prophylactic antibiotics in livestock.
Typically, the four largest firms in one economic sector will control anywhere between 40-45% of the sector’s market. Many economists maintain that allowing any higher levels of market concentration can erode competitiveness. Nevertheless, in the agriculture sector, a handful of giant conglomerates control approximately 90% of all meat, dairy and poultry production. This domination of market share is due in part to state and national policies that were enacted to protect traditional farmers but now serve primarily to benefit and protect the economic interests of large corporations. Indiana’s so called “Right to Farm” laws are an example of such policies enacted under the guise of protecting farmers but in reality allow factory farm owners to escape liability for harming their neighbors, eliminate competition, and drive traditional farmers out of business. Also, factory farms are often promoted through claims that they will bring economic vitality to local communities. Yet, research shows otherwise. Loss of jobs, depressed property values, loss of income for local businesses and a huge drain on county resources often result from the proliferation of factory farms.
According to the USDA, a food desert is defined as “a census tract with a substantial share of residents who live in low-income areas [poverty rate of 20% or greater] that have low levels of access to a grocery store or healthy, affordable food retail outlet.” The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. Shockingly, Indiana is the tenth most dominant agricultural state in the country with over 14 million acres of farmland, yet we import an estimated 90% of our food from out of state and over 25% of Indiana residents live in food deserts no access to healthy food. The reason: the vast majority of crops grown in Indiana are monocrops such as corn and soybeans that are not grown for direct human consumption, but to make feed for livestock and highly processed foods.
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