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Find out how industrial agribusiness threatens your health and safety

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The Assault on Water and Soil
The Environment and Factory Farms, Hog Wars
The Missouri Rural Crisis Center

Whereas family farmers use their land to raise crops, livestock and families, factory farms see the soil as a place to dump manure. With mountains of manure to dispose of, companies' over-application of animal waste can become routine: one Missouri DNR audit in December 1995 cited PSF for rates that frequently exceeded permitted levels.

The manure slurry of factory farms is full of heavy metals like copper, nickel and manganese because the animals do not digest all that is in their feed as growth supplements. Spreading large amounts of these metals regularly over fields is dangerous. "Once there's a toxicity, you can't remove it," says soil scientist Fred Cox of North Carolina State University. "Plants won't grow there. The soil damage is permanent." But that's not the end of it. Runoff from the fields also flushes the metals, along with excessive nitrogen and phosphorus from the manure, into waterways and public drinking supply watersheds. Studies confirm that elevated levels of the heavy metals interfere with fish and wildlife reproduction. Excessive nitrogen and phosphorus also trigger overproduction of algae blooms, which can choke aquatic life, make drinking water smell bad and taste worse and, in some cases, release algal toxins that can cause gastroenteritis.

"Heavy metals won't break down," says Terry Spence, who has monitored the water around a neighboring Premium Standard Farms' facility. "The limit for manganese, for example, is 50 parts per liter. But it has run 170 times that" in the local stream.

Hog wastes contain parasites, bacteria and viruses, including salmonella, campylobacter, e. coli, cryptosporidium, giardia, cholera, streptococcus and chlamydia. Concentrations of hog manure in leaky lagoons increases the probability of drinking water contamination. Cryptosporidium and giardia, for example, resist conventional chlorination. These traveling pathogens come not only from leaky lagoons but also from on-site burial of thousands of dead pigs, according to the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service's swine odor task force.

Nine hog factory lagoon spills within just five months in 1995 brought home to Missourians the ecological and human health dangers that industrial livestock operations pose. The death toll for that spate of Missouri spills came in at a quarter of a million fish and 25 miles of stream habitat.

Other states reported spills and kills, too. In the first nine months of 1995 alone, four states reported a total of 16 spills.

Lagoon leaks are less visible but perhaps more common and threatening. Factory farm operators claim that the manure slurry commonly stored in earthen pits creates its own seal as solids sink to the bottom. But several scientific tests suggest that's not the case.

  • Tests of lagoons at three Carroll's Foods hog farm sites near Pendleton, N.C., since 1993 indicate significant seepage. Ammonia nitrogen levels in the groundwater near one site jumped from 2.5 parts per million to a high of 178 parts per million. County and state regulators have not been able to do anything about it because the operations are exempt from groundwater regulations.
  • A North Carolina State University study of 11 lagoons that were seven years or older found that half leaked moderately to severely. Of those lagoons with "little" seepage, nitrate levels in groundwater were three times the allowable level. The same study checked test wells installed in three new lagoons. Two began leaking immediately.
  • The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency estimates the average rate of leakage is 500 gallons per lagoon acre per day.

Hog factories are water hogs. They not only degrade water quality but deplete water quantity. Staggering volumes of water are needed to operate the new mega-farms, and they'll stop at nothing to get it.

To understand what this industry's resource consumption means to Missouri, let's look at the numbers. A typical Premium Standard 80,000- head finishing unit consumes over 200,000 gallons of water per day. That's over 73 million gallons per year for just one complex. Now multiply that number by Premium Standard's 17 complexes. Then add the over 365 million gallons per year at their slaughter plant. And the water consumption at their feed mills, concrete plants and the pumpdown operations at 127 lagoons. Now, multiply that number by other corporate swine cities.

Yes, most of the world's surface area is water but only a miniscule percentage is fit for human consumption. So when Murphy Farms in Vernon County, Mo., takes a deep drink of the underground aquifers, it's no wonder neighbors are affected. A 125-foot drop in well levels has been confirmed. "There are 17 wells in this area that have dried up," reports neighbor Gene Andersen. "And my cattle won't drink the water from the creek that comes across my land out of Murphy's,'' Andersen says. "The deer won't drink it either; they drink from my pond. All the aquatic animals are gone."

In Dresden, Missouri, 45 of 62 wells studied experienced problems due to one Tyson Foods well. One resident reported he had to drill 520 feet down to alleviate his water quantity problems, though it has done nothing to eliminate problems with odor and taste.

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