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A concentration of factory farms known as large CAFO's (concentrated animal feeding operations) in South Central Michigan are ruining whole communities. Activist Lynn Henning, branded a "terrorist", has been documenting the destructive process for years.

Creeks that were formerly home to swimmable water and fish have been transformed, by contaminated ground water and surface runoff, into toxic stews, the fish replaced by bloodworms. Wells are poisoned. Acres, otherwise grazing pasture on traditional farms, are blanketed with noxious cow-shit while livestock, packed like sardines, are confined to metal buildings. And it's not just a vast sea of shit. It is really bad shit. The excrement itself is contaminated with additional chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, copper sulfate, salmonella, and various other pathogens. Farm workers and neighbors are suffering from health issues. Family gatherings are a thing of the past. Abused, diseased animals that suffered early deaths are left to coyotes, vultures, and rats as they decay in scattered piles. Neighbors are unable to sell their homes.

The Center for Disease Control reports, among a myriad of other health consequences, increased instances of Asthsma in children near factory farms.

There is consistent evidence suggesting that factory farms increase asthma in neighboring communities, as indicated by children having higher rates of asthma. CAFOs emit particulate matter and suspended dust, which is linked to asthma and bronchitis. Smaller particles can actually be absorbed by the body and can have systemic effects, including cardiac arrest. If people are exposed to particulate matter over a long time, it can lead to decreased lung function. CAFOs also emit ammonia, which is rapidly absorbed by the upper airways in the body. This can cause severe coughing and mucous build-up, and if severe enough, scarring of the airways. Particulate matter may lead to more severe health consequences for those exposed by their occupation. Farm workers can develop acute and chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive airways disease, and interstitial lung disease. Repeated exposure to CAFO emissions can increase the likelihood of respiratory diseases. Occupational asthma, acute and chronic bronchitis, and organic dust toxic syndrome can be as high as 30% in factory farm workers. Other health effects of CAFO air emissions can be headaches, respiratory problems, eye irritation, nausea, weakness, and chest tightness.

Author and journalist Kathy Dobie spent some time with Lynn Henning and produced a disturbing yet magnificent piece for the Oprah Magazine. I suggest reading the entire article.

Straight ahead of us are four huge steel barns housing nearly 2,000 cows. [snip] On one side of the road, the fields are bare of any vegetation and laid thick with a black, glistening layer of animal waste. Almost immediately my eyes begin to water from the stench, my heart races, and as a whiteness falls over my brain, I feel that panic that sets in before vomiting or fainting.

Henning, a fourth generation farmer herself, is miffed that factory farms are destroying not only the environment, but also the reputation of farming and farmers.
"This isn't farming. It's a production line for food, and they're doing whatever it takes to control the community. We're seeing farmland that's being depleted, where crops aren't growing because there's been too much waste put on. We're seeing brownouts; people's wells are drying up. And we're seeing waste in the water that people are drinking downstream—people who don't know what's coming at them."

Of course factory farms are heavily subsidized by the federal government. Industrial dairy farms alone receive about $.75 billion per year. Overall, agribusinesses benefit from about $20 billion in subsidies each year.

Then there is the issue of product quality, which is a whole different matter that I won't attempt to address here.

Unfortunately, the article offers no real solution, other than Lynn's one-woman crusade. Government officials at the federal, state, and local level seem to have little interest or power to do anything about the harmful effects of factory farms.

Originally posted to Sarge in Seattle on Tue Nov 08, 2011 at 08:48 AM PST.

Also republished by Meatless Advocates Meetup.

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