FACTORY FARMS UNDER
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
"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,
"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
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."
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
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 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
• "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."
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
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
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
Source: Janet Raloff,
"Fishing for Answers," Science News, Oct 26, 1996, vol
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.
Kim, "Holy Mackerel: Group Claims Fish Levels In Peril," Associated
Press, Feb 11, 1997.
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.
corn hardier than conventional," Science News, vol 148, Oct
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.
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.
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.
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
- A newborn in the
US requires more than twice as much grain and 10 times as much oil as
a child born in Brazil or Indonesia, and produces far more pollution.
In fact, a simple calculation shows that the annual increase in the
US population of 2.6 million people puts more pressure on the world's
resources than do the 17 million people added in India each year...Unless
industrial countries develop less resource-intensive life-styles and
less-polluting technologies, it will be impossible to develop a sustainable
world economy, regardless of where the world's population stabilizes.
- Detailed studies
undertaken in Germany conclude that by using resources more productively,
it will be possible in coming decades to reduce energy and material
consumption levels in industrial countries by a factor of four while
actually improving the standard of living. (19)
Chapter Two: Facing
the Prospect of Food Security
- All oceanic fisheries
are being fished at or beyond capacity (23)
- A large share of
Asia's 3.1 billion people are moving up the food chain, eating more
pork, poultry, beef, and eggs and drinking more beer, all of which are
grain-intensive products. (24)
- Grain harvests
increased dramatically from 1950 to 1990, but have increased by only
3 percent from 1990 to 1996. (24)
- The average American
requires 800 kilograms of grain a year, the great bulk of it consumed
indirectly in the form of beef, pork, poultry, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt
and ice cream. The average Indian, in contrast, gets by with 200 kgs
of grain a year, almost all of it consumed directly. The world's healthiest
people...live at an intermediate position, using perhaps 400 kgs of
grain, the so-called Mediterranean diet...Two billion tons of grain
(slightly more than all the world's farmers currently produce) could
support 5 billion people eating a Mediterranean diet (400 kgs grain/year),
2.5 billion Americans (800 kgs grain/year), or 10 billion Indians (200
kgs grain/year). (34-5)
- Between 1990 and
1995, China's grain consumption increased by 40 million tons. Of this
total, 33 million tons were consumed as feed and 7 million as food.
"China is not alone in moving up the food chain. In India, the
broiler industry is growing by 15 percent a year, doubling every five
years. And milk consumption is rising. The broiler industry in Indonesia,
a country of 200 million people, is growing at a comparable rate. Feedgrain
use is now climbing throughout Asia: in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia,
Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. (36)
- For the world's
poor, grain scarcity could mean a life-threatening doubling of grain
prices. This could lead to social unrest. (38-9)
- For the world's
affluent, grain scarcity could have a major effect on the world economy
and growing political instability in developing countries. "This
could directly affect the profits of multi-national corporations, the
performance of stock markets, and the earnings of pension funds."
- Until recently,
the world had three reserves it could call on in the event of a poor
harvest: cropland idled under farm programs; surplus stocks of grain
in storage; and the one third of the world grain harvest that is fed
to livestock, poultry and fish. As of early 1997, two of these reserves--the
idled cropland and the surplus stocks--have largely disappeared. The
only remaining reserve that can be tapped is the grain used as feed.
This is much more difficult to draw on." One way to do this without
having grain prices soar is "to tax the consumption of these products
among the affluent, thus lowering the demand for grain...Unpopular though
it would be, such a tax might be politically acceptable if it were the
key to maintaining political stability in low-income countries."
Preserving Global Cropland
- Nearly everywhere,
the greatest threat to cropland comes not from the bulldozer but from
a less visible and more diffuse source: land degradation. Around the
world, agriculture has eroded, compacted, contaminated, salted or waterlogged
extensive tracts of cropland. And the damage continues to be unabated
- A landmark 1991
United Nations study estimated that 552 million hectares--equal to 38
percent of today's global cultivated area--had been damaged to some
degree by agricultural mismanagement since World War II. (49)
- In an era of increasing
scarcity, Worldwatch asks, "does Africa have a greater moral
claim to grain exports because it uses grain more efficiently--for direct
human consumption--while Asians feed much of their imported grain to
livestock? And if efficient use is a moral issue, does the US--with
one of the world's highest levels of meat consumption per person--have
a moral obligation to cut its grain consumption first?" (54)
- Pressure on
agricultural land can also be minimized by reducing demand. In the short
run, the easiest way to reduce grain consumption is to lower the intake
of meat and milk, grain-intensive foods. Roughly two of every five tons
of grain produced in the world is fed to livestock, poultry or fish;
decreasing consumption of these products, especially of beef, could
free up massive quantities of grain and reduce pressure on land. Indeed,
the most prosperous nations have plenty of room to cut down their meat
(and therefore grain) consumption. Average annual grain consumption
is just over 300 kgs per person globally, yet people in 18 nations consume
well over 500 kgs, and the average American consumes more than 800.
If the greatest consumers of grain had eaten on average 400 kilograms
of grain in 1995—the Italian level of consumption—13 percent more grain
would have been available that year. This represents what can be grown
on more than 70 million hectares of land." (59) (emphasis added)