A Healthy Pig (photo by vnyberg, courtesy of morgueFile.com)
Many people see CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) as a problem some distance from home, but those who live near the "manure lagoons" created by such mega-farms cannot escape the terrible odors emitted.
In northern Missouri a group of farmers living near a CAFO decided that they had enough of the awful smells and decided to sue Premium Standard Farms, a hog production group owned by Smithfield Foods. A jury in Kansas City has awarded $11 million to the plaintiffs, who claimed, "...odors from the operations nauseated them and forced them to stay indoors with the windows shut," according to the industry publication, Pork. The facility in Berlin, Missouri is said to produce 200,000 hogs annually.
It was the second such suit brought by locals against the facility. The first was in 1999, when 52 farmers received $5.2 million. The second suit was brought because the farmers claimed the odor problems had not been corrected. The jurors agreed that the local farmers had been deprived of the enjoyment of their property by the stink from the PSF facility, and that they were not just normal odors to be expected in an agricultural community. PSF is appealing the decision. A battle has been won, but the war goes on.
There is nothing new about complaints of environmental degradation, animal cruelty, and the threat to human health posed by CAFOs, where hogs are kept in extremely close quarters, fed growth hormones, and administered antibiotics, and the list of reasons to oppose CAFOs keeps growing. There seems little hope that they can be improved. The intense concentration of animals is the root of the problem, the critical element that makes such operations unsustainable.
The alternative to factory farming has been demonstrated on a small scale by food artisans and thoughtful farmers across the U.S. In one example, Herb and Kathy Eckhouse of La Quercia adhere to principles of sustainability in the making of their world-class prosciuttos. To them, this means that the animals have access to the out of doors, have room to move around and socially congregate, and root in deep bedding. They do not use meat from animals that have been given antibiotics, kept in large animal confinement facilities, fed animal byproducts, or given hormones.
Factory farm advocates will argue that they produce pork that is affordable for working families. But who will pay the health care and environmental cleanup costs that will inevitably result from meat full of growth hormones and antibiotics? What of the fact that these facilities are virtual incubators for health threats such as swine flu? And looking over the past record, are CAFOs part of an industry to be trusted with protecting the health of the environment?