Toxic CAFOs – What’s in the water, By Mike Masterson

Toxic CAFOs

What’s in the water

By Mike Masterson

Posted: September 22, 2015 at 2:19 a.m.

The good folks of Arkansas are by no means alone with concerns over the treasured Buffalo National River being contaminated by hog waste from a large factory farm like the hundreds that have replaced traditional family farms nationwide.

John Ikerd is a professor emeritus at the University of Missouri, and has spent years studying environmental effects from hog and other domestic animal factories as they’ve sprung up nationwide, including here with the hog factory in the Buffalo watershed at Mount Judea.

In a recent article, Ikerd says, "nowhere are the public concerns and controversies about agriculture more prominent than for CAFOs–frequently called ‘factory farms.’"

He cites Peter Goldsmith of the University of Illinois, who researched the public legitimacy of factory farms. Goldsmith found that as those sites "grow larger, they create more problems and the intense controversy surrounding CAFOs incites strong local public participation." I’d say that pretty much describes the atmosphere here when it comes to the potential contamination of the country’s first national river, with hog waste routinely spread on fields underlain by fractured limestone six miles upstream.

Those who’ve participated in public hearings in Illinois consistently indicated "no confidence" in that state’s laws that supposedly regulate the activities of CAFOs or of the laws’ enforcers. Goldsmith found that 70 percent of those opposed to these proposed facilities and 89 percent of public statements made by local residents and interested citizens challenged the legitimacy of proposed CAFOs; just 5 percent of residents supported the factories.

Ikerd cited an EPA study from 1998, which found 35,000 miles of streams in 22 states and groundwater in 17 states already polluted by industrial livestock operations. "At the time, the EPA was preparing to sue CAFO operators for violating the Clean Water Act. But there was a change in the political administration in D.C., so no action was taken, and no similar studies have been done since," Ikerd said.

"As a last defense, CAFO operators claim they are doing a better job of manure management than the traditional independent farmers they displaced. However, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has documented a three-fold increase in ‘impairments’ of water bodies in Iowa between 2002 and 2012, years when CAFO were rapidly replacing independent Iowa family hog farms," he wrote.

Ikerd said that because of growing opposition, "the ‘industrial agricultural establishment’ has launched a nationwide, multimillion-dollar propaganda campaign designed to–in their words–‘increase confidence and trust in today’s agriculture.’

"Food Dialogues, just one initiative of the broader campaign, is sponsored by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance–an organization whose funders and board members include the American Farm Bureau Federation along with Monsanto and DuPont–both of which have pledged $500,000 per year to the campaign. The campaign features the ‘faces of farming and ranching’–articulate, attractive young farmers obviously chosen to put the best possible face on … industrial agriculture."

Ikerd referred to a study by Friends of the Earth that said "front groups" spend more than $25 million per year to defend industrial agriculture.

The professor determined Americans increasingly must glean reality from fallacy in determining which kind of agriculture and food system they’ll accept. "For decades, defenders of industrial agriculture had accused their critics of relying on emotions and misinformation rather than ‘sound science,’" he wrote. "Now that the scientific evidence is mounting against industrial agriculture, public relations experts are advising advocates to emphasize ’emotional appeals,’ such as ‘the faces of farmers’–dismissing ‘sound-science’ as no longer effective in shaping public opinion."

Ikerd noted that despite claims to the contrary, "the growing public concerns about industrial agriculture are confirmed in reams of highly credible scientific studies."

He said a Pew Charitable Trusts report from 2008 concluded "the current industrial farm animal production (IFAP) system often poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals themselves." The commissioners, including a former governor and a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, said, "the negative effects of this system are too great and the scientific evidence is too strong to ignore. Significant changes must be implemented and must start now."

"Five years later," Ikerd wrote, "an assessment of the industry’s response to the Pew Report by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health indicated few if any positive changes had been made. Meanwhile the scientific evidence supporting the initial indictment of CAFOs has continued to grow."

A vast majority of Arkansans believe our state erred far beyond common sense when it permitted a large CAFO (up to 6,500 sows and offspring) into the Buffalo National River watershed regardless of any PR efforts trying to convince them otherwise.