Editor’s note: At least one hog CAFO is in the works in the St. Croix River watershed, along the Trade River, while other dairy and other factory farms are already in operation.
The American Public Health Association (APHA) enacted a new policy statement advising federal, state, and local governments and public health agencies to impose a moratorium on all new and expanding concentrated feeding animal operations (CAFOs). The new policy recommends a complete halt until additional scientific data have been collected and any public health concerns associated with CAFOs are addressed.
The Precautionary Moratorium on New and Expanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations statement was developed by APHA members in collaboration with individual members from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF). The statement outlines the urgent need for full compliance with the policy and provides twelve action steps that span from ending the routine use of medically important antibiotics in food animal production to providing a mechanism that requires large scale producers to report environmental emissions hazards.
“CAFOs are the dominant production model for food animals in the United States, but government oversight and policies designed to safeguard the health of individuals and the environment from these operations have been inadequate,” says Bob Martin, director of the Food System Policy Program at the CLF. “This policy statement puts the public’s health first and if observed, it has the potential to protect the health of some of our nation’s most vulnerable communities.”
“Since CLF’s founding in 1996, a priority focus of our work has been to understand and address the public health implications of industrial food animal production. Our research and policy activities have linked this method of food production to a number of serious public health challenges,” says Martin Bloem, MD, director of the CLF and the Robert S. Lawrence Professor of Environmental Health with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering. “We are pleased that the nation’s leading public health organization has taken a stand on this critical public health issue. All public health professionals, advocates, and policymakers should keep this new APHA policy statement in mind as they work to protect health and improve our food system.”
CAFOs confine large numbers of animals of the same species—such as beef and dairy cattle, swine, broilers (poultry raised for meat consumption) and laying hens—on a small area of land. The scale, density, and practices associated with these operations present a range of public health and ecological hazards, including large volumes of untreated animal waste, the release of environmental contaminants to air, water, and soil, and the generation and spread of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. A growing body of evidence shows how CAFOs are directly associated with occupational and community health risks, as well as the social and economic decline of rural communities.
“Research has consistently found that living near CAFOs is associated with an array of negative health impacts, including respiratory disease, mental health problems, and certain types of infections,” adds Keeve Nachman, PhD, director of the Food Production and Public Health Program with the CLF and an assistant professor with the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering. “It’s critical that we work diligently and swiftly to close the knowledge gaps related to the public health and environmental challenges associated with this method of food animal production.”