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Environmental group touts EPA authority over CAFOs
Ohio Correspondent

WASHINGTON, D.C. — An estimated 500 million tons of manure generated each year by factory farms would put human health at risk if large livestock operations are exempt from U.S. EPA pollution regulations, said a group of concerned citizens.

“These folks are in town to urge members of Congress not to exempt CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) from EPS pollution laws,” said Michele Merkel, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, Washington, D.C. The group hosted a news conference last week at the Sierra Club’s Legislative Office.

If factory farm proponents get their wish, she said air and water quality throughout the nation would be at risk because CAFOs emit more pollution than the largest industrial polluters in the United States.

Merkel said factory-farm lobbyists and some Congressmen want to exempt factory farms from pollution reporting and cleanup provisions of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA).

“These laws provide an essential safety net for protecting water supplies from livestock pollution and for understanding the scope of toxic air emissions from factory farms,” Merkel said. “The protections these statutes give are especially important because the Environmental Protection Agency and the states have failed to carry out key elements of the federal Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.”

CAFOs create three times the amount of waste of the U.S. human population of the U.S. produces, according to information from the group. However, members say that unlike human waste, livestock waste is not treated.

“Factory farms are putting industrial factories to shame as far as the amount of pollution they emit,” Merkel said. “It’s on a scale way in excess of the world’s largest industrial polluters.”

For example, she said chickens at Buckeye Egg in Ohio create 400 pounds of manure each day, which adds up to 1.6 million pounds each year.

“It’s the second-largest ammonia emitter in the state,” she said.

In Oregon, she said a CAFO emits 5.37 million pounds of ammonia in one year - three times more than any other industrial source. “It’s because these farms are confining huge numbers of animals in one place,” she said.

Merkel said the city of Waco, Texas, has spent “millions of dollars” to clean up contaminated drinking water.

Drinking water is one of three aspects of public health that concern Dr. Robert S. Lawrence, director of the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Md.

“There are three big public health impacts from what has been happening from the industrialization of agriculture over the last 50 years, with tremendous acceleration over the last 10,” Lawrence said during the conference. He cited concerns about air quality, water quality and antibiotic resistance.

CAFOs emit ammonia and hydrogen sulfide into the air, he said, along with phosphates and nitrogen into the water.

“The rates of asthma are anywhere from 2-4 times greater in people living nearby,” he said.

Lawrence called the increasing threat of antibiotic resistance “very serious.” Factory farm use of growth-promoting low-dose antibiotics to keep their animals healthy results in antibiotics being expelled into the environment.

“Antibiotics that go to treat humans are increasingly finding organisms that have acquired resistance,” he said.

The less-healthy conditions on factory farms also contribute to an increase in saturated fat in human diets, he said, along with high concentrations of pollutants.

“All of these are conspiring to create a diet for the average American that is very unhealthy,” he said. “If we can also contain the growth of these factory farms we can create a financial opportunity for small and medium growers to return to production and produce a healthier food for the family table.”

This farm news was published in the May 3, 2006 issue of Farm World.