The CAFO Conundrun: Factory Farms

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The CAFO Conundrun The iconic family farms of yesteryear are gone. The towering silos and red barns are replaced by industrial buildings more closely resembling warehouses than farms. The vast green fields of grazing cows has been replaced by lurid, cramped, pens with the animals being fed grains that they are unable to properly digest, as they wade through ankle deep swamps of their own manure. The hardworking, up-before-the-sun farmhand fell long ago to hordes of cheap, disposable, abused workers; the independent farm owner succumbed to the monopolous agricultural corporations that push them farther and farther into debt by contractually requiring ever-modern equipment, though never increasing salaries. Farms are no longer farms;…show more content…
Such facilities house animals destined for the food industry--lots of them. Depending on the type of livestock, a CAFO can house several hundred animals all the way up into the millions (Agricultural Waste Management Field Handbook 4). Being that their primary purpose in life is to grow as large as possible, as fast as possible, the animals are constantly fed, and are constantly turning that food into manure. Though an animal defecating is nothing new or shocking, the vast quantities or feces produced provide an interesting logistical problem for CAFO operators. Take into consideration the following: The average dairy cow can produce as much as 21 times the amount of waste per day that the average human does (Agricultural Waste Management Field Handbook 4).A large sized CAFO housing 4700 cattle can produce as much waste per day as the human population of Berkeley, CA. Though unlike Berkeley and all other major cities, CAFOs are not home to complex sewage systems. In fact, many CAFOs simply drain the manure into large lagoons that are periodically sprayed onto the land surrounding the complex. This bacteria infested sludge is rich in key nutrients, most notably nitrogen and phosphorous, and is meant to fertilize the land. While this practice may seem environmentally sound, its acumen is dubious at…show more content…
While plants do benefit from elevated levels of phosphorous and nitrogen in the soil, so too do the pests that eat the crops, leading to population booms of bugs like crop-decimating aphids (National Academy of Sciences 688). The result is an increase in the amount of pesticides that farmers must use; pesticides that eventually seep into ground water and sometimes into potable supplies. Infiltrating ground water right along side the pesticides are the excess fertilizers which, once in rivers, streams, and lakes, cause rapid growth of algae. The immense amount of algae blocks off sunlight in these bodies of water and chokes off other plant life, which in turn kills off the fish that normally thrive on plants. In other cases, the algae blooms from eutrophication turn out to be incredibly toxic species (National Academy of Sciences 696). One particularly nasty algae is Pfiesteria piscicida which emits toxins that break down the skin of fish, causing bleeding and sores and ending in mass fish death (Howarth 39). In August 2005, a dairy farm in Western New York experienced a manure lagoon collapse, which resulted in 3 million gallons of manure funneling into the nearby Black River, where it killed as many as 250,000 fish, brought all recreation to a halt, and forced the city of

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