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A Look At The Factory Farm
Excerpt from the Report: Americas Animal Factories
National Resources Defense Council

During the last twenty years, industrial livestock farms have been replacing the traditional family sized farms that once raised most of this nation's poultry, swine and cattle. The number of livestock animals produced in the United States has grown modestly in the past two decades but the number of farms raising them has shrunk dramatically, because large producers increasingly dominate the market. In the pork industry, the number of hog farms has fallen from 600,000 to 157,000 over the past fifteen years, while the number of hogs produced has stayed about the same.Today, about 50 large pork producers are responsible for about 45 percent of the industry's product.Their market domination is expected to rise to 75 percent within the next few years, industry officials predict. "Ten companies produce 92 percent of the nation's poultry."As the number of family farms has declined, research is beginning to demonstrate that small family farms can be more profitable to communities. A study comparing the impact on the local Virginia economy of adding 5,000 sows through a single large contract operation versus ten independent farms found the independent arrangement yielded thirteen more permanent jobs, a thirty-seven percent larger increase in per capita income and a twenty percent larger increase in retail sales.

Today's large livestock operations look more like animal factories than animal farms. A typical hog factory farm has several metal barns, each containing several hundred to several thousand animals tightly confined cheek by jowl. Unlike traditional family farms, where pigs live in spacious barns in which straw bedding absorbs manure, or where they root about outside and leave their manure to decay in a pasture or open lot, these animals live in cramped conditions and may never see sunlight. They spend their lives standing slatted metal floors, beneath which their feces and urine are flushed. The manure is piped into open-air manure lagoons, where it is stored until it can be pumped out to irrigate fields, presumably to fertilize crops. But the scale of factory farms is so great that enormous quantities of excess manure are now being spread on farmlands, posing threats to drinking water and fisheries. Huge dairy and poultry operations resemble hog factory farms -- with their confinement sheds or barren feedlots that the animals never leave and the massive quantities of manure generated. In a typical large-scale poultry operation, tens of thousands of chickens are confined in bird houses from dry droppings, known as litter, are collected, mixed with other materials, and stockpiled before being spread onto fields.

This trend toward industrial-scale farming has created an enormous increase in the concentration and quantity of manure that is generated at a single site. The storage lagoons on factory farms are often stinking manure lakes the size of several football fields, containing millions of gallons of liquified manure.

A single animal factory can generate the waste equivalent of a town. As this report documents, manure lagoons have spawned environmental disasters in many states, spilling disease-causing bacteria into neighboring rivers and leaching manure into groundwater used for drinking. The volume of manure is so enormous that a single spill from the lagoon of an animal factory can be devastating to the health of a nearby river and the fish that live within it.

Seeking to dispose of vast quantities of excrement, factory farms tend to apply far more manure or "litter" (dry poultry manure mixed with other materials) to cropland than the soil can safely absorb. Over the long term, this practice promises to further pollute the drinking water on which many communities depend. Additionally, many factory farms now shoot liquefied manure and urine from irrigation pivot sprayers to fertilize cropland. By failing to immediately incorporate the manure into the soil adequately through either method, factory farms routinely risk the possibility that manure will run off into lakes, rivers or streams. Over-application and liquid manure application has poisoned drinking water and once-pristine waterways in many communities. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, manure runoff has been identified as a culprit in the contamination of fisheries along 60,000 miles of streams. In addition, in 17 states the groundwater is impaired by feedlot manure containing fecal streptococci and fecal coliform bacteria, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tests.

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