Florence and Other Severe Storms Highlight the Hazards of CAFOs
(Washington, D.C.) Hurricane Florence made landfall today, battering southern North Carolina with intense winds and heavy rains. North Carolina residents prepared for the worst to try and mitigate the damage, but faced an uphill battle because North Carolina and surrounding areas of South Carolina and Virginia are among the largest pig producing areas in the U.S.. Severe storm events like Florence, (and Matthew, two years earlier,) shine a spotlight on the horrendous impacts of industrial food animal production on the safety and health of the region.
North Carolina is home to roughly 9 million pigs, which produce millions of tons of manure each year. Industrial animal factories, like the hog CAFOs of North Carolina, struggle to manage such extreme volumes of waste. Many operators liquefy the waste and store it in "manure lagoons," which, even in normal weather conditions, are prone to overflow, leak, or break, leaching contaminants into surrounding air, soil, and water. Even when fully contained, manure lagoons significantly reduce the quality of life and health outcomes of nearby residents due to the horrific stench and the flow of particulate matter through the air.
"Storms like Florence are unavoidable, but the issue of flooded manure pits absolutely is," said Cameron Harsh, organic and animal program director at Center for Food Safety. "Extreme weather events show yet again how unsustainable these massive hog CAFOs are and the real and present danger they are to human health and the environment. These animal factories generate more waste than some U.S. cities."
Industrial pig waste contains antibiotics, growth-promoting pharmaceuticals, foodborne pathogens, and heavy metals, all of which may pose risks to public health and the environment when carried off-site. Manure lagoon ruptures are also linked to algal blooms, massive fish kills, and aquatic dead zones. The U.S. Geological Survey has stated that manure from animal factories is the cause of poor water quality in significant areas across the country due to the presence of contaminants.
Storms and severe weather events, increasingly common due to the changing climate, provide unsettling evidence of just how untenable these industrial systems are. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd flooded lagoons in North Carolina, carrying millions of tons of waste into nearby rivers and coastal ecosystems. Hurricane Matthew again flooded the state's manure lagoons and facilities again in 2016.
In preparation for Florence, facilities desperately pumped their lagoons, inundating nearby fields with applications of the waste as fertilizer. It's a paltry strategy. It may avoid manure pit overflows, but the millions of tons of pig waste in fields will still be inundated with heavy rain that will likely wash the nutrients and contaminants off-site.
Unlike CAFOs, farms that raise pigs sustainably and humanely prevent manure lagoon malfunctions by stocking animals based on numbers their land and management practices can support, which prevents the production of excessive volumes of manure that must be stored for long periods of time.
Learn more about the harms of industrial animal production and strategies for supporting a humane and ecological food system at endindustrialmeat.org.