WARNING: Animal feedlots threaten public drinking water
(NaturalHealth365) Did you know that a single dairy cow produces 120 pounds of wet manure per day, which in turn is equal to that of 20-40 people? Now imagine a herd of 80,000 to 100,000 cows, which is typical in the factory feedlots that dominant the Great Plains. Crunch the numbers, and you’ll find that a herd produces the waste of a city of one million people – every day!
Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are feedlots where animals are raised and fattened in close confinement before being slaughtered. Meat and dairy production in the U.S. is dominated by CAFOs, with over 450,000 animal pens currently in operation.
The millions of tons of manure produced by animal feedlots is a risk to consumer health. According to the Guardian, a recent study found that manure from Minnesota’s 80 million farm animals risks overloading the state’s rivers, lakes, and drinking water with nitrogen and phosphorous.
Livestock waste: A threat to freshwater
The massive accumulation of animal waste is one of the largest uncontrolled sources of water pollution in the U.S. The truth is: manure buildup creates too much nitrogen and phosphorous, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says creates toxic algae blooms in lakes.
Drinking water with high nitrogen levels, which is often caused by storm runoff from factory feedlots, has been linked to cancers and blue baby syndrome.
Moreover, animal waste contains numerous microorganisms, including cryptosporidium, a parasite that can cause respiratory and gastrointestinal illness. In 1993, a severe rainstorm led to a outbreak of cryptosporidium in Milwaukee’s drinking water supply, resulting in over 100 deaths and 430,000 bouts of illness.
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According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, more than 3,000 water bodies in the state fail to meet quality standards, with 85% of those impairments due to nitrogen, bacteria, chloride and phosphorous.
Should CAFOs be put to pasture?
The modern industrial livestock business threatens more than just consumer drinking water.
The environmental health effects include everything from degraded air quality to the creation of harmful insect vectors. Pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics and synthetic hormones, which are often implanted in animals to make them grow fatter and more quickly, can enter the environment through animal waste, and the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions are a leading contributor to climate change.
While CAFOs can properly store animal waste, utilize the necessary stormwater runoff controls to prevent manure from escaping into the environment, and stabilize the soil in feedlots with the use of coal ash to improve animal health, odor, and the lot’s overall conditions, the negative environmental effects are many.
The environmental argument for grass-fed beef
Herds of bison roaming the prairies. Manure returning nutrients to the soil. It might sound like an idyllic and pastorally outdated idea.
Still, the grass-fed movement is part of a greater philosophy known as regenerative agriculture or holistic management. The goal is to create a healthy ecosystem.
Beef production is a complex equation, and which type of beef production -feedlot or grass-fed -has the smaller “environmental” footprint is still up for debate. It all depends on which side of the fence you’re on.
If you want to learn more about environmentally-friendly farming practices, look up the work of Joel Salatin. He’s got a reasonable, intelligent solution for our current food production issues.
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