Foul state of affairs found in feedlots
Factory farms are harmful to the public and the environment, researchers report.
By Marla Cone
Times Staff Writer
November 17, 2006
Growing so large that they are now called factory farms, livestock feedlots are poorly regulated, pose health and ecological dangers and are responsible for deteriorating quality of life in America's and Europe's farm regions, according to a series of scientific studies published this week.
Feedlots are contaminating water supplies with pathogens and chemicals, and polluting the air with foul-smelling compounds that can cause respiratory problems, but the health of their neighbors goes largely unmonitored, the reports concluded.
The international teams of environmental scientists also warned that the livestock operations were contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant germs, and that the proximity of poultry to hogs could hasten the spread of avian flu to humans.
Feedlots are operations in which hundreds � often thousands � of cattle, hogs or poultry are confined, often in very close quarters. About 15,500 medium to large livestock feedlots operate in the United States in what is an approximately $80-billion-a-year industry.
Although the reports focused largely on Iowa and North Carolina hog and poultry operations, California has more than 2,000 facilities with at least 300 livestock animals each, half of them with more than 1,000, according to a 2002 estimate by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Dairies, most of them in the San Joaquin Valley, dominate the industry in California.
Led by Peter Thorne, director of the University of Iowa's Environmental Health Sciences Research Center, the researchers outlined the need for more stringent regulations and surveillance of water and air near feedlots.
"There was general agreement among all [the scientists] that the industrialization of livestock production over the past three decades has not been accompanied by commensurate modernization of regulations to protect the health of the public or natural, public-trust resources, particularly in the U.S.," wrote Thorne, a professor of toxicology and environmental engineering.
The findings were from a consensus of experts from the United States, Canada and northern Europe who convened in Iowa two years ago for a workshop funded by the federal government to address environmental and health issues related to large livestock operations. Six reports, written by three dozen scientists mostly from the American Midwest and Scandinavia, were published this week in the online version of the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Among their recommendations are limits on the population density of animals and mandatory extensive environmental reviews for new feedlots. They also recommended a ban on the use of antibiotics to promote animal growth, and that the drugs be available to farmers only through prescriptions.
In a new area of concern, the scientists said they were worried about the danger of a flu pandemic spread by feedlots with both hogs and poultry, and recommended new regulations to set minimum distances between the two.