November 1st, 2010
By: David Gutierrez
Massive factory farms, where dairy cows are raised by the thousands in cramped quarters, produce toxic gases in such quantities as to threaten the health of people living nearby.
The farms, known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), account for only 5 percent of animal farms in the United States, but they hold 50 percent of all farmed animals. Cramming so many animals together produces huge profits for agribusiness, but it also concentrates all the dangerous waste products of animal farming.
The most foreseeable of these byproducts is manure, which piles up quickly in enormous quantities. Because a cow produces as much waste as 23 human beings, a farm containing 8,300 cows produces as much manure as a city of 186,300 people.
“The difference with people is that their waste is treated,” said Lynn Henning, who lives within 10 miles of 12 different CAFOs. “With CAFOs, the waste is just stored and then spread over surrounding fields. It really is incredible when you think about it.”
This manure is filled not only with cattle pathogens, but also with traces of the antibiotics and hormones used to accelerate their growth. Stored in waste ponds holding millions of gallons, the manure decays in the absence of oxygen, producing the highly toxic and flammable gas hydrogen sulfide.
“I grew up with the smell of manure and I think it is a healthy country smell,” Henning said. “What you get with mega-farms is nothing like that. The gas that comes off these lagoons and off the fields when they spray them with the waste makes you dry-heave and want to vomit. Your eyes water, you feel sick and dizzy.”
“In wet weather the waste runs off the fields and pollutes creeks and rivers. In dry weather you get a brown dust that rises and covers everything. You get millions and millions of flies. You gag and choke. You can’t even go outside.”
Tests on Henning’s farm have revealed high concentrations of numerous pathogens that can infect humans.
“Both my in-laws have been diagnosed with neurological damage caused by the hydrogen sulphide,” she said.