Antibiotics, factory farming, the environment

October 19, 2007

Waste Pollution and the Environment

The USDA reports that animals in the US meat industry produce 61 million tons of waste each year, which is 130 times the volume of human waste – or five tons for every US citizen. Horrigan, Leo, Lawrence, Robert S., Walker, Polly, “How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture,” Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future, July 9, 1999

North Carolina’s 7,000,000 factory-raised hogs create four times as much waste – stored in reeking, open cesspools – as the state’s 6.5 million people. The Delmarva Peninsula’s 600 million chickens produce 400,000 tons of manure a year. Chris Bedford, “How Our food is Produced Matters!”, AWI Quarterly, Summer 1999

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, hog, chicken and cattle waste has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states.

Pfiesteria, a microscopic organism that feeds off the phosphorus and nitrogen found in manure, is a lethal toxin harmful to both humans and fish. In 1991 alone, 1,000,000,000,000 (one billion) fish were killed by pfiesteria in the Neuse River in North Carolina.

Since 1995, an additional one billion fish have been killed from manure runoff in estuaries and coastal areas in North Carolina, and the Maryland and Virginia tributaries leading into the Chesapeake Bay. These deaths can be directly related to the 10 million hogs currently being raised in North Carolina and the 620 million chickens on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
Environmental Protection Agency, 1998

The pollution from animal waste causes respiratory problems, skin infections, nausea, depression and even death for people who live near factory farms. Livestock waste has been linked to six miscarriages in women living near a hog factory in Indiana.
Centers for Disease Control, Mortality Weekly Report, July 5, 1996 (7) Washington Post, June 1, 1997

In Virginia, state guidelines indicate that a safe level of fecal coliform bacteria is 200 colonies per 100 milliliters of water. In 1997, some streams had levels as high as 424,000 per 100 milliliters.

Animal Welfare

Each full-grown chicken in a factory farm has as little as six-tenths of a square foot of space. Because of the crowding, they often become aggressive and sometimes eat each other. This has lead to the painful practice of debeaking the birds.

Hogs become aggressive in tight spaces and often bite each other’s tails, which has caused many farmers to cut the tails off.

Concrete or slatted floors allow for easy removal of manure, but because they are unnatural surfaces for pigs, the animals often suffer skeletal deformities.

Ammonia and other gases from manure irritate animals’ lungs, to the point where over 80% of US pigs have pneumonia upon slaughter.

Due to genetic manipulation, 90% of broiler chickens have trouble walking.
Erik Marcus, Vegan, Mcbooks, 1998


Almost 30% of agricultural subsidies go to the top two percent of farms and over four-fifths to the top 30%.
Horrigan, Leo, Lawrence, Robert S., Walker, Polly, “How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture,” Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future, July 9, 1999

In 1970, there were approximately 900,000 farms in the United States; by 1997, there were only 139,000.
Drabenscott, Mark. “This Little Piggy Went to Market”, Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Vol. 83, No. 3, Third Quarter, 1998, pp. 79-97

Between 1969 and 1992, the number of producers selling 1000 hogs annually or less declined 73%. Producers selling more than 1000 annually increased 320%, according to the US Census of Agriculture.
Swine Strategies, State of Utah Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, Summer 1995

Estimated inputs to produce a pound of: Pork: 6.9 pounds of grain, .44 gallons of gasoline, 430 gallons of water Beef: 4.8 pounds of grain, .25 gallons of gasoline, 390 gallons of water
Alan Durning, “Fat of the Land”, World Watch Institute, 1991

Meat production has grown worldwide from 44 million tons in 1950 to 211 million tons in 1997.
Earth Times, July 1, 1998

The price of meat would double or triple if full ecological costs – including fossil fuel use, groundwater depletion and agricultural-chemical pollution – were factored in.
EarthSave, November 1997

90% of the nation’s poultry production is controlled by 10 companies.
Zakin, Susan. “Nonpoint Pollution: The Quiet Killer,” Field and Stream, August 1999, pp. 84-88
In Maryland, chickens outnumber people 59 to 1.

Antibiotics and Public Health

Overuse of antibiotics in animals is causing more strains of drug-resistant bacteria, which is affecting the treatment of various life-threatening diseases in humans. The Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences has estimated the annual cost of treating antibiotic-resistant infections in the U.S. at $30 billion.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “Antimicrobial Fact Sheet”, May 4, 1999

Fifty million pounds of antibiotics are produced in the U.S. each year. Twenty million pounds are given to animals, of which 80% (16 million pounds) is used on livestock merely to promote more rapid growth. The remaining 20% is used to help control the multitude of diseases that occur under such tightly confined conditions, including anemia, influenza, intestinal diseases, mastitis, metritis, orthostasis, and pneumonia.
American Medical News, “FDA Pledges to Fight Overuse of Antibiotics in Animals”, February 15, 1999

Chickens are reservoirs for many food borne pathogens including Campylobacter and Salmonella. 20% of broiler chickens in the US are contaminated with Salmonella and 80% are contaminated with Campylobacter in the processing plant. Campylobacter is the most common known cause of bacterial food borne illness in the US.
Risk Assessment of Fluoroquinolone Use in Poultry, Food & Drug Administration, February 2000

5000 deaths and 76 million cases of food-borne illness occur annually.

Antibiotics in farm animals leave behind drug-resistant microbes in meat and milk. With every burger and shake consumed, super-microbes settle in the stomach where they transfer drug resistance to bacteria in the body, making one more vulnerable to previously-treatable conditions.
Newsweek, March 7, 1994

The average American consumes nearly twice his or her weight in meat annually.
Earth Times, July 1, 1998

Poultry processing has almost double the injury and illness rate than trades like coal mining and construction.
EarthSave, March 1998

The United Nations reports that all 17 of the world’s major fishing areas are at or beyond their natural limits. One third of all the world’s fish catch is fed directly to livestock.
EarthSave, November 1997

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) connects local farmers with consumers; local farms grow food specifically for CSA members. As of January 1999, there were over 1000 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms across the US and Canada.
University of Massachusetts Extension

Responsible management of the natural resources of soil, water, and wildlife on the 60 percent of all U.S. farms less than 180 acres in size, produces significant environmental benefits for society.
A Time To Act report, USDA National Commission on Small Farms, 1998

The smallest U.S. farms, those of 27 acres or less, have more than ten times greater dollar output per acre than larger farms.
Dr. Peter Rosset, “The Multiple Functions and Benefits of Small Farm Agriculture”, Institute for Food and Development Policy, September 1999

In farming communities dominated by large corporate farms, nearby towns died off. Where family farms predominated, there were more local businesses, paved streets and sidewalks, schools, parks, churches, clubs, and newspapers, better services, higher employment, and more civic participation.

In the United States, small farmers devote 17% of their area to woodlands, compared to only 5% on large farms. Small farms maintain nearly twice as much of their land in “soil improving uses,” including cover crops and green manures.


Editor’s Note: Although this report was originally produced in the late 90’s, and amounts and figures have no doubt changed (and in most cases increased), it still delivers an informative and powerful message.


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