Solution Proposal Emilie Brouse

I found this part of my paper to be particularly interesting: I found the proposed sustainable alternatives to CAFOs that I discovered through my research particularly interesting.

This part was surprisingly difficult: I found the word count requirement to be surprisingly difficult to meet.

Next time I would do this differently: Next time, I would begin a paper that consists of such a high word count much sooner to provide myself a stronger base.

An End to CAFOs— How to Achieve a Less Confined Animal Feeding Operations System

The Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) or "factory farm" is a system of agriculture that the United States government has favored and expended billions of dollars into for decades. According to the National Association of Local Boards of Health, a CAFO is a specific type of large-scale industrial agricultural facility that raises animals at high-density for the consumption of meat, eggs, or milk. CAFOs are classified by the high concentration, type and number of animals they contain, and the way in which they discharge the waste accumulated into the water supply. CAFOs contain at least a certain number of animals, or have a number of animals that fall within a range and have waste materials that come into contact with the water supply. This contact can either be through a pipe that carries manure or wastewater to surface water, or by animal contact with surface water that runs through their confined area (Hribar 1). These operations are the leading producer of animal products like beef, pork, chicken, dairy and egg products nation wide. There is detrimental indirect cost in these livestock production methods used in modern industrial agriculture. The use of a small number of very large, confined animal feeding operations plays a significant role in this indirect cost. These methods are often overlooked but contribute heavily to issues of extreme importance, like global warming and ozone pollution, which in turn have a hugely negative impact on agriculture and the rest of society.

In its 2008 report, "CAFOs Uncovered", the Union of Concerned Scientists informed us that although they comprise just 5 percent of animal-related operations in the United States, confined animal feeding operations contain more than half of our "food animal" supply. The animals are kept in unhealthy, unnatural living conditions for the majority of the year that allow minimal room for normal animal behaviors and little or no access to sunlight or fresh air. Pens and cages restrict the natural behavior and movement of these animals— in some cases, they aren't even able to turn around. This is an extremely unnatural and unhealthy living condition. An increasing number of "food animals" that were once raised on pastures are now raised in the feedlots that these operations are comprised of. These animals are kept in extremely unnatural conditions. They are indoors for the majority of the year and given feed formulated to speed their growth to market weight, all while minimizing costs to operators. These grain-based diets can produce serious, sometimes fatal problems in the digestive tract of "food animals," whose stomachs are better suited to digesting plants like grass. Additionally, studies have shown that the chemical additives in feed can accumulate in the animal's tissue and expose consumers to unhealthy chemicals and heavy metals (Hribar 3).

The animals are also mutilated in unnatural ways to adapt to factory farm conditions through horrible acts like cutting off the beaks of chickens and turkeys (de-beaking) and amputating the tails of cows and pigs (docking). And according to the Union of Concerned Scientists' article "Confined Dining: A Primer on Factory Farms and What They Mean for Your Meat", the concentration of the large amounts of manure produced in these small areas amounts to about 65 percent of the manure produced nationwide— a staggering 300 million tons per year. This is a significant problem for both storage and disposal and a massive contributor to both water and air pollution. The waste does nothing but create significant harmful environmental impact; not provide the convenient source of fertilizer that it could be for more diverse, less massively scaled farms. Consumers must stop and consider how these conditions are affecting the health of the animals, and thus the health of people who consume these animal products.

As the National Association of National Boards of Health states:

CAFO manure contains a variety of potential contaminants. It can contain plant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, pathogens such as E. coli, growth hormones, antibiotics, chemicals used as additives to the manure or to clean equipment, animal blood, silage leachate from corn feed, or copper sulfate used in footbaths for cows. Depending on the type and number of animals in the farm, manure production can range between 2,800 tons and 1.6 million tons a year. Large farms can produce more waste than some U.S. cities—a feeding operation with 800,000 pigs could produce over 1.6 million tons of waste a year. Annually, it is estimated that livestock animals in the U.S. produce each year somewhere between 3 and 20 times more manure than people in the U.S. produce, or as much as 1.2–1.37 billion tons of waste. Though sewage treatment plants are required for human waste, no such treatment facility exists for livestock waste.

Though the hugely negative impact these methods are inflicting on our environment may be clear to see, some choose to simply reap the benefits of the system. Many people of our society adhere to the harmful practices of industrial agriculture rather than oppose them, and see it as a productive and beneficial practice. These are people who argue that the benefits of industrial agriculture have been things such as cheap food, an increase in the country's export market, local productivity, a transition of labor on the farm to employment in other sectors and profitable chemical and agricultural industries. The advancements in biotechnology and modern farming methods used in industrial agriculture have made it possible for more food to be readily available at lower prices than ever before. And because food has become cheaper to produce, farmers can grow or raise a large variety of plants and livestock.

The advancements seen in biotechnology have resulted in things like hybrid varieties and disease resistant plants that can be grown in a wider spectrum of places. Farmers have also experienced greater access to water due to new irrigation technology. This new irrigation, as well as other technologies like fertilizers and greenhouses, have lengthened the growing season and allowed places that were previously unable to grow crops to be cultivated into new farm land. Advancements in shipping and storing technology have also proven beneficial in the eyes of those who argue for the continuation of the current system of industrial agriculture. There have been great advancements in the methods of packaging, preservation and delivery of the products of agriculture. These goods are being delivered to markets and grocery stores at a more time efficient pace than ever before. Large commercial industrial farms run by corporate giants like Tyson, ConAgra and Cargill that choose to use these technologies to their advantage account for the majority of these farm sales in the country. According to the Alberni Environmental Coalition, since 1993, only 6 percent of all US farms have accounted for more than 56 percent of farm sales nation wide (source?). These farms are industrial giants and, in the eyes of corporate, extremely beneficial to all of society. But what about the lives of the animals?

The federal farm policy currently in place encourages the growth of the Confined Animal Feeding Operation, despite the billions of dollars in environmental, health and economic cost it's ensued for taxpayers and communities throughout the nation. Government-enforced meat processor production contracts and animal ownership regulations provide means of economic control over these operations. These policies encourage the production of the inexpensive grain used in CAFOs, despite being proven to lead to serious animal ailments and fatalities. The operations shift the risks of their production methods onto the public to avoid addressing the costs of the harm they actually cause. And the lax enforcement of laws put in place to prevent competitive practices has proven harmful as well. The few large, powerful companies that use CAFOs dominate the meat processing industry and make it difficult for any other producer to have the opportunity to successfully market their product.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists,

The predominance of CAFOs is not the inevitable result of market forces; it's been fostered by misguided public policy. Alternative production methods can be economically efficient, technologically sophisticated, and deliver abundant animal products while avoiding most of the problems caused by CAFOs. However, these alternatives are at a competitive disadvantage because CAFOs have reduced their costs through government subsidies that come at the public's expense, including (until very recently) low-cost feed. CAFOs have also benefited from taxpayer-supported pollution cleanup programs and technological "fixes" that may be counterproductive, such as the overuse of antibiotics.

It's time that we stand up and demand adequate government regulation and reasonably enforced environmental standard for these agricultural practices. We as a country need a government that supports a more sustainable, healthy future for the lives of both the animals and the people.

There are many who do not agree with this call for action. Most of those in the agricultural establishment (corporate agribusinesses, commodity organizations and some farm organizations, including the Farm Bureau, the US Dept. of Agriculture, and Land Grant Universities) simply accept these large-scale confined animal feeding operations as an economic necessity. They view the CAFO as efficient and logical in the respect that it meets the demands of the ever-increasing population. They claim that consumer preference toward a system of uniformity and quality is only achievable through these standardized production systems. The agricultural establishment claims that the CAFO is needed in order to support economic development and progress, both locally and nationally. Our livestock farmers are most often told that they need to accept and adhere to these standards if they want a future in agriculture. The general public is told that these operations are necessary in order to meet the needs of global society, and that their prevalence in our world must continue on the basis of their ability to sufficiently supply food at a low cost.

The National Association of Local Boards of Health's article, "Understanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and Their Impact on Communities," published in 2010 states:

When properly managed, located, and monitored, CAFOs can provide a low-cost source of meat, milk, and eggs, due to efficient feeding and housing of animals, increased facility size, and animal specialization. When CAFOs are proposed in a local area, it is usually argued that they will enhance the local economy and increase employment. The effects of using local materials, feed, and livestock are argued to ripple throughout the economy, and increased tax expenditures will lead to increase funds for schools and infrastructure. It has also been said that livestock grown under the proposed more open-range conditions can be subject to harmful exposure to some types of micro-organisms, including salmonella and trichinosis. This increase in the incidence of certain diseases in more open-range operations is a definite interesting drawback.

The impacts of industrial agriculture on the environment, public health, and rural communities make it not only an unsustainable way to grow our food over the long term, but a detrimental system for us as a human race. And there are better, science-based methods are available. Dr. Mercola, a New York Times Best Selling Author featured in many medical, nutritional and scientific journals, is a great figure in the fight for more a more adequate and sustainable system of agriculture. He agrees with the proposal for a more sustainable and ecological system and believes that the U.S. government directly supports the CAFO, both by looking the other way when abuse or contamination occurs and by directly subsidizing cheaply produced beef, as well as the corn and soy used for feed. He stated,

Thanks to U.S. government subsidies, between 1997 and 2005, factory farms saved an estimated $3.9 billion per year because they were able to purchase corn and soybeans at prices below what it cost to grow the crops. Without these feed discounts, amounting to a 5 to 15 percent reduction in operating costs, it is unlikely that many of these industrial factory farms could remain profitable. By contrast, many small farms that produce much of their own forage receive no government money. Yet they are expected somehow to match the efficiency claims of the large, subsidized mega-factory farms. On this uneven playing field, CAFOs may falsely appear to "outcompete" their smaller, diversified counterparts.

It's time that we stand up and demand that this government support for such an inhumane system is put to an end. Providing subsidies for these large-scale factory farms and confined animal feeding operations purely for their own profit, not for the profit of it's people, is not something that we as a nation should stand for.

We as a country must recognize the current situation regarding the harmful system in place and the many negative impacts these confined animal feeding operations have created. We need to take a stand and address the current agricultural crisis, despite society's attempt at a more positive portrayal. A paper published in Science magazine, written by a group of researchers led by Washington State University soil scientist John P. Reganold, agrees that there is an urgent need for transformation in the way in which our country approaches farming. These highly qualified scientists fully support the proposal that we must take a stand and enforce some policies in agriculture that address long-term sustainability. The Science magazine article states: "Achieving sustainable agricultural systems will require transformative changes in markets, policy, and science. To execute this change will require a transition away from CAFOs and toward more sustainable, innovative farming practices that integrate production, environmental, and socioeconomic objectives; reflect greater awareness of ecosystem services; and capitalize on synergies between complementary farm enterprises, such as between crop and livestock production." This is why I propose that we as a community take a stand. So many experts in the field of agriculture have indicated that it's time we make a conscious effort— to support the small farms in our area, particularly organic farms that adhere to the laws of nature and steer clear from such harmful, inhumane practices. So what are we waiting for?

The Sustainable Table states that the prevalence of the confined animal feeding operation has caused a loss of nearly four million of these smaller-scaled farms in the United States since the 1930s. We as a nation are foolish for allowing this destruction of our precious environment and community when we know it's wrong, both morally and economically. More environmentally friendly, sustainable farms have been proven to provide a significantly higher number of jobs for members of the local community and surrounding areas. These farms support local economies, not only through the sale of the food products themselves, but through the purchasing of supplies from local businesses. A University of Minnesota study showed that small farms with gross incomes of $100,000 or less made almost 95 percent of farm-related expenditures within their local communities. Additional studies have shown that many locally owned, small-scale farms have a "multiplier effect": for every dollar that many of these farms spend, they make a commitment to give a percentage back to the local economy ("Food Economics"). This is a system that not only contributes to the health and well-being of the consumer, but to the economic health of the community as a whole.

Sustainable agriculture can essentially be described as the practice of farming ecologically. Rather than focusing only on the economic viability of the crops, sustainable agriculture also involves using nonrenewable resources effectively, growing nutritious foods and enhancing the quality of life of the farmers. By supporting more small-scale farmers that use much more sustainable practices, like using organic fertilizers and drip irrigation techniques, we can begin to help produce enough to feed a growing population without pushing our climate further out of control. But we can't do it alone. We as a people need to make a commitment to change our ways regarding food consumption, as well as demand a commitment to this change in government policy. The small farmer needs to be given adequate access to the insurance, legal aid, financing, marketing assistance, appropriate equipment, techniques and tools necessary to be successful in the realm of agriculture today.

A 2006 study commissioned by the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office provides a review of 56 socioeconomic studies concerning the impacts of industrial agriculture on rural communities. It concluded:

Based on the evidence generated by social science research, we conclude that public concern about the detrimental community impacts of industrialized farming is warranted. In brief, this conclusion rests on five decades of government and academic concern with this topic, a concern that has not abetted but that has grown more intense in recent years, as the social and environmental problems associated with large animal confinement operations [CAFOs] have become widely recognized. CAFOs are the epitome of industrial agriculture and industrial agriculture simply cannot sustain rural communities. Reams of scientific reports also document clear linkages between the obvious air and water pollution from CAFOs and public health risks. Those risks include contamination of air, water, soil, and foods with toxic chemicals, infectious diseases, antibiotic resistant bacteria, and E. coli. A prestigious commission funded by the Pew Charitable Trust concluded in their 2008 report, that the current industrial farm animal production system often poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals… the negative effects of the system are too great and the scientific evidence is too strong to ignore. Significant changes must be implemented and must start now. (source?)

The Sustainable Table states:

While large-scale, single crop (also called monoculture) farms produce a large output per worker, diversified sustainable farms produce more food per acre of land. In other words, sustainable farms require more workers and create more jobs, while also doing a better job of feeding people on smaller plots of land than industrial farms. Meanwhile, a study by the University of Essex found that sustainable agriculture increased productivity by an average of 93 percent on nine million farms in places including the Sahel region of Africa, the hills of the Andes, the rainforests of Southeast Asia, and other areas where synthetic-chemical-dependent farming is neither affordable nor successful. As many Western governments and foundations are attempting to introduce industrial agriculture to Africa, a report by an international affiliate of the United Nations, endorsed by 58 countries and prepared by 400 experts, advocated instead a low-input, small-scale agricultural model. In 2011, the United Nations reported that using low-input organic methods, African farmers could double their production. ("Food Economics")

This quote is proof that these diversified sustainable farms have been proven to produce more food output per acre of land, at times even double the amount of output in comparison to the current system of agriculture. They also are hugely beneficial for our economy in that they provide more overall employment. With this incredible model of efficiency, affordability and positive impact— both on the environment and on us as a community of consumers— why not try to put a more sustainable animal production system into action?

And the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center agrees. According to this highly acclaimed national center for agriculture:

Most of the production systems advocated by CAFO critics involve raising animals over a larger area, thus reducing the problems that arise when animal wastes are concentrated in smaller areas and higher concentrations. Traditionally in dispersed animal production systems, animal wastes were used as a means of restoring land fertility after grazing or crop production. For many critics, the increased use of dispersed production systems would reduce many of the air and water pollution problems that result from CAFOs, while achieving other objectives including more space for animals, and, when possible, the replacement of grains with forage in the diets of animals such as beef and dairy cattle.

And 500,000 of these small-scale farms around the world are helping to put food on the plates of two billion people— or one in three people on earth— while creating far less negative impact on our planet. With effective, ambitious government support, and by investing in the right companies, agricultural productivity can soar. As Oxfam International states, "It's time to grow through small-scale farming" ("Support for Small-Scale Farming").

We as individuals can be a part of the solution for the CAFO in so many ways. Visiting farms directly, taking part in local farmer's markets and other community-supported agriculture programs, and purchasing community Co-Op memberships are all ways in which community members can help to make a difference and affect change in the current agricultural system. These whole foods are available in abundance and are a great way to begin to create positive change in the realm of one's own health, as well as in the health of the community and the planet. The food available at local farms, farmer's markets and other community-supported agriculture programs is so much more healthy and wholesome (not to mention, tastier!) than the vast majority of other products on grocery store shelves. By choosing to be a part of the solution and not shopping at a generic supermarket— home to virtually every CAFO product ever created— we can truly make a difference and create a lasting impact in the system. Our society would look vastly different in a day and age in which all foods are produced organically and distributed in a healthy way, both for people and the environment. I believe that enacting and following a more sustainable and natural route in the production of agriculture would provide a model for a much more healthy and sustainable planet overall. Truly beginning to focus on the food we eat, where it comes from and how it's produced will impact the way we live. Committing to make a change in the way we eat could absolutely create a profoundly positive effect on the way that we live. Simply choosing to purchase whole foods from non-CAFO sources is a great way to begin this effect and begin to support not only our own health, but the health of the animals and the precious world around us.

Works Cited:

n.p. USCUSA. Union of Concerned Scientists, 2012. Web. April 2014.

Hribar, Carrie MS. National Association of Local Boards of Health. Understanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and Their Impact on Communities. Bowling Green, 2010. Print. April 2014.

Mercola, Joseph, Pearsall, Kendra. Take Control of Your Health. 2007. Print. April 2014.

"Food Economics." Sustainable Table. Grace Communications Foundation, 1997. Web. April 2014.

John P. Reganold, Alan S. Palmer, James C. Lockhart, A. Neil Macgregor. Science 16 April 1993: 344-349. Print. April 2014.

Halden, Rolf U. MS, PhD and Schwab, Kellogg J. PhD. National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, 2008. Web. April 2014.

Clunies-Ross, Tracey and Hildyard, Nicholas. The Politics of Industrial Agriculture. Florence: Routledge, 2013. Print. April 2014.

n.p. HOMES (Helping Others Maintain Environmental Standards). A Rural Revolution: A Time to Act Against CAFOS. Ikerd, John. 2011. Web. April 2014.

"Support for Small-Scale Farming." Oxfam International. 2014. Web. April 2014.

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