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Posted on Dec 17, 2008
By KEN MIDKIFF
Kansas City Star

AS I SEE IT

Science Backs Up What the Nose Already Knows

KEN MIDKIFF ON FACTORY FARMING

No one needed to do scientific studies to tell my mother that my long-ago FFA project’s 12 hogs didn’t smell like roses.

But the scientific studies have now been done that confirm what her nose — and stinky clothes — told her on that Illinois farm about 50 years ago.

The only difference is that the compounds causing the unpleasant smell have been identified, and some of those compounds, according to public health studies, cause human health problems, from flu-like symptoms to severe asthma attacks.

The sound-science research by institutions as diverse as Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Iowa State University and the Minnesota Department of Health has documented that the preponderance of evidence is that emissions from concentrated animal feeding operations — CAFOs for short — can harm human health.

Likewise, there are all sorts of scientific studies documenting the ill effects of CAFOs on water quality — everything from heavy algae blooms to problems with bacteria, primarily E. coli. There are reams of health, economic and socialservice studies that demonstrate the bad effects of crowding together farm animals by the thousands. The studies conclude that these big feeding operations are a liability, not a benefit.

The American Public Health Association, reviewing the many documents, called for a moratorium on permitting CAFOs. Several recent reports — the most notable from the Pew Commission — also found CAFOs culpable on health matters. By the way, there is absolutely no evidence that the meat, milk and eggs produced by these feeding operationshave resulted in more food for the hungry mouths of peasants in Southeast Asia, Africaor South America. To the contrary, world hunger and deaths from malnutrition have increased.

Arguments about “the future of agriculture” ring hollow. CAFOs represent less than half of1 percent of Missouri agriculture. They are passé — part of the industrial era that has devastated the American economy.

We now have more than 20 years of experience with these operations and what we now know is what was suspected initially: CAFOs pollute the air and water, and cause economic trouble and human health problems.

The science studies are in, and a reassessment is in order.

But those who advocate for these operations are not deterred by scientific studies or facts. Emotion and passion are poor substitutes for research reports, scientific studies, data and facts, but that’s what CAFO supporters are reduced to relying on.

Ken Midkiff is chairman of the Missouri Chapter of the Sierra Club. He lives in Columbia.

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