RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Hard Science Hits Confined Livestock

Ten years ago, Missouri citizens campaigned and won passage of a law that requires public notification if an operator wants to open or expand a concentrated animal feeding operation (or CAFO). Before a pollution permit could be issued, neighbors had time to comment, and this small action meant that the industry was stalled.

Because, duh, neighbors don't want tens of thousands of animals moving in with no sewage treatment. So when there was notification, neighbors turned up and protested.

For years, the legislature has tried to overturn the law. In 2003 and 2004, they succeeded in passing laws that would destroy the regulations but the democratic governor Bob Holden, bless his heart, vetoed the bills.

This year, the regs are on the chopping block. And we have a new Republican governor with his little heart set on destroying anything that looks like a regulation that might keep industry, any industry, even a major polluter, out of a neighborhood.

We also have new information -- what the legislature used to pointedly call "hard science." They used that phrase to ridicule neighbors who knew they were getting sick but didn't have studies to prove it.

This year, science has proven what health hazards these behemoths really are.

According to studies by the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, "There is now an extensive literature documenting acute and chronic respiratory diseases and dysfunction among workers, especially swine and poultry workers, from exposures to complex mixtures of particulates, gases and vapors ..."

Studies in North Carolina confirmed that the gases produced symptoms varying from depression to confusion, headache, sore throat, burning eyes and "reduced quality of life." Hydrogen sulfide and ammonia are the two main culprits.

The American Public Health Association has called for a moratorium on new animal feeding operations (AFOs) because the facilities produce pathogens "capable of causing severe gastrointestinal disease, complications, and sometimes death in humans"; "contribute to antibiotic resistance transmitted to humans"; and produce waste that includes "organic dust, molds, bacterial endotoxins and manure-generated gases of up to 400 separate volatile compounds such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide."

And if it's not enough to handicap people alive now, these toxic vapors create lifetimes of handicap. The APHA says that "fetuses, infants and children are more vulnerable to adverse impacts from bacterial and antimicrobial-resistant infections as well as from exposure to neurotoxins ..."

There are few if any federal standards on air pollution from these facilities. In fact, the day after the Bush inauguration, the Administration signed an agreement that allows factory farms to violate any and all clean air standards for the next two years, and forgives these same companies from paying fines for past air pollution violations. In exchange for the freedom to pollute without any restrictions, the deal "requests" that factory farms agree to monitor their air pollution and provide that data to the government.

Bush's "Dirty Air" agreement is outrageous, given that the Clean Air Act already requires factory farms to provide air pollution data, while also requiring facilities to adhere to clean air standards. One of the companies that will benefit the most from this arrangement with the Bush Administration is Tyson Foods, who also happened to be one of the largest donors to the Bush inaugural festivities. Fortunately there is a 30-day public comment period. Please make your voice heard. Take action at

To make matters worse, these animal confinements don't create jobs. Back in 1994 and 1995, the last years we had unbridled expansion of what we like to call pigs**t factories, the consolidation and price manipulation cost Missouri 19% of its hog farmers. The same year, Iowa lost 14%, Minnesota lost 14% and Illinois lost 13%. That's right. This industry axes jobs rather than creating them.

When a farmer signs a contract to raise hogs for, say, Cargill or Smithfield, they take on the debt to build the confinement facilities required by the industry. That debt, from $150,000 to $750,000, goes against the land but is guaranteed by Production Credit, an arm of the USDA. So if the farmer goes under, his land is auctioned and the loan guaranteed by the taxpayer.

But if he doesn't go under, his life is still controlled by the corporations. The farmers and their new buildings eagerly await their first load of animals, which are delivered at the pleasure of the corporation. Get in wrong with the corporate flaks and your shipment may be delayed, which means you have no animals to raise to pay off your debt.

But let's say the animals come on time. With all that debt, your take-home, according to an Ohio study, will be around $7.50 per hour.

And your business is a nuisance to taxpayers. In Paulding County, Ohio, it was found that 75% of the money paid by industrial contractors went to fix the roads. Dairies, the nuisance in Paulding County, bought a mere 1% of their feed locally, so none of the local businesses benefited.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email

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