The American Public Health Association Has Called For an End to Factory Farms

by Maggie Tauranac

11/25/19

This month the nation’s preeminent public health organization, the American Public Health Association (APHA), called for a moratorium on all new and expanding CAFOs, otherwise known as factory farms for livestock like hogs, chickens and cows. The policy recommendation, developed in collaboration with John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, reiterates what sustainable food and environmental justice advocates have been saying for years: factory farms have got to go.

CAFO Production Methods are Dangerous to Human Health

While there are farmers in the United States who are committed to raising animals with production methods that take into account animal welfare, soil health, the planet and community health, the vast majority of meat produced in the United States comes from animals raised in what are called concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

Until now any public attention to the ills of CAFOs has focused on the terrible animal welfare implications or, more recently, to the greenhouse gases that are emitted from containing thousands of animals — and their manure — in tight quarters. Less visible to the public, however, have been the direct negative impacts on occupational and community health. The methods used to produce such large quantities of meat in such a shortened timeframe present a litany of ecological and public health dangers, ranging from pollutants to air, water and soil, and the pervasive threat of antibiotic resistance due to the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture. Research continues to demonstrate the links between the existence of a CAFO in a community and occupational hazards, public health threats and even the economic decline of communities, especially in rural areas.

Terms to Know
CAFO
Stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations which are also sometimes called "factory farms." It refers to an operation that raises livestock in huge concentrations, generally over 1,000 animals.

How CAFOs Go Unregulated

Farmers, who operate on extremely thin margins, often contract with corporations that help offset the costs of their operations. These growing parent companies, with names like Purdue and Smithfield, have significant lobbying and political power. This has given them the influence to shape laws and regulations in their favor, at the expense of the public.

 

“CAFOs are the dominant production model for food animals in the United States, but government oversight and policies designed to safeguard the health of individuals and the environment from these operations have been inadequate.” 

Bob Martin

Director of the Food System Policy Program at the Center for a Livable Future

The APHA is directing policymakers to increase regulations in several ways that can protect human health. First, it recommends harnessing the Clean Water Act to combat CAFOs, because they threaten local water supplies. Next, it encourages officials to protect air quality by increasing regulations that would observe changes in air emissions that can be detrimental to human health. Third, they call on policymakers to protect the efficacy of antibiotics by following the World Health Organization’s position that agricultural producers cease using medically important antibiotics in healthy animals. The statement calls on officials to halt all expansions and new operations — putting a factory farm moratorium into effect — until enough scientific data has been collected to address any and all public health concerns pertaining to CAFO developments.

Why Public Health Statements Matter

A statement like this from APHA has the potential for tremendous impact, making the policy recommendation a major achievement in the fight against CAFOs. The statement will be used to advise policymakers and public health groups on the risks involved in industrialized animal agriculture, which could enact significant change to our food system. It reinforces that the public health effects of contaminated water, polluted air and antibiotic overuse are real and urgent.

“This policy statement puts the public’s health first and if observed, it has the potential to protect the health of some of our nation’s most vulnerable communities,” says Martin.

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