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Environment Research


FACTORY FARMS UNDER SCRUTINY

Factory farms have come under the scrutiny of public health professionals and environmental groups for the pollution and disease associated with the 2.7 trillion pounds of manure they produce each year.

The Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md., launched a program Sept. 9 to study and evaluate the effects of breeding large numbers of food animals in concentrated lots in other words, factory farms.

"The way that we breed animals for food is a threat to the planet. It pollutes our environment while consuming huge amounts of water, grain, petroleum, pesticides and drugs. The results are disastrous," David Brubaker, the project's director said in a statement.

Manure from factory farms has been linked to diseases such as E. coli, listeria, and cryptosporidium. A hog farm with 5,000 animals produces as much fecal waste as a city with 50,000 people, yet the disposal methods are primitive and lead to disease, said Brubaker.

"The current system is totally dysfunctional," he added in a telephone interview. "The real costs are not reflected in the price of the chicken."

The cleanup costs associated with the water and air pollution caused by factory farms are paid for by taxpayers in the form of new water treatment plants and visits to the doctor. The industry needs to be regulated in way that forces it to pick up the tab for its pollution, said Brubaker.

The Sierra Club weighed in against factory farms on Sept. 15 with the release of a report on how tax breaks and other federal incentives pave the way for factory farms to move into and pollute rural neighborhoods.

While tax breaks and incentives for big industry to move into rural communities and spur the economy is not a new practice, factorY farms "don't bring any economic benefits but actually cause economic hardships and pollution," said Ken Midkiff, co-chair of the club's Clean Water Campaign.

"The big problem in all of this is concentration," he said. "That many animals in one place just magnifies any problem that exists."

The solution to this problem, said Midkiff, is to return livestock production back to the family farmer. Currently, a few companies control the entire poultry industry and there are no independent producers. "You either work directly for the companies or are under contract for them," said Midkiff.

He maintains, however, that the current monopoly situation can be changed by government policies that promote self-sustainable, independent producers instead of promoting factory farms.

As a nutritionist, Brubaker takes a slightly different tack. He believes that Americans' eat too much meat. "If people ate less meat and demanded it was produced in a way that was sustainable, it would open a way for the small guys to get back in the game."

9/20/99


BARBEQUES and GREAT BRITAIN: Britain's backyard barbequers burn 60,000 tons of charcoal each year to cook their favorite summer meats. Ninety-five percent of the charcoal is imported, with a third coming from Southeast Asia's mangrove forests.

Source: "Charcoals to Newcastle," Earth Island Journal, Spring 1996.


CHICKEN and CHINA: In news with both serious health and environmental repercussions, China is currently increasing its overall meat demand by four million tons per year. Of that amount, China's consumption of poultry meat is rising by 700,000 tons per year.

Source: William A. Dudley-Cash, "Producers must get ready to supply chicken for 9 billion people," Feedstuffs, Oct 7, 1996, p11.


FARMERS and ENVIRONMENTALISTS: 250 Wisconsin farmers who raise about 80,000 acres of irrigated potatoes have committed themselves to a timetable of reductions in their use of carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting pesticides, adoption of biointensive Integrated Pest Management practices and protecting the habitat of the rare Karmer Blue butterfly and the sandhill crane. In exchange for these changes, the World Wildlife Fund has committed to developing a label and third-party certification for the potatoes as well as to educating consumers about the environmental improvements made by the growers.

Source: Ben Larson, "Farmers, environmentalists unite to fix potatoes," Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, Feb 10, 1997.


FISH

FISH and MEXICO and CALIFORNIA: In December 1995, the Sacramento Bee newspaper ran a remarkable 4-part series on the devastation of the Sea of Cortez between mainland Mexico and Baja California. The Sea of Cortez is 700 miles long, 60 to 150 miles wide, and nearly twice the size of Lake Superior, and more than 300 times larger than Lake Tahoe.

Part One: Tom Knudson, "A Dying Sea," Dec 10, 1995.

• "This great amniotic sea, this world showcase of marine life is being destroyed. The problem is basic. It is overfishing, aided by greed, corruption, poverty and lawlessness. This is 1995, but the Gulf of California is a frontier sea where marine life is slaughtered for markets in the US and Asia, for foreign exchange and sometimes for little more than gas money."

• "The Sea of Cortez is more than just a dazzling spectacle of nature. It is a Pacific Caribbean for the western US. It is California's Riviera."

• "Gone are the huge navies of game fish that fed so savagely they forced schools of bait fish to burst out of the water--volcanoes of fish erupting into the air. Gone are the immense, slow-moving cumulus clouds of turtles, manta rays, the thick, spiraling columns of hammerhead and thresher sharks, the clams thick as cobblestones on the beach. Gone too is the future for many families who make their living from the sea."

• "By all accounts, the entire gulf is being utterly devastated by overfishing," said Paul Dayton, a professor of marine ecology at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Ca, one of the premier marine science centers in the world."

• "And there's something else: This is no isolated disaster. It is one spore in a larger pox, the plundering of oceans worldwide."

• "Catch a ride on a shrimp trawler, the sea's most destructive fishing machine. Watch the big nets scoop up tons of unwanted species, such as sea horses, starfish, manta rays and enormous quantities of baby fish. Help the crew sort out the shrimp and heave the excess overboard--dead. For every pound of shrimp caught in the Sea of Cortez, nearly 10 pounds of other marine life dies."

• "The world is not just losing the treasures of the Sea of Cortez. It is eating them. Fishing is supposed to be done conservatively to protect stocks. But in poverty-stricken Mexico, another rule applies: If you will buy it, they will kill it. They will liquidate their sea." And the US is the biggest buyer of Mexico's seafood.

• "Here the ocean was full of fish, like a smorgasbord. Now there's nothing. The gulf is exhausted." Manuel Palacio, 65, Mexican fisherman.

• "The damage doesn't stop at the water's edge. In some places, seabirds are fading from the sky too, apparently because there's not enough fish to eat."

Part Two: Tom Knudson, "Waste on grand scale loots sea," Dec 11, 1995.

• There is massive waste in commercial fishing. "It is one of the most serious environmental problems in the world," said Paul Dayton, of Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla. "And it's out of sight. Fisherman don't advertise it. People don't know what's happening."

• "Worldwide, more than 57 billion pounds of sea life are caught unintentionally and wasted every year, estimates the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. That is more than 200 pounds of dead, discarded marine life for every man, woman and child in the US. It is one-quarter of all annual marine catches on Earth and more than double the entire commercial marine catch of the world's largest fishing nation, China."

• "Almost 92 percent of northern Australia's prawn catch isn't prawns. It's 240 other species, mostly fish, crabs and mollusks."

• "By wasting so much marine life, fisherman may be literally throwing away the future."

• "In the Sea of Cortez, for every pound of shrimp caught, 9.7 pounds of other marine life dies. And sometimes, the ratio climbs to 40 to 1, according to people who live on the sea."

• The Sea of Cortez was once a place teeming with life--"a Serengeti of the sea." "It was like diving into an aquarium," says one old-timer.

• "The sea is a vast piece of machinery, composed of billions of moving parts. But whole segments are being stripped away before anyone knows how they work or fit into the larger whole...Species that were abundant 20 years ago are ghosts today."

Part Three: Tom Knudson, "Bribery, lawbreaking, scarce law enforcement abound," Dec 12, 1995.

• "Oceans everywhere are hard to police. And poaching is commonplace."

• "As the seas are depleted, something else is damaged, too: the human communities that depend on them...Ironically, those who suffer the greatest are those who need the sea the most--simple fishermen and their families."

Part Four: Tom Knudson, "It's not too late, and the sea itself may show the way," Dec 13, 1995.

• "But the biggest reason for hope has nothing to do with people. It is the Sea of Cortez itself. The sea is a recovery project waiting to happen."


FISH and SHRIMP: A recent report in Science News on the environmental horrors caused by shrimp fishing found, "Most of what trawlers catch in their nets is not what they seek. However, even the vast quantities of unwanted species that make it onto a ship's deck offer only a superficial glimpse of the unintended damage that deep trawls wreak as they scour the ocean floor."

Ten to 20 pounds of animals are being killed for each pound of commercially caught shrimp. What's more, trawling is inflicting havoc on the ocean floor and the species that dwell there, and may underlie the recent collapse of many commercial groundfish stocks, including cod, haddock, pollock and flounder.

Elliot Norse, director of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Redmond, Wash., told Science News, "We're talking about destruction of marine habitat that is, if not equivalent, at least in the ballpark with clear-cutting forests on land."

Researchers in Australia have found that a single pass by a prawn trawler removes from 5-20 percent of the seafloor animals. On average, commercial trawlers plow through most of the prawn-rich waters at least once, and as many as eight times annually.

Source: Janet Raloff, "Fishing for Answers," Science News, Oct 26, 1996, vol 150, p268-271.


FISH IN DECLINE: A report issued in February by the Natural Resources Defense Council says that overfishing is the lead factor in the 46 percent decline in the US's fish population. The NRDC report notes that swordfish, red snapper, Atlantic cod and shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico are disappearing faster than they can be replaced.

Source: Eun-Kyung Kim, "Holy Mackerel: Group Claims Fish Levels In Peril," Associated Press, Feb 11, 1997.


ORGANIC AGRICULTURE: A field of organically grown grain corn survived a summer drought much better than the same kind of corn grown using chemical fertilizers and pesticides according to researchers at the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pa. Researchers attribute the organic fields' better production to the fact that they held water better than the chemically treated land.

Source: "Organic corn hardier than conventional," Science News, vol 148, Oct 14, 1995.


PESTICIDES

PESTICIDES and INERT INGREDIENTS: An historic court ruling in October 1996 means that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must now provide information about the identity of so-called "inert" ingredients in pesticide products. Inerts are any of more than 2,300 substances added to pesticides but not named on the product labels. Despite their name they are neither biologically, chemically nor toxicologically inert. Until now EPA has been routinely accepting manufacturers' claims that inerts are trade secrets. An appeal of the decision by the pesticide industry is likely.

Source: Caroline Cox, "Judge Rules Pesticide 'Inerts' Are Not Trade Secrets," Journal of Pesticide Reform, Winter 1996, vol 16, #4, p8.


PESTICIDES and SAN FRANCISCO: On October 15, 1996 San Francisco's Board of Supervisors passed a landmark ordinance banning all city pesticide use beginning in the year 2000. There will also be an immediate ban on the most toxic pesticides used by the city.

Source: Anita Regan, "New San Francisco Ordinance Will End City Pesticide Use," Journal of Pesticide Reform, Winter 1996, vol 16, #4, p9.


PORK PRODUCTION and WATER POLLUTION: In February, the Associated Press reported that Smithfield Foods Inc., one of the nation's largest meatpackers, is accused of polluting a Chesapeake Bay tributary. Suits filed by the state could amount to fines up to $2 million, but the US EPA has filed its own $125 million lawsuit against Smithfield.

Industry analysts say the company's long-term outlook remains bright, however. In February, Smithfield reported profits of $15.4 million for its third quarter, up from $8.2 million the previous year. Smithfield slaughters a total of about 70,000 pigs each day at five of its plants.

Source: Sonja Barisic, "Analysts: Pollution Troubles Will Have Little Impact on Meatpacker," Associated Press, Feb 19, 1997.


STATE OF THE WORLD: Each year, the Worldwatch Institute publishes State of the World, a report on progress being made toward a sustainable society. Here are excerpts from Chapters One through Three of State of the World 1997. In the May issue of the EarthSave Research Update, we will cover Chapters Five Through Nine.

Chapter One: The Legacy of Rio

 

Chapter Two: Facing the Prospect of Food Security

 

Chapter Three: Preserving Global Cropland