CAFO’s in North Carolina Go “Hog Wild”



Since the late 1980’s North Carolina hog industry has more than quadrupled its hog population to just over 9 million now ranking the 2nd largest hog farming industry in the United States. Ironically, this increase in hog production was accompanied by a decline in the number of hog farms in the state. It is estimated that over 13,000 family hog farms went out of business in the last twenty years.

photo: Daniel Pepper/Getty Images

Welcome to the age of CAFO’s. These are affectionately called confined animal feeding operations. CAFO’s are part of the industrialized agriculture age, where hundreds of animals are raised in confined spaces, on a small piece of land, stand in their feces and urine and are fed food often containing other animal remnants. The waste of these operations is pumped into large pools called lagoons. The waste of these lagoons are untreated, contain dangerous types of harmful bacteria, antibiotics and hormones that are in turned sprayed on existing nearby crops.

In 1999 Hurricane Floyd hit the eastern coast of N.C. and flooded these lagoons, which contaminated the nearby water supply. Over 10 years ago one of the largest pork producers and packagers in the US, Smithfield entered into an agreement with a NC university to fund the research and development of environmentally superior technologies (EST) to help decrease the production of these waste products. What was the verdict? Nothing. The Clean Hogs Farm Act of 2005, which called for a replacement to EST on existing farms was eventually determined by researchers not to be economically feasible and despite making cost-sharing efforts for farmers with EST the bill never made the cut through the General Assembly of North Carolina. Economically feasible? What about socially responsible and ecologically sound?

CAFO pose serious health and environmental risks. New reports in 2011 show antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria called MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphyloccus aureus) in Europe, which have been linked to animal feeding operations. More alarming is that even after these antibiotics are stopped there is evidence they are still present in these animals up to 2.5 years! Environmentally, these operations emit toxic particles into the air such as ammonia, microorganisms, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide posing serious health risks to children and the elderly.

Not only does it threaten the air quality but is has been shown that residents living in close proximity to these operations report significant increases in respiratory related complaints such as wheezing, shortness of breath and other respiratory illnesses. In addition, the workers of these operations also report increased respiratory related illnesses. The evidence is mounting for the health dangers with over 70 studies in the U.S., Canada and Europe showing poor health outcomes.

This assembly line production of animals has put the small family farms out of business and has increased the amount of waste to environmental and public heath proportions. These CAFO’s pose a serious health threat to our environment, rural communities and to the people who consume them.


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6 Responses to “CAFO’s in North Carolina Go “Hog Wild””

  1. jlweinberg Says:

    I think your blog raises some very important issues–environmentally, medically and ethically. As a student of bioethics, I think it is interesting to consider the ways in which eating is a moral and ethical act in that the dietary choices we make not only have significant impacts on our own health and wellbeing but have wide-reaching effects throughout the local and global community. For example, choosing to eat meat produced on a CAFO has wide-spread effects, many of which you mention in your blog post. For example, choosing to buy and consume such meat is supporting the practices which CAFOs maintain. These practices have impacts on animal wellbeing (raising animals in confined, inhumane conditions), agricultural worker health (workers exposed to high concentrations of chemicals, antibiotics, etc. and may not be treated ethically or paid a fair wage), communities surrounding CAFOs (who as you mention have potentially dangerous exposures as well as noted adverse health effects), and the environment (damaging soil, water supplies, etc.). One thing I wonder about is the duty of physicians and other health professionals to get involved in the debate around such food production systems and to advocate for those being impacted. If they are seeing patients with adverse health effects they suspect are related to CAFOs, what is their moral duty to take action?

  2. badcafos Says:

    Thanks for your comment! While I think that many healthcare professionals may not act by joining formal organizations, advocacy groups etc., it is important to emphasize the importance of utilizing and supporting locally produced farms and foods. Often these farms are smaller but the benefits are overwhelming.
    But there are such groups as Union of Concerned Scientists, Women’s Voices, and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine that have many physician members who take a more formal moral duty to action.

  3. aquinte2 Says:

    Great post. I enjoyed reading it, and the following struck me as particularly interesting.

    To quote the beginning of your post, you note the following: “Since the late 1980’s North Carolina hog industry has more than quadrupled its hog population to just over 9 million now ranking the 2nd largest hog farming industry in the United States. Ironically, this increase in hog production was accompanied by a decline in the number of hog farms in the state. It is estimated that over 13,000 family hog farms went out of business in the last twenty years.”

    The hog population’s rise and the decline in the number of hog farms doesn’t strike me as ironic. In fact, it makes perfect sense that the to co-exist, from an economic standpoint. This is a clear market indication that farms are consolidating their resources, by merging several smaller farms into one larger farm; in doing so, they reduce their fixed operations costs and can devote more finances toward their variable costs of raising hogs. This is an important connection to make for one simple reason: if the industry experiences too much consolidation of these operations, then that can be a market signal of monopoly-like activities going on. Not surprisingly, CAFOs are becoming hot topics in the arena of antitrust regulations in the agricultural sector. In my opinion, if CAFOS are to be addressed properly and disassembled, one good approach might be to explore antitrust issues that are currently being explored.

  4. kakuete Says:

    Thank you for your post! I honestly never really thought of the affect ones food decisions could have on the environment in the manner mentioned in your post. I’m curious though what other options do those farmers who have to close down their farms have and what incentives would the people envolved in the CAFOs have to change their current practice? Is there currently a push to have them change their practices? —Thanks again for your post this is truly interesting!

  5. alisheagalvin Says:

    Great post! This is an issue that hasn’t gotten highlighted enough even though it is nascent public health concern as our food systems continually becoming more industrialized. There are serious ethical and occupational health concerns as well in working in these types of environments. The workers are in direct contact with the animals and little is known about the long-term effects. I am not sure what this says about our society that such unsafe work environments are function with no regulations and safety precautions.

  6. olampkin Says:

    This was great!!…I have been struggling with becoming a vegetarian for the past few months. I think your article has given me the motivation to continue on my journey. As a parent of a young son, we attempt to regulate everything he eats but it is hard when there are organizations like these. Your blog would be a great job start to policy issues that force restaurants to post on information about where some of their products are derived. Similar to what is done with the calorie count on their menus?

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