Columns / Discourse / February 5, 2020

The sustainability scoop: CAFO choas

When we think about the movement opposing Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) we often imagine activists with posters depicting the miserable animals that live inside of those facilities.

While the concern for the animals internally occupying CAFOs is highly merited, we often neglect to consider how CAFOs affect the health of humans that reside near them.

Last Saturday, Feb. 1, the Sustainability Committee hosted Fighting Factory Farms: An Activist and Educational Event. The message delivered by our three visiting speakers – Karen Hudson, Thad King and Crystal Clair – shared an eerie congruence: big businesses are knowingly damaging human health, and government regulations are allowing them to do it with the promise of economic gain for the wealthy.

Hudson, King and Clair told stories of the waste from CAFOs poisoning land and water. King showed diagrams of the restrictions of proximity placed on CAFOs. He stated that CAFOs are required to be a safe distance from community centers, homes and businesses, but are permitted to be closer to farms even if they are occupied with residents.

Clair – who owns and stewards organic “Sunset Farms” with her husband, Randy Clair – are approximately 2,000 feet away from a 5,000 hog CAFO. Clair described how the toxic manure from factory farm flows into the lake that irrigates her land during heavy rainfalls. Clair, who is battling breast cancer, was told by her doctor that she is not to go outside on days when she can smell the odors from the CAFO or hear the whirring of their fans. As a farmer, though, she needs to spend time outdoors to work her land, and therefore must often put herself at risk.

Besides, on days when the winds are not in their favor, the odors from the CAFO come into her home if she leaves the dryer door open. Hudson told stories about entire families that were stricken with hydrogen sulfide poisoning because of their proximity to factory farming facilities, which causes permanent neurological damage.

After the CAFOs are built, the restrictions that applied to their original size remain even when they expand their facilities. The number of hogs might double or triple, producing more pungent and further-reaching hazards to nearby residents and farmers who are no further away from the facility. All of the speakers expressed their grievances with the laws that are meant to regulate CAFOs, which focus more on their ability to stimulate the economy than restricting the facilities so that they do not harm surrounding residents and farmers.

After the presentations, students asked, “What can we do to combat CAFOs with the law and the wealthy against us?” The speakers responded by recommending visiting our senators and representatives. They said that strength in numbers is remarkable, and organized visits to political offices in large groups would have a big impact. Students spoke to their own environmentalist projects, including the new chapter of the Sunrise Movement, which aims to strike for federal action against climate change by way of Green New Deal.

As students, we have limited time, resources and access to transportation. However, if we organize ourselves and pool our resources, we can form a force to be reckoned with. It is not yet time to grieve our dying planet; it is a final call to action.

Otto Bottger

Tags:  activism agriculture CAFOs organic farming student senate sustainability committee sustainability

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