Make CAFOs pay for the harm they cause

Blog for Iowa published this important post from the Iowa Farmers Union about a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists called CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations. Here are some key findings:

Misguided federal farm policies have encouraged the growth of massive confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, by shifting billions of dollars in environmental, health and economic costs to taxpayers and communities [...].

"CAFOs aren't the natural result of agricultural progress, nor are they the result of rational planning or market forces," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist in UCS's Food and Environment Program and author of the report. "Ill-advised policies created them, and it will take new policies to replace them with more sustainable, environmentally friendly production methods."


The report also details how other federal policies give CAFOs hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to address their pollution problems, which stem from the manure generated by thousands, if not tens of thousands, of animals confined in a small area. The report estimates that CAFOs have received $100 million in annual pollution prevention payments in recent years through the federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which was established by the 2002 Farm Bill.

"If CAFOs were forced to pay for the ripple effects of harm they have caused, they wouldn't be dominating the U.S. meat industry like they are today," said Margaret Mellon, director of UCS's Food and Environment Program. "The good news is that we can institute new policies that support animal production methods that benefit society rather than harm it."

Instead of favoring CAFOs, the report recommends that government policies provide incentives for modern production methods that benefit the environment, public health and rural communities. The report also shows that several smart alternative production methods can offer meat and dairy at costs comparable to CAFO products.


In addition to steering taxpayer dollars away from CAFOs, the report also urges Congress to enforce laws that encourage competition so alternative producers can get their meat and dairy to consumers as easily as CAFOs. Making CAFOs, rather than taxpayers, pay to prevent or clean up the pollution they create is also critical, Gurian-Sherman said.

Meanwhile, earlier this week the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production issued its final report on "Putting Meat on The Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America." Click the link to find links to pdf files of the executive summary and the full report. The authors concluded that "The current industrial farm animal production (IFAP) system often poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals themselves [...]."

After outlining the harm that industrial farm animal production does to public health, the environment, animal welfare and rural communities, the Pew commission issued six important recommendations:

   1. Ban the non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials in food animal production to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance to medically important antibiotics and other microbials.

   2. Implement a disease monitoring program for food animals to allow 48-hour trace-back of those animals through aspects of their production, in a fully integrated and robust national database.

   3. Treat IFAP as an industrial operation and implement a new system to deal with farm waste to replace the inflexible and broken system that exists today, to protect Americans from the adverse environmental and human health hazards of improperly handled IFAP waste.

   4. Phase out the most intensive and inhumane production practices within a decade to reduce the risk of IFAP to public health and improve animal wellbeing (i.e., gestation crates and battery cages).

   5. Federal and state laws need to be amended and enforced to provide a level playing field for producers when entering contracts with integrators.

   6. Increase funding for, expand and reform, animal agriculture research.

The Des Moines Register reported on Wednesday that some representatives of industrial agriculture allegedly tried to use financial leverage to influence the findings:

A Pew Commission report accuses some livestock interests of trying to disrupt a wide-ranging study of the industry by threatening to yank financing for scientists and universities.

The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production study released Tuesday called for a vast overhaul of the industry.


"While some agriculture representatives were recommending potential authors for the technical reports to commission staff, other industrial agriculture representatives were discourage those same authors from assisting us by threatening to withhold research funding for their college or university," commission executive director Robert Martin wrote in the foreword of the report released after 2 1/2 years of study.

Martin didn't detail those incidents in the report, and a spokesman declined to comment on the allegations.


The commission, which included key Iowans including the head of the University of Iowa College of Public Health, found that livestock industry powers have too much influence on how government regulates the industry. That presents too much of a public threat in the commission's view.

The 15-member panel called for a range of actions industry groups have vehemently opposed, including local zoning of confinements, a ban on use of antibiotics as a growth enhancer and stiffer regulations on emissions on everything from manure application to how hogs are housed.

"We found significant influence by the industry at every turn: in academic research, agriculture policy development, governmental regulation, and enforcement," the study said.

Industry pressure on scientists who study farm-related pollution has been a hot topic nationally in recent years and was detailed in a 2002 Des Moines Register report, "Ag Scientists Feel the Heat."

Representatives of industrial agriculture have been whining that the Pew commission was biased against them from the beginning. They simply refuse to acknowledge reality when it comes to the drawbacks of CAFOs, routine use of antibiotics, and our aspects of our current food system.

It's time to end the worst practices of CAFOs and the public policies that promote them. As the Union of Concerned Scientists points out, CAFOs would not be profitable if they had to pay for the hidden health and environmental costs of their operations.

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