We must shut down factory farms to protect clean water and environmental justice

For years, Americans have been given the image of an idyllic family farmer who is responsible for the food that comes to us. Unfortunately, for the majority of the foods we eat, this image is not based on reality. The truth is that food production, especially factory farming, is causing an ecological crisis in our waterways that further perpetuates the legacy of environmental racism. And it has to stop.

The overwhelming majority of American food systems today are dominated by a handful of international corporations. These for-profit companies often employ industrialized methods, such as concentrated animal feed operations, or CAFOs, where animals are “produced” in incredibly cramped and dangerous facilities.

CAFOs are a formidable threat to the health of our nation’s waterways, representing one of the largest untreated sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the United States. Their uncontrolled – and mostly unregulated – discharges into waterways cause algae bloom, which in turn harm the supply of drinking water, fishing and recreational waters throughout the country. Look no further than lake eriethe Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River Basin, North Carolina’s coastal estuaries, and many other inland and coastal waters that are already severely impacted. Besides the damage to drinking water and human health, it is also very expensive. Harmful algal blooms alone can negatively impact economies by up to 4 billion dollars per year.

Just one of these animal factories can produce as much animal waste as a big city with millions of people. According to a 2013 study, this represents 1.1 billion tons of animal waste each year. In many of these facilities, animal waste is stored in unlined lagoons which inevitably pollute groundwater. In many cases, excess waste is applied to agricultural fields far beyond what is needed to grow food, resulting in pollution of nearby surface water and groundwater. Some facilities even go so far as to randomly spray excess waste onto fields, creating a hellish experience for nearby communities.

Imagine homes, schools and parks covered in airborne liquefied animal waste. Imagine the windows tightly closed in the middle of summer because of the overwhelming smells. Consider the countless lives burdened by respiratory disease. Think of all the rivers and streams poisoned with pathogens.

It should be noted that CAFOs are not found everywhere. Instead, they are mostly located in rural areas, often in communities of color. They are deliberately located here because these frontline communities often lack the political clout to stop them. CAFOs are built quickly, with minimal community input and, once operational, are ostensibly immune to any type of transparency, oversight or consequences. For example, in North Carolina, General Law 106-24.1 protects the state‘s agricultural industry by making any information collected or published by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services classified from the public. But it’s not just North Carolina. There are “ag-gag” laws on the books in several states.

The CAFO crisis is funded by huge corporations, such as Smithfield Foods, and encouraged by politicians who choose to look the other way. Like so many disasters that affect frontline communities and waterways, it’s a nightmare on the part of our government, which means we have the power to fix it too. We always have a choice and it is possible to make the changes we need.

The most effective way to legislatively address the CAFO crisis would be for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use the Clean Water Act to prevent uncontrolled discharges of untreated animal waste into our water. countries by requiring such facilities to obtain permits containing actual limits. . The Clean Water Act has been so successful in its 50 years, imagine what could happen if we fully implemented and enforced it. Unfortunately, the EPA has so far not responded to the pressure, so environmental groups sue to force the regulator to take action on clean water rules governing factory farms.

We can also urge our members of Congress to go further and pass real laws, like the Agricultural System Reform Actthat would help curb the monopolistic practices of the agriculture industry, invest billions in a more resilient food system, and finally begin to move us away from CAFOs toward more regenerative practices by truly independent farmers and ranchers.

Finally, we can and must encourage the industry to change its ways by pulling our purse strings. As the saying goes, money talks, and these companies must be made to listen. We don’t always need to buy food from companies that are contributing to this CAFO crisis. For those who are able to pay a little more on groceries, consider how much you can save.

About Edward Fries

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