New tool shows how animal factories impact local communities
Today, Center for Food Safety (CFS) released a digital map of animal factories in Michigan, often referred to as Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). CFS’s map, which will serve a model for other states, includes the location and size of animal factories in the region as well as information such as environmental violations, type of manure storage, nearby rivers and waterways, nearby schools, federal subsidies, and more.
“This map helps put these factories into the context of the communities they impact. The industrial meat industry is trying to keep consumers in the dark, but these massive operations have significant impacts on the environment and overall health of a community. This map is designed to be a tool to help consumers and residents understand how these animal factories impact their lives,” said Paige Tomaselli, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety.
Excess nutrients in CAFO runoff, like nitrogen and ammonia from animal waste, put both the environment and human health at risk. For example, nitrogen can leach into drinking water and lead to blue baby syndrome (a serious heart condition in newborn babies), while other bacteria and viruses can cause public health crises. It is estimated that over 1 million Americans get their drinking water from groundwater that is moderately to severely contaminated by nitrogen.
CAFOs also cause air quality problems. Manure decomposition produces over 160 gases, including pollutants and irritants like hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, carbon dioxide, methane, and carbon monoxide. The Centers for Disease Control recognize that "the closer children live to a CAFO, the greater the risk of asthma symptoms," yet CAFO air emissions are rarely reported and largely unregulated.
Impacted neighbors of CAFOs are increasingly voicing opposition. In 2007, the Association of Irritated Residents won a lawsuit against a California dairy, requiring the CAFO to update its permits and purchase offsets for its waste.
“We hope that this new tool allows more communities who have been adversely impacted by these behemoth operations to take a stand. Access to accurate information is a vital first step,” said Tomaselli.
In addition to their impacts on communities, CAFO water pollution can be toxic to fish and other wildlife. As of 2013, the Gulf of Mexico aquatic "deadzone," where excess nutrients have reduced oxygen so low that the environment does not support aquatic life, covers 5,840 square miles - an area the size of Connecticut.