Agricultural changes in the United States over the past 25 years have resulted in the increase in factory farms across the United States. Factory farms, also known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), are farms with large scale feed lots for beef, pork, and poultry. CAFOs are scattered across rural America and the impacts of their vast operations are being felt by their neighbors through foul odor and pollution of the air and water.
According to the Poultry Division of the Alabama Farmers Federation, Alabama poultry producers market more than a billion birds each year. Alabama ranks third in broiler production behind Arkansas and Georgia and ranks 13th nationally in total egg production. The highest concentrations of poultry CAFOs are in north Alabama, where Cullman, Dekalb, Marshall, and Blount counties rank highest for broiler production. The large majority of these chickens are raised on factory farms.
These operations are so large in scale that they produce noxious odors, dust and pollution. Many residents living near chicken CAFOs are unable to enjoy the outdoors due to the stench, but the smell is just part of the overall problem. Other concerns about living near these factory farms include water contamination and loss of property value. Alabama is one of eight states, including Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri, where property tax assessors have lowered the tax rates by ten to thirty percent due to their close proximity to CAFOs. It was stated in a Pew Commission report:
Industrialization of animal agriculture leads to the reduced enjoyment of property and the deterioration of the surrounding landscape, which are reflected in declining home values and lowering of property tax assessments. Recurrent strong odors, the degradation of water bodies, and increased populations of flies are among the problems caused by CAFOS that make it intolerable for neighbors and their guests to participate in normal outdoor recreational activities or normal social activities in and around their homes.
It’s estimated that animal feeding operations in the United States generated more than 500 million tons of manure in 2003 – approximately three times more than humans produced that year. These are large-scale feeding operations that generate more waste than the sewer systems in small towns. Yet, while small towns treat their waste, these farms don’t. For poultry CAFOs, each bird produces between 62 and 95 pounds of litter each year. With over a billion broilers produced each year in Alabama (not to mention the egg layers), this amounts to an astounding amount of chicken litter. Therefore, contaminants from the excess litter become a problem for nearby water sources, including drinking wells.
Contaminants from poultry litter include ammonia, nitrates, pathogens, antibiotics, hormones, and heavy metals. For example, poultry feed includes compounds that contain arsenic. When metabolized by the chickens, these compounds break down and cause arsenic to be passed into the poultry waste. The arsenic then leaches into surface and groundwater. Arsenic is a known carcinogen.
It’s estimated that there are over 600 factory farms in Alabama, and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management does not have the resources to regularly inspect these farms. The same is true in other states as well, where the resources of environmental agencies are stretched thin. The State of Oklahoma was forced to file suit against large poultry producers when contamination from the chicken industry in neighboring Arkansas polluted Oklahoma drinking water.
CAFOs aren’t what we envision when we think of family farms. In the case of chicken CAFOs, the farm owner assumes the risks and responsibilities for operation and maintenance of the chicken houses, including raising the birds and disposing of their waste. But, the farmer does not own the birds. Instead, large agribusiness firms – such as Tyson Foods, Gold Kist, and Perdue Farms – own the birds and provide the feed, and these firms then pay the farmer for the weight gain realized by the birds. The agribusiness firms provide both the input and outlet for production, leaving the farmer squeezed in the middle. There is considerable unevenness between the bargaining power of the farmer and the agribusiness firms. Farmers often enter into contracts to save the family farm and then become beholden to the whims of these large multi-national corporations.
If you need additional information on this subject, contact Rhon Jones or David Byrne in our firm at 800-898-2034 or by email at Rhon.Jones@beasleyallen.com or David.Byrne@beasleyallen.com.
Sources: New York Times, Alabama Farmers’ Federation, Sierra Club, Pew Commission on Industrial Animal Production
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