Food is not always something that you put in your mouth and eat!

Posts tagged ‘CAFO’

Profits Before People?

A friend shared a news story with me that appeared in the Bay Journal “EPA sued over inaction on factory farm air pollution”. Although an old story from 2015, my friend wanted me to see it because it mentions the Chesapeake watershed and Maryland CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operations). The CAFO’s in Maryland are, of course, chicken house developments on the Eastern Shore.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Environmental Integrity Project are part of a coalition of environment, animal welfare, and community health organizations bringing the suit and saying that EPA has not done its duty in protecting citizens.

It kinda ticked me off that the EPA has to be sued to do its job. Aren’t they there for the purpose of protecting American citizens? Don’t we pay their salaries through the many tax dollars we shell out to the federal government each year? I sat here and shook my head thinking, so what else is new.

The groups involved in the law suit filed petitions in 2009 and 2011 asking EPA to set national ambient air quality standards for ammonia, which can be harmful to farm laborers, chickens, and neighboring homes. It can also be harmful to the farmer that breathes it every day. Ammonia is at the crux of the issue which is built up in chicken houses from the concentrations of the number of animals housed. The buildup of ammonia is released into the atmosphere through huge fans that exchange the air on the inside of the chicken houses. While ammonia can’t be seen with the naked eye, it’s quite evident, when watching the fans come on in a CAFO, to see a huge plume of dust shoot out and drift into the atmosphere. There are many things in that plume which can be harmful however we will focus on ammonia.

A while back in 2008 and 2009, I worked on a project that measured the ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emitted from CAFO’s on the Delmarva Peninsula, including Accomack County, VA up through Sussex County, DE. The farms were mapped using GPS as identification and the measured emissions noted. Some of the CAFO’s in the Backbone Corridor Neighborhood Association’s neck of the woods in Princess Anne, MD, I went back and quadruple checked to make sure that the readings I was recording were accurate.

In a meeting with representatives from environmental groups and a representative of EPA I showed the EPA representative a few of the findings. I remember that he was somewhat miffed at me because I wouldn’t give the name of the owner of the farms only the GPS location of the readings. At that time I asked for the EPA to conduct a more in depth study to verify what I’d found. We went our separate ways and I never heard another word about the issue.

Under the Clean Water Act, CAFO’s are required to have a discharge permit for runoff into our waterways. Under the Clean Air Act no permit is required for emissions. One would think that it would be common sense for any facility emitting noxious gases into the air would have to report type of gas, amounts, and have a permit to do so.

Looking further in to the issue, from a public health aspect, it’s a no brainer that the gases polluting the air from CAFO’s would create serious health problems. Keeve Nachman, director of Food Production and Public Health at Johns Hopkins Center For A Livable Future verifies this. He says that the health problems don’t just stem from ammonia emissions but from the cumulative consequences of the gases, particulate matter and pathogens. “Taken together, living close to one of these things [CAFO’s], put’s one’s health at risk. EPA is not interested to take measurements or survey for adverse health effects.”

Further research reveals that avian influenza has been shown to travel on the wind after the air is exhausted from fans in poultry houses, according to information obtained from the U.S. National Library of Health, National Institutes of Health (NIH).

With all of the public health, environmental health, and animal health and welfare implications, why hasn’t EPA or U.S. Department of Health and Human Services researched further to protect the public? Are the government agencies protecting industry rather than the public?

It’s quite a knot to untangle the whys and wherefores of the issue and gives me a headache just thinking about it. Given history and the power involved I imagine we will be bogged down in a quagmire of hearings, excuses, and untruth and the matter will never be addressed. Knowing all of this, I still have to wonder how profits before people are more important.

I’ve Been Chastised!  Critics Want Answers

My post from yesterday  Jihadists, Beheadings? In Maryland?  alluded to the tightly woven web within the State of Maryland and the chicken industry on the Delmarva Peninsula.  I’m not just picking on Maryland.  The Peninsula or the Eastern Shore, as it’s often called, also encompasses parts of Delaware and Virginia.

I’ve been chastised and reminded that it’s not just Maryland.  For that matter I could go further and say that, in my humble experiences, I’ve seen the very same things across the country in any place the poultry industry sets up shop.

For all of you unidentified and not so friendly people out there that I’ve heard from —

Yes, I admit, I do, enthusiastically, support the Poultry Litter Management Act (PLM) introduced in Maryland’s House and Senate (SB 496) (HB 599).  I also encourage everyone to read the PLM Fact Sheet to clear up all of the misconceptions and downright untruths floating around.  Being informed and making up your own mind is the best gift you could give yourself, and it’s free.

There are several reasons why I’m in favor of the PLM.

Firstly and most importantly, the Chesapeake Bay belongs to all of us. It’s a National Treasure.  There isn’t any single one of us who has the right to continue to destroy it and, yes, this is a pet peeve of mine.  All of the efforts to clean up the Bay are not working as every year we see more or expanding “dead zones” appear.  Major culprits who are degrading the Bay have not owned up and said “I’m going to accept my responsibility, because I care”.

The chicken companies who operate on the Delmarva Peninsula have been in denial since the very first day that disastrous consequences struck.  I can go all the way back to the mid 1990’s when the Eastern Shore had a horrific outbreak of Pfiesteria piscicida.  Massive fish kills and human illnesses abounded.  Nutrient overload mixed with the right weather conditions was identified.  Upon further investigation runoff from chicken manure became part of the mix. The poultry industry immediately started pointing fingers, mostly at farmers.  I might add that this was my environmental awakening as a contract farmer, and realizing that we had serious problems, in in more ways than one.

Coupled with blaming farmers, local watermen who make their living from the bounty of the Bay were the ones being most affected.  Denial of responsibility by chicken companies pointing the finger at farmers and watermen affected, who by the way are neighbors to the farmers, set the stage for a wedge being driven into the community.  Sides were drawn up.  Does that sound familiar, folks?

Since then, millions upon millions, if not billions, of tax dollars have been thrown at the attempt to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and take care of chicken manure.  Oodles of programs have been created to assist farmers with taking care of the manure simply because the chicken industry repeatedly says that the farmers can’t afford it.  Overabundance of chicken manure is transported out of the area. Meanwhile, billion dollar chicken companies have sat back and taken a free ride, courtesy of taxpayers.

In come the threats and intimidation.  Chicken companies threaten to simply walk away.  We will move out of the State and go somewhere we can get away with polluting.  Thousands of jobs will be lost.  It’s the same old story of being held hostage by an industry that doesn’t believe in being a good corporate citizen and taking care of its industrial waste as any other industry has the responsibility of doing.

I see it as not being respectful and mindful of the communities and state the industry operates in.  They see it as more money in their pockets, a way of doing business.  We have been made to feel beholden to an industry that doesn’t give a hoot about anything other than dollars and cents.

In the volatile debate over the PLM Act in Maryland sides have been drawn up.  Departments within the State appear to be hostages to the chicken industry, once again, citing “the Eastern Shore’s chicken industry regarded as one of the most import aspects of the Shore’s economy”, according to The Star Democrat.

So okay, I’ll bite!  I’ll pretend that I believe that.  What I don’t understand is that millions of tax payer dollars are supporting programs to clean up chicken companies’ industrial waste.  Why are taxpayers footing the bill?

I’m a common sense kind of person however I just don’t get it.  Maybe someone can help me out!  On the one hand you have industry saying that farmers can’t afford to pay for disposing of chicken manure so we need to set up taxpaying programs.

On the other hand DPI, the chicken companies trade union, trots out farmers who say they and their workers are making a good living from the chickens they raise under contract with the companies.

Add the fact of State governmental agencies and a handful of lawmakers saying how important the industry is to the Eastern Shore economy, like the economy would collapse without the industry.  If there is all of this money floating around with contract farmers and within the industry, again, I ask, why are taxpayers footing the bill?

The surge of 200 new chicken houses planned for the Eastern Shore exacerbates the manure problem.  The new houses are much larger than what has been customary and can house up to 60,000 chickens apiece.  Warehouse sized buildings, to be exact.  Mostly, we’re not talking about the local farmer adding chicken houses to the farm we’re talking about investors with no ties to the community building chicken warehouse developments. (There are reasons but that’s a story for another day)

The industry has convinced government officials that “this doesn’t necessarily mean the industry is growing”, says Maryland Department of Agriculture Secretary, Joe Barten-Felder.  I underline the word necessarily because, here it comes again folks – it’s all in the words!  It doesn’t necessarily mean that the industry is NOT growing, either!

Maintenance is also cited by government officials.  Simply put, more than anything it’s replacing old buildings or old facilities with new facilities. The chicken industry wants new, bigger, with all the bells and whistles chicken houses.  I wonder which one of you older existing contract farms will be the ones terminated to accommodate the NOT growing chicken industry?  Sounds to me like something has to go to make room for the new!

We currently have to transport manure out of the area because of the excess.  Does anyone think that 200 bigger houses equals more chickens equals more manure?  These chicken warehouse developments have no land to apply manure or produce any crops to take up the nutrients.  Like too much icing on a cake, the Eastern Shore can’t handle any more manure.

Quite frankly, I find it insulting that the chicken industry throws out vague statements and expects that we all buy it.

Everyone else in the State has to pay their way in the effort to clean up the Bay for through sewer taxes, the flush tax for septic systems, fees for the septic hauler who pumps and dumps human waste, environmental taxes, and on, and on, and on.  Adding insult to injury, we have tax dollars piled on to take care of chicken manure.

I see this whole scenario as communities being ripped apart over chicken manure and companies who want others to pay for cleaning it up.  If I haven’t given enough reason to support the Poultry Litter Management Act, I can give you more!

Poultry Litter Management Act Fact Sheet

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A Chicken’s Bucolic Life?

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A friend sent me a link to a website entitled Chicken Check In, which at first, I thought my friend was sending me a joke.  I anticipated something funny!  So I clicked on the link  and low and behold, I saw a video banner that showed a carpet of chickens, tens-of-thousands of chickens in an industrial poultry warehouse.  The website belonged to none other than the National Chicken Council (NCC).  This was no joke, folks!

I immediately started noticing things that most people wouldn’t and thought to myself – “The NCC is its own worst enemy”!  Yes that’s exactly what I said for those of you who are reading this and have taken a deep inhalation of air in shock that I would dare to say anything of the sort.  Even more shocking is that I talked to myself saying “what a bunch of clowns”.  I wonder which is more shocking – that I talked to myself or that I said “what a bunch of clowns”?

In an effort to appear transparent and I suppose to show the wonderful life of the chicken in an industrial setting, NCC has once again, shot itself in the foot.  Ah, YOUHOO, NCC, chickens that can only lift themselves and take a few steps before plopping down in exhaustion is not a bucolic slice of life no matter what your experts say!  Furthermore, if anyone takes the time to notice, why are some of the chickens gasping for air?  Chickens do not NORMALLY breathe or try to draw in air through their mouths.

When the chickens do manage to haul themselves up off the manure they are laying in, it saddens me to see that nothing has changed since I was a part of the chicken industry.  Having voiced my concerns many times over about the welfare of the chickens and the methods of the industry madness to excuse itself from responsible humane treatment I concluded that industry doesn’t want to change its ways.  I think that in the interest of self-preservation industry makes believe it changes its ways.

Going back to the Chicken Check In website, I click on the heading “A Day In The Life”.  Eww, look at all of the poo that the chickens are standing and lying in!  I’m not impressed with the picture banner that greets me.  Why would depicting this convince anyone that standing or lying in one’s own everyday excrement is comfortable to a chicken?  I can’t imagine that doing so would be comfortable to anyone be they man or beast.

We hear from a company “poultry welfare expert” that the chickens have plenty of room to commune or go off by their self when they want “alone time”.  Let’s go back to the video banner that greets us and the tens-of-thousands of chickens we see with less than a square foot of living space.  I guess the chickens do commune when they have no choice.  Alone time? Huh!  Someone please tell me that I’m missing something because I don’t see any place in the warehouse where the chickens find “alone time”.  Very misleading if I don’t say so myself!

I do have to agree with the company “poultry welfare expert” the chickens have plenty of feed and water at all times.  Yes folks, 24-7 do the chickens gorge on feed.  I suppose this is the part that is considered to be best animal welfare practices.  Just imagine letting your pet to gorge itself 24-7.

I further have to wonder when the chickens roost and sleep.  I didn’t see anything about that on the website.  Roosting and sleeping is a natural behavior of chickens as they like to sleep in high places.  It’s a safety issue to a chicken and can provide alone time should it so desire.  Having at least 8 hours of consecutive darkness is also natural for chickens however I’m not aware of anytime during a 24 hour day that industrial chickens have 8 hours of consecutive darkness.  Someone please correct me if I’m wrong!

I had to finally stop looking farther into the NCC Chicken Check In and I’m positive that I’d find many more things to point out.  Disgust and anger overwhelmed me and I don’t want to have these negative thoughts during the Holidays.  After all it is supposed to be a time of Peace, Love, and Joy!

From what I just typed, it dawned on me, most everyone must feel the same way.  It’s much easier to ignore the disgust and anger than to do something about it.

For all of the many, many issues that have been publicly brought forward and voiced, pictures, documentary’s, exposes ‘ , campaigns, what have you, I can easily see from the NCC Chicken website, it’s still, business as usual in the chicken industry.

In my humble opinion, there is something that is very wrong with the entire picture.  However, I’m singing – tis the season to be jolly, falalalala lalalala!  Happy Holidays to all and may you have Peace, Love, and Joy during the Season.

Residents Are Fed Up With CAFO Developments

On the Delmarva Peninsula the chicken industry has a presence that can be seen from major routes that visitor’s travel to visit our beaches. If one were to take a detour down any side road that presence would be highly notable. We are no longer talking about the occasional farm with a few chicken houses we are talking about huge developments of chicken houses. Thusly, what used to be farms are now classified as CAFO’s – concentrated animal feeding operations and called CAFO developments.

In today’s terms, the chicken houses are huge long buildings, 67 feet by 650 feet. That’s 43550 square feet of living space for chickens to be crammed into for six to seven weeks, 5 times per year. At best, the chickens are given three-quarters of a square foot to live on until they are sent to the processing plant. Using the figures above and giving the benefit of the doubt on exact living space per chicken, each building would house 58,000 chickens. Exact figures are hard to pin down. I’ve been told 3 different numbers the highest being 60,000 chickens.

Needless to say, there are a lot of chickens in one building, too many chickens that produce, roughly, 180,000 pounds of manure during the course of one 6-7 week period per house. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that cramming animals into a building with less than a square foot per animal and living on their own excrement for 6-7 weeks is going to brew undesirable and dangerous consequences.

The consequences are many. A constant diet of antibiotics/antimicrobials to counter diseases created by the model of cramming as many chickens into a given area comes to mind. So does ammonia emissions from the huge fans that exhaust bad air out of the buildings. Communication of disease to humans, such as avian influenza, is a scary one. Some have charged animal cruelty, environmental degradation, a huge contributor to the destruction of the Chesapeake Bay, loss of enjoyment of property and worthless property values. The list goes on……

A good example of CAFO development can be seen in Somerset County, MD where 6 residences sit right smack in the middle of 28 chicken houses. The CAFO development came long after the homes however the county never took into consideration the residents who would suffer the consequences. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is located 2 miles from the same CAFO development.

We’ve heard all of the excuses from the county and the state permitting this type of development. These excuses are the same that industry has hidden behind for years. Land zoned agriculture, Right to Farm, and county regulations for setbacks from roads and property lines. Who made up the planning, zoning, and regulations? The county and state with input from industry! Other input, if it was oppositional, went into the wastebasket!

With a burst of chicken house development suddenly occurring in the lower counties on the Delmarva Peninsula and some chicken companies offering incentives to build CAFO’s, residents are raising objections and well they should. What was once acceptable and allowed to run feral is now being resisted by local communities. In both Somerset and Worcester Counties in Maryland, residents affected from CAFO developments have raised objections and concerns to county officials. Well organized with legitimate and sound scientific concerns presented to the Somerset County, MD Planning Commission, residents have asked the county to revise CAFO regulations. Public Health concerns are at the top of the list of reasons for taking a look at permitted CAFO developments.

I’ve sat through some of these meetings and honestly have to say that it was akin to a dog and pony show on the part of the county. Other than a court room, I’ve never heard of a public meeting where the public wasn’t allowed to speak or ask questions. Furthermore, it is inherent that those making the decisions excuse their self from the process when a personal interest or conflict of interest would cloud their decision. Public servants have a duty to put personal gain and beliefs aside.

A moratorium on further building until regulations, considerations, and sound science can be looked at has been asked for and rejected. As the powers that be slowly draw out the process CAFO developments are advancing at a fast and furious pace.

From a moral standpoint and doing the right thing, industry should take into consideration those who are affected by its practices and not pay out cash to CAFO Developers that want to plow over anything and everything that is in their way!

A CAFO Intends To Be Our New Neighbor

After transitioning our farm from industrialized chicken production to an Animal Welfare Approved certified pasture based egg farm 3 years ago, a CAFO now plans to be our neighbor!  We’ve learned from the prospective buyer of the property neighboring us that he has plans to build a chicken CAFO.

It is unfathomable as to why any company would allow their chickens to be put next to a pasture raised farm with chickens on it.  The industry claims that strict bio-security is a mainstay of their operations and necessary to its survival.

Bio-security is the practice of measures taken to prevent the spread of disease on poultry farms.

Looking at the situation from an independent farm, raising hens in a pasture based system one has to question the rights of an individual farm.  What about the right of that farm protecting its chickens from viruses and bacteria’s spread by industrial chicken CAFO’s?

All appearances indicate that the independent farm has no rights and that the highly potential risk created to that farm by the chicken industry is of no concern.

Industrial chickens are vaccinated for many diseases.  Introduction of live viruses into an area where no viruses exist or introducing a bacteria or disease where none exist is a recipe for disaster.  That is basic 101 bio- security for any poultry producer.

In 2008, Johns Hopkins researchers found that poultry trucks driving to processing plants spread harmful bacteria into the environment, exposing other drivers, pedestrians, and rural communities to these bacteria.  Researchers consistently detected drug-resistant bacteria in the air and on surfaces inside vehicles while driving with their windows down behind poultry trucks (Rule et al. 2008).

In our case, a right of way from the county road will be mutually used.  Harmful bacteria will exist in the environment spread from the industry trucks entering and leaving the CAFO.  It’s reasonable to expect that our vehicles will pick up bacteria’s not only harmful to ourselves but also harmful to our disease free hens.  Walking to our mailbox could be harmful to our health!

Drug resistant bacteria spread by industry vehicles will not be the only concern.  County regulations allow for building of chicken houses to be 20 feet from property lines.  These huge buildings can hold up to 60,000 chickens in one house.  Air exchange is accomplished through fans only.  It’s not unreasonable to conclude that the same drug resistant bacteria’s that are found in feathers and dust blowing from trucks will also be exhausted into the air from housing.

Less than ½ mile down the road from the farm is a YMCA.  Joggers and bicyclist use the area for recreational activities and for YMCA sponsored events.  Schools use the sports fields at the YMCA for practices.  Are public and school activities to be discontinued just to accommodate a CAFO that wants to move into the area?

Clearly, the chicken industry has no thought or care of potential risks to human health nor any respect for the neighbor that their CAFO’s want to go next to.

Doing the Unthinkable

Craig Watts did the unthinkable in the world of a contract chicken farmer and industrialized chicken production. He allowed cameras inside of his chicken houses and showed the world the deplorable conditions which contract growers are mandated to raise chickens under.

Some will say that Craig is brave, others might say he’s crazy, and surely most contract chicken farmers will say that he should have known it would cause trouble for his self. Having walked in the shoes that Craig is now walking in I would say it’s a little bit of all of the above and more!

With the release of the shocking video, taken by Compassion in World Farming, reaction was swift. For those wanting to do something to stop the methods used in raising our nations chicken they had the option to send a letter to supermarket CEO’s asking them to replace the source of their supermarket brand, in Craig’s case Perdue.

All supermarket brands come from a source. All chicken companies supply one supermarket brand or another. Inside of chicken company processing plants packing under many different labels is all in a day’s work. Do you know who supplies your favorite supermarket brand?

Back to Craig Watts…. Having known Craig for quite some time I’m not at all surprised at what he has done. He has been simmering like a pot of water on a stove for a long time. He’s tried talking to Perdue representatives, he’s shocked them with video before Compassion in World Farming came along, and most often was given a message in some shape or form of keep your mouth shut. It’s nothing new and every contract chicken farmer knows it. In this case the swift reaction for Craig was for Perdue to inform him that he is the subject of an “internal animal welfare” investigation.

Secretly and behind closed doors, fellow farmers will pat Craig on the back. He will be the topic of conversations in the farmer community for a long time. Those in the outside world will use the video and the compatible New York Times Op Ed article by Nicholas Kristof for different purposes. When all of the sensationalism dies down, Craig Watts is still on his farm in North Carolina battling Perdue and hanging on to his farm by a thread.

I’m not saying that the world shouldn’t have been given a view into our food production system. We as individuals need to see where our food comes from and make informed choices. What I am saying is that now that Craig has provided that view, who will be standing with him in his battle?

I’ll have much more to say on this subject in the days and weeks ahead.

Bird Flu Infects Humans

Here we go again! Hong Kong officials have confirmed the first human case of the deadly H7N9 bird flu and have raised its pandemic response level to “serious”. This comes after an outbreak of the deadly virus earlier this year. The World Health Organization reports there were 139 H7N9 infections in China as of November 6, 2013 and 45 deaths since April.

The H7N9 strain of bird flu (avian influenza) made its first jump from chickens to humans in March of this year. H7 viruses are primarily found in birds however this strain, never seen in people before, appears to have mutated to make it better adapted to infecting mammals. This raises serious concerns.

Officials say that the H7N9 virus doesn’t appear to have the ability to jump from human to human. The recent case reported, a 36 year old female was hospitalized in serious condition and four family members have fallen ill showing signs of the virus. While more research is needed to understand the H7N9 bird flu and its method of operation, it appears that those infected with the virus have the ability to infect those people who come in close contact.

In the past, the H5N1 strain of bird flu was of concern and it’s not clear yet if the new H7N9 strain of the virus is deadlier as this strain has undergone genetic changes.

All of the numbers of the different strains of bird flu are confusing. Researchers, the world over, have warned of a possible world pandemic of bird flu. The question now is what strain will it be? What was determined to be a bird flu virus strain, H7N9, not transmissible to humans, has reared its ugly head and become genetically different than previously known. It has adapted itself to infect humans.

There have been no reported cases of the H7N9 bird flu in the U.S. So far the virus has been reported in China and Taiwan. World travel could change this in a matter of days. Those traveling to Asia should report any illness with respiratory or flu like symptoms to their doctors.

Many attribute outbreaks of bird flu to concentrated animal production whereby tens-of-thousands of animals are raised in confined conditions becoming a breeding ground for disease. Historically, the vast majority of bird flu outbreaks in the U.S. have occurred at these types of operations.

One has to wonder if there is a warning here. At the risk of making myself susceptible for commitment to the loony bin, I have to question if altering the natural order of things has resulted in unintended consequences? Thinking about this brings to mind an old television commercial for Oleo margarine that said “it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”!