home | contact us

Ask For Change! Issues:

Meat production in the United States has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Many of today's farms are actually industrial facilities, not the peaceful, idyllic family farms most Americans think of. These factory farms are also known as confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or intensive livestock operations (ILOs). They emphasize high volume and profit with minimal regard for human health, safe food, the environment, humane treatment of animals, or the rural economy.

The shift to industrial animal production is not sustainable and has dangerous consequences for our health, environment and economy.

Giant livestock farms, which can house hundreds of thousands of pigs, chickens, or cows, produce vast amounts of waste. In fact, in the United States, these "factory farms" generate more than 130 times the amount of waste that people do -- about 2.7 trillion pounds of manure a year. While a problem of this nature and scale may make good comedy, pollution from livestock farms seriously threatens humans, fish and ecosystems. Below are facts and statistics that tell the story.

[ Go to Top ]

Livestock pollution and public health -
The FDA estimates that 5000 deaths and 76 million cases of food borne illness occur each year. The USDA estimates that 70% of all food borne illness in the United States can be traced to contaminated meat. There are more examples than we have time to report here, but for example:

• California officials identify agriculture, including cows, as the major source of nitrate pollution in more than 100,000 square miles of polluted groundwater. In Oklahoma, nitrates from Seaboard Farms' hog operations contaminated drinking water wells, prompting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue an emergency order in June 2001 requiring the company to provide safe drinking water to area residents.

• In 1996 the Centers for Disease Control established a link between spontaneous abortions and high nitrate levels in Indiana drinking water wells located close to feedlots. High levels of nitrates in drinking water also increase the risk of methemoglobinemia, or "blue-baby syndrome," which can kill infants.

• Animal waste contains disease-causing pathogens, such as Salmonella, E. coli, Cryptosporidium, and fecal coliform, which can be 10 to 100 times more concentrated than in human waste. More than 40 diseases can be transferred to humans through manure. Manure from dairy cows is thought to have contributed to the disastrous Cryptosporidium contamination of Milwaukee's drinking water in 1993, which killed more than 100 people, made 400,000 sick and resulted in $37 million in lost wages and productivity.

[ Go to Top ]

Livestock opperations and water pollution -
One of the most dangerous practices of factory farming is the storage and “use” of liquefied animal waste. The massive quantities of manure generated by CAFOs are stored in sewage pits (which the industry thinks should be called “lagoons”) and then spread onto cropland. These manure pits often leak or overflow, releasing toxic bacteria and excess nutrients into groundwater. Decomposing manure emits hazardous gases that degrade air quality. Spreading waste on the ground leads to odor problems and water pollution when more manure is applied than the surrounding land can absorb.

• From 1995 to 1998, 1,000 spills or pollution incidents occurred at livestock feedlots in 10 states and 200 manure-related fish kills resulted in the death of 13 million fish.

• According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, livestock waste has polluted more than 27,000 miles of rivers and contaminated groundwater in dozens of states.

• Ammonia, a toxic form of nitrogen released in gas form during waste disposal, can be carried more than 300 miles through the air before being dumped back onto the ground or into the water, where it causes algal blooms and fish kills.

[ Go to Top ]

The growth of factory farms

• During the past fifty years, the number of hog farms in the United States has dropped from 1,000,000 to 65,000. Despite this, hog production has grown. In 1999, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 2 percent of the hog farms in the country produce over 46 percent of the total number of hogs.

• Ten large companies produce more than 90 percent of the nation's poultry and 98% of all poultry is now produced by corporations, forcing family farms out of business.

• Large farms receive nearly twice as much in government subsidies as small, family farms.

To find sustainably raised, antibiotic-free meat at restaurants and stores in your area, go to www.eatwellguide.org. Urge the manager of your local supermarket to sell locally grown, sustainably raised meat and vegetables from independent family farmers by speaking with them and leaving an “I Care Card” that can be downloaded at www.sustainabletable.org.

Look for sustainable farming that includes organic farming; diversity within a farm system that incorporates crops and animals; no hormone implants or non-therapeutic antibiotics in animal feed; manure production not exceeding what can be absorbed by the land; family-owned and operated farms; and animals raised in an environment where they can behave naturally.

[ Go to Top ]

Ask For Change!

The best way to take action is to vote with your dollar. Do not buy meat raised on factory farms. To assist you in making sustainable choices, the Husbandry Institute has designed the Ask for Change Card and fact-sheet. By using these suggested questions, you can confidently and easily learn and understand the important issues about the meat you and your family eat. Most restaurant owners and retailers believe that their customers do not care about these issues. So asking questions is a way not only to ensure that you are eating meat that has not come from factories, but it lets the restaurant and retailer know that you are willing to pay a bit more to have conscientious choices in meat. If consumers vote with their dollars and tell restaurants and retailers they care, then we can begin to build demand for alternatively raise meat: meat that is raised in a way that respects the environment, treats animals humanely, supports local communities, and is economically viable for farmers.

[ Go to Top ]