Factory Farming

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Factory Farming
A Statement from the Board of Directors of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference - 12 Jan 1998

December 18, 1997

An Immediate Moratorium on Large-scale Livestock and Poultry Animal Confinement Facilities

Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) have become a national issue. A new hog plant in Utah will produce more animal waste than the animal and human waste created by the city of Los Angeles; 1,600 dairies in the Central Valley of California produce more waste than a city of 21 million people. The annual production of 600 million chickens on the Delmarva Peninsula near Washington, D.C. generates as much nitrogen as a city of almost 500,000 people.

In North Carolina, 35 million gallons of animal waste were spilled in 1995, killing 10 million fish. In 1996, more than 40 manure spills were recorded in Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri, double the number reported in 1992. Earlier this year, microbe pfiesteria associated with the poultry industry killed 30,000 fish in the Chesapeake Bay and another 450,000 fish in North Carolina attributed to hog waste. Pfiesteria grow in waters with excessive nutrients. In the Gulf of Mexico, animal waste has helped to create a "dead zone" of up to 7,000 square miles. The Center for Disease Control has just released a report attributing foodborne diseases to food industry consolidation and the decrease in effective microbe resistance in humans from the antibiotics used to industrialize animals for confinement facilities.

The National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC) has for 75 years been a voice for participative democracy, widespread ownership of land, the defense of nature, animal welfare, support for small and moderate-sized independent family farms, economic justice, rural and urban interdependence. Such values are drawn from the message of the Gospel and the social teachings of our Church. Furthermore, we see such values best represented in the agricultural arena by what is called sustainable agriculture.

In the light of present concerns about the industrialization of agriculture and environmental pollution as represented especially by the hog industry, the NCRLC supports efforts for a national dialogue on Confined Animal Feeding Operations and their impacts on water quality, the environment, and local communities. Too much time has elapsed and too much damage has been done without an adequate national dialogue on these issues.

As a first step, the NCRLC supports a moratorium on the expansion and building of new farm factories and calls for a serious consideration of their replacement by sustainable agricultural systems which are environmentally safe, economically viable, and socially just. While the federal government, the states, and local communities reassess the structure of agriculture, such a moratorium seems especially urgent. Without a moratorium, the number of CAFOs will continue to proliferate, causing a significant increase in the devastating pollution, health, and social impacts by these confinement facilities across the country.

Included among the states currently dealing with CAFO issues are: Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington. Legislators, judges, and local citizens groups are reviewing the legal safeguards at every level to ensure clean water, a safe environment, food safety, and social justice. Such efforts are beginning to pay dividends:

In Indiana, for example, an administrative law judge has shut down a proposed confined feeding operation. In Kentucky, the attorney general has ruled that large operations are not exempt from local ordinances saying they are "not reasonable or prudent, accepted and customary." After two years of difficulties, North Carolina has imposed strong restrictions on confinement operations. South Dakota citizens recently secured sufficient signatures (31,000) to hold a statewide referendum proposing an anti-corporate farming law similar to Nebraska's. All but two of the 20 counties in Kansas had voted against new corporate hog farms. At the federal level, a new bill has been introduced to regulate CAFOs and a federal summit is being proposed to discuss animal waste management.

As the livestock industry has been restructured, a growing dependence has developed on enormous open-air lagoon waste storage and liquid manure application systems. These systems have been prone to breaks, spills, and runoff into surface water and seepage into ground water. The Clean Water Act is again to be renewed after 25 years. While reforms of that Act are being developed, a moratorium on CAFOs is needed to forestall potentially devastating effects.

We challenge the notion that CAFOs, particularly hog factories, are a boon to local economies. Studies have shown that for every job created by a hog factory, three are lost. Every year, hog factories put almost 31,000 farmers out of business, out of their homes, and out of their communities. In 1990, there were 670,350 family hog farms; in 1995, there were only 208,780. Between 1994 and 1996, approximately 4,439 family farmers were displaced by the expansion of the top 30 pork producing companies, according to a recent study done by Successful Farming. While concentration in pork production grows, independent family farmers are being forced out. The same can be said about dairy, beef, and poultry farming.

NCRLC invites others to join the call for a moratorium and the replacement of factory farms by a sustainable agricultural system. The National Catholic Rural Life Conference is a membership organization grounded in a spiritual tradition which brings together the Church, care for creation and care for community. The NCRLC fosters programs of direct service and systemic change. As an educator in the faith, the NCRLC seeks to relate religion to the rural world; develops support services for rural pastoral ministers; serves as a prophetic voice and as a catalyst and convener for social justice.