CAFOs have literally destroyed rural life across the United States. Usurping what were once small family owned farms, these operations have divided communities, poisoned wells, sunk property values, and forced entire towns and villages to rely on bottled water for drinking and cooking.

It is impossible for people who live within a several mile radius of a CAFO to breathe fresh clean air, hang their laundry to dry, or enjoy a day of sun on their skin. Swing sets and sandboxes are rendered obsolete, playing outside no longer a simple joy.

Approved and courted by state, county and town governing bodies and owned by large international Corporations, these Factory Farms, generate tens of thousands of complaints a year, and commit thousands of violations of DEC and EPA regulations.

But despite numerous studies by government, environmental, and scientific agencies and think tanks, the dangerous trend of Factory Farming has grown and is now being pushed on New York’s failing economy as an artificial solution to serious fiscal problems.

The Pacific Research Institute, which compiles the U.S. Economy Freedom Index, ranking states according to their fiscal, regulatory, and judicial functioning, listed New York State dead last in 2003. Devastated by loss of industry, burdened with rising tax rates, and facing the crisis of counties across the state being bankrupted by Medicaid and social services payments, New York is in a compromised position when it comes to accepting any potential for revenue building, or employment.

By saying “Yes” to CAFOs, New York may saying yes to the straw that broke the camels back. With new Bush administration policies limiting polluter- pay policies, and class action suits, allowing CAFOs to operate in New York is both irresponsible and irrational.

Farm? I don’t see any farm.

A Factory Farm is hard to miss. But if you’re expecting to see a pasture and barn, cows grazing and chickens pecking and strutting, you may pass right by. Even the earthy smell of manure, hay, and cut grass is missing, replaced by an overwhelming, almost unidentifiable odor, a smell that would not readily draw your thoughts to agriculture. A smell more like the eye-burning blowover of a chemical plant with an intense undercurrent of decomposition about it. What you are smelling, depending on the animals housed in the facility, is millions of gallons of untreated feces, urine, blood, contaminated milk that has been dumped, and of course flesh, both living and dead. The smell is produced by tens of thousands of immobile bodies that in many cases have no more than three inches of space between them. The odor has about it a strange trace of stress and illness born from proximity and fear.

Driving down a winding remote country road you will smell a CAFO sometimes 30 minutes before the low lying stadium sized metal buildings of its industry catch your eye. And here is where you might find it odd that this structure is called a farm.

The landscape is unique in its desolation. Despite the nauseating odor, and particularly in the case of veal factories, the lowing and screaming of livestock, there are simply no animals to be seen.

The cows, pigs or chickens who are processed through Cafes remain inside at all times. They are fed grain, growth hormone, sub-therapeutic anti-biotics, and appetite enhancers. Much of the surrounding land, both above and below ground, is taken up by enormous storage tanks of untreated liquid feces. These tanks are euphemistically called “lagoons,” requiring anyone who has seen one to perform the same shift in perceptual reality that makes it possible to call a CAFO a “farm.”

A farm with a nearby lagoon sounds idyllic!

If only the residents of such areas did not suffer from rashes, asthma, uncontrollable vomiting, neurological damage, depression, and miscarriages, it might be possible to ignore the fact that the “farm” houses 80,000 pigs and produces millions upon millions of gallons of liquid waste containing a wide array of pathogens, hormones and chemicals which are stored, spigot sprayed and spread directly across vast tracks surrounding land, weather it is planted with crops or not.

Incidents of human disease caused by contact with livestock waste have increased with the growth of industrial farming practices such as land spreading and spigot spraying. Large numbers of viruses are excreted in animal feces and make their way into our drinking water. Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, and Cryptosporidium, to name just a few, have become ubiquitous in surface water and wells in proximity to factory farms. In one study of heifers and calves a shocking 90 percent of the herd tested positive for Cryptosporidium.

These are some of the same pathogens found in the beef, pork and chicken that is sold to the public. Ironically, the sicknesses caused by Salmonella and E. Coli poisoning are harder and harder to treat, because the strains have become resistant to antibiotics which are regularly administered to animals, and then consumed by humans. You could be contracting both the disease and the assurance that it will be not respond to treatment in one fatal bite, or one long cool drink from the tap.

But if you live near a CAFO there are other reasons not to drink the water. Nitrate contamination is the most serious consideration.

Nitrates and phosphates, which are characterized as nutrients become a kind of poison in large doses. Nitrate contamination goes hand in glove with factory farming and is a serious risk to human health and the environment. Nitrate poisoning causes miscarriages and blue baby syndrome. It also reduces the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen. As manure is high in nitrates, the land surrounding the CAFO is planted with Corn or other crops which readily absorb high nitrate fertilizer, but this does little to mitigate contamination of the watertable, aquifer and surrounding waterbodies.

Nitrate contamination has already destroyed aquifers across the Midwest and parts of Long Island, caused fish kills and increased algae growth in ponds and lakes. Manure spreading goes on year round regardless of the weather. This is a new and dangerous practice. Sustainable farms once spread solid manure just a few times a season. Liquid manure, which percolates rapidly and easily through the soil, is spread nearly every day of the year. This has already had a serious impact on the health of rural residents in New York State.

Animal, vegetable or mineral? You don’t see animals outside a Factory Farm, but you’re sure to see them on the inside, right? Not quite.

Some factory farms do not raise anything you would readily recognize as an animal, but instead, a genetically, hormonally and chemically modified creature that is used for human food. In terms of the corporate bottom line it might make sense to create, refine and one day even patent a living thing that has had its beak removed , has no feathers, cannot walk, and whose body consists of mostly white meat. But maintaining the “animal” on an I.V. drip while it voids perpetually into a vast underground pool of untreated waste, presents a complex array of health hazards.

The feelings of those sympathetic to various animal rights causes should be obvious when it comes to the issue of confinement, but traditional farmers have been much more vehement in their criticism of animal treatment on CAFOs.

One third generation farmer from Interlaken, NY described the sounds of confined pigs from a nearby factory farm as “horrifying.” No real farmer he said could tolerate such a noise, constant squealing, the sound of pigs in pain. “There’s no way you can hear that and not be affected by it. It’s not right.”

The noise is caused by the conditions of confinement. CAFOs cause point source pollution, which means the cause of contamination can be traced back to pipes, lagoons and storage tanks located on the corporations property. These outlets flow directly into creeks, rivers, fields, and ditches.

Factory Farms are fast becoming the leading cause of human respiratory and neurological damage in the rural areas in which they are located. But these problems are not just localized, nor limited to health problems of neighbors of these conglomerates.

The failed model of Factory Farming has been identified by the Union of Concerned Scientists as having caused an epidemic of disease resistant bacteria in humans throughout the United States.

Seventy percent of all antibiotics purchased in the United States are administered to Factory raised livestock, who must be dosed with anti-microbial drugs on a daily basis in order to live in the unsanitary conditions produced by extreme confinement. Factory livestock also require these sub therapeutic doses of anti biotics to combat the pervading illnesses which affect animals administered with growth hormone on a daily basis.

Though rural residents are well aware of the toxic health effects of factory farming, the majority of Americans are still in the dark about what exactly a CAFO is. Farming is associated with small wholesome family run businesses. But CAFOs are not farms. They are large scale industries that have bankrupted and replaced family farms, and in many instances turned farmers who have lived on the same land for generations into modern day share croppers, making little more than minimum wage subcontracting to the business school graduates who operate the CAFO.

But the vast majority of factory farms do not employ residents of the local area. They do not employ, for the most part, residents of the state or even the country. A quick tour of CAFOs in New York will reveal that nearly all employees who deal directly with the milking, feeding, and shipping process are brought from Mexico and Central America, and are not legally employed. There are no records of Factory Farm operators being fined for hiring illegals. Though the workers are periodically rounded up and deported, the Factory Farm CEO is seldom held responsible--claiming he did not know he had employed illegal workers, or that their papers were forged.

Hiring illegals, who are typically provided with a house in close proximity to the confinement area, is a way of keeping wages perpetually low, never having to pay health benefits, and preventing union organizers from shaking a living wage out of a multi-billion dollar industry.

Factory farms have taken over the livestock industry. Currently 98 percent of all poultry in the United States is produced by Factory Farms. Factory farms receive double the amount of government subsidies as independent family run farms. In the beef industry, 80 percent of all cattle raised and slaughtered pass through just four centrally owned meatpacking companies. Industrial hog farms have caused 247,500 family owned pig farms to go under. Just a handful of family operations remain, but their ability to compete with conglomerates is extremely limited. Saddest of all agencies like the Farm Bureau, and institutions like Cornell University’s school of agriculture have backed factory farming 100 percent because they stand to profit from corporations like Monsanto who fund university research.

Factory Farms have undoubtedly reduced the quality of life for rural residents, wrecked havoc on the State economy, and taken a serious toll on human health. Information about factory farming is available from a number of environmental, government and scientific agencies. The following list will help you get started on researching one of the most pressing and controversial issues facing New York residents today. A comprehensive and unredacted list of citizen complaints against CAFOs is available from the Citizens Environmental Coalition.

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy 2105 First Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55404

NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Water 625 Broadway, Albany NY 12233-3508

Union of Concerned Scientists

What’s the fastest growing public health crisis in New York State?

The answer may surprise you, especially if you think of the bluest of blue states in terms of urban sophistication, or industrial manufacturing.

This year New Yorkers will face an increased threat to the air they breathe and the water they drink, caused by point source pollution from factory farms.

Factory Farms, known as CAFO’s or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations are a failed model of agricultural and livestock raising practices that have already caused devastating pollution throughout the Midwestern United States. In the Midwest CAFOs have violated DEC and EPA policies, poisoned lakes, streams and rivers, contaminated aquifers with nitrates, pathogens and experimental chemical and hormonal compounds, caused large scale fish kills, and plundered local and regional economies.