Community Health
Factory Farm Impacts

Community health generally declines when factory farms set up shop nearby. Communities impacted by large industrial CAFOs are rural in nature since animal factories don't come to urban areas.

The Pew Commission
on Industrial Farm Animal Production

Much of the material on community health is from the Pew Commission's thirty month study on Industrial Farm Animal Production released in April 2008(IFAP). The entire report can be read online by clicking on the highlighted title above.

The Siren Song of the CAFO

Rural communities are usually disadvantaged in terms of educational level, availability of employment opportunities, public infrastructure and discrimination. Thus when large corporations come to town looking for new areas to place their factory farms, they are welcomed with open arms.

They promise economic development, job creation and new business for the community. Tax abatements and a menu of other benefits are often provided by civic leaders to entice the companies to choose their community for the operations.

Results Far Short of Promises

The results are almost uniformly a series of broken dreams, broken promises and even greater poverty for the community residents.

Studies conducted on community health of industrial farm locales and those that retain their locally owned smaller traditional farms always turn out in favor of the family-owned traditional farming community. The determining factor is the extent to which money stays in the community.

A Video is Worth a Thousand Words

This is as good a place as any to show a video trailer about a landmark book on the subject of CAFOs and their effect on people's lives, health and the animals themselves. The book is aptly named, The CAFO Reader: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories and is edited by Daniel Imhoff.

The video trailer was produced by CLTonline of Tompkins Conservation.

Among other things, the book points to the indifference of state regulatory agencies and elected officials toward the horrible conditions created by CAFOS on community health and pollution. They seem to be more interested in protecting the polluters than the communities they are supposed to serve.

The video trailer is a little over 3 minutes long and hopefully it will move people to get the book and start educating themselves about CAFOs and their impact on communities and the environment. It is especially important to read if you happen to live in a rural area and the CAFOs have their eye on your community for expansion. If so, be very afraid; your community health is in great jeopardy in all respects.

No Economic Help

Locally owned and controlled farms buy their supplies and services in the community. Industrial farm corporations buy in volume from outside the community and mandate that the local industrial farmers under contract to the corporation must buy from designated sources.

Local feed stores, hardware stores and farm supply stores soon find themselves out of business.

The Score Card

In comparing the community health of two types of farming operations, industrial versus locally owned, the findings are that the animal factory communities are:

  • worse off in social interactions
  • worse off financially
  • more like to have higher usage of food stamps
  • have less local control over public decisions
  • more susceptible to influence by outside agribusiness
  • worse off in quality of life do to extreme odors and filth
  • less likely to have a sense of identity and belonging
  • less likely to engage in social activities
  • less likely to exhibit mutual trust or help each other
  • Communities that come to rely on CAFOs for economic development soon find themselves unattractive to other types of industry.

    Declining Employment; Migrant Workers Proliferate

    The CAFOs actually decrease the number of available jobs due to the high levels of automation and, what jobs there are, attract iterant workers who will toil for low wages and no benefits. These are usually migrant aliens, many illegal.

    This tends to further degrade community health in terms of heightened tensions and higher levels of distrust.


    No Way Out

    Furthermore, once becoming dependant on the CAFO system, communities find it impossible to escape the tight hand of big agribusiness. If the factory farms do decide to pull up stakes and leave, the community is left with a huge, expensive mess to clean up.

    It is no surprise that property values begin to decline, community tax revenues decline and community infrastructure deteriorates due to lack of maintenance.

    Generally in industrial farming areas, community health degenerates to a clash of rights that pit neighbor against neighbor.

    The right to enjoy life on one's property without horrible smells, drifting sewage from spray fields and unsightly confinement buildings and waste lagoons clash with the other neighbors right to do as he pleases with his own property and make a living from his land; i.e., the right to farm.

    Such clashes stoke high emotions, erode mutual respect, destroy former friendships and often bring forth threats of physical violence.

    whole house water filtration system

    Health Takes a Hit

    In terms of illness, community health really takes a hit. In a study of 226 North Carolina schools, children living within three miles of a CAFO had higher rates of asthma and more asthma-related emergency room visits than kids living more than three miles from the facility.

    Higher rates of depression, anger, fatigue and negative mood swings are prominent in people living in the vicinity of industrial animal factories.

    Exposure to hydrogen sulfide from CAFOs has been linked to neuropsychiatric abnormalities.

    If that isn't bad enough, community health often suffers in terms of contaminated ground water rendering well water undrinkable.

    Nitrates from fertilizers and animal waste applications on fields have been found to create birth defects, various cancers and thyroid disruption.

    The lesson to be learned for rural communities is that no matter how bad things seem; they will get worse when the CAFOs come to town. The way out is through sustainable, family owned agriculture and that will be covered in another section.

    A First Hand Account

    Nancy, one of our readers living at ground zero of the industrial chicken farming area of Southern Delaware, contributed the following account of life in the proximity of CAFOs.

    She writes, ..."Between growing the chickens, cleaning out the houses, and then spreading the manure on the many fields in this region, I believe the air is simply saturated with the bacteria, fungus, and who knows what else that comes from this overly done industry in just one county in a small state.

    The statistics of the amount of chicken houses per square mile is staggering, and makes one wonder how we can wake up in the morning alive at all. My nose started bleeding when I came to live here 26 years ago as a newlywed and it's never stopped.

    I haven't gone the route of allergy shots because I don't think they would help this. This isn't an allergy to chickens, like one would be allergic to cats or certain trees. It's a consequence of being directly exposed to fungus and bacteria and our bodies are in a constant battle against it.

    It is compromising our immune systems, and it doesn't surprise me at all how high the cancer rate is here in southern Delaware. Yes, they have done studies on just that very fact.

    Today, I'm feeling woozy, weak, slightly nauseated, sleepy, these are just some of the symptoms of being exposed to spread manure around here.

    Yes, people have always done it and they did this years ago and it saves money for the farmer. But when this practice started, they didn't have an understanding of bacteria and fungus like they do now.

    I believe it's getting worse too. This is based on how I feel from year to year and others I have talked to. To me having to breathe this air is no different than what would happen to someone who jumped into a vat of manure and swam around in that bacterial slurry. Our respiratory system, basically all our internal organs, are getting bathed in this bacterial, fungal air we all have no other choice but to breathe".

    She goes on to say, "There is so much more...like the almost immediate low grade fevers we all seem to get as soon as manure has been spread or [chicken] houses get cleaned out for an outgoing flock. That may sound like a small thing, but trying to conduct everyday life with a low grade fever gets old after a while. It makes you tired, slightly nauseated and generally run down.

    Then the regular stuff like budding trees and flowers starts. People in this area, Sussex county Delaware, are used to this and probably run to the doctor all the time to get their tri-monthly dose of antibiotics. This is what it takes to live here.

    And with the massive number of houses in this region, these farming activities don't all happen at the same time, so we are continuously plagued with the offensive root cause circumstances. I don't go to the doctor much at all. I try my best to do things naturally. One example of that is oregano oil. It naturally kills bacteria and fungus. I believe it does work when taken internally. There are many natural immune system boosters that people in this area know of and use.

    However most regular doctors that one would see in this area for a routine sinus infection, ear infection, pneumonia, asthma, bronchitis, digestive problems would never suggest these things AND if bacterial and fungal farming pollution is brought up, you're looked at like you have two heads."

    Nancy's story is not unusual by any means. This is how life is dramatically changed when the CAFOs come to town.

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