Earlier this year, more than a half-billion eggs were recalled, most of which — stunningly — were traced to two poorly run industrial livestock operations in Iowa. That incident illustrates how a few bad eggs can have far-reaching food safety implications.
Industrial livestock operations dot the Indiana landscape, numbering more than 3,000, according to state figures. Nearly 80 percent are of the largest size—Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)—with thousands of hogs or tens of thousands of chickens in a single facility. From 2002 to 2007, Indiana experienced a tripling of total livestock, according to the Indiana Business Research Center. Poorly managed industrial livestock operations can be a major risk to the environment. U.S. CAFOs produce approximately 300 million tons of manure every year, roughly twice that of the human population. But in contrast to human waste, animal manure from CAFOs is by and large not treated. Full of nitrates,
phosphates, and pathogens, the waste is generally applied to or irrigated back onto farmland.
In the absence of effective state oversight, some CAFO operators have improperly applied their untreated manure, and other operators have let their waste lagoons fill up with manure beyond the designed limits. Both situations can lead to contamination of rivers and groundwater. Just this summer, an industrial livestock operator over-applied 200,000 gallons of manure onto a 60-acre space, which is alleged to have contributed to the death of more than 100,000 fish in just a few days.
HEC and its partners are actively involved in shaping the development of new waste policy by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) and the Indiana State Chemist Office. While these rules will better protect Indiana’s waterways, many gaps in environmental and health safeguards will likely remain. The State Chemist Office is, for example, not going to require mandatory pathogen testing as part of its new manure hauler certification program. Indiana is unlikely to require that operators have the financial resources to properly and safely close their manure pits. And the new rules are unlikely to create reasonable distances between industrial livestock operations and waterways, or simplify the process whereby local governments have the authority to regulate manure management.
Buying dairy, meat, and eggs from locally owned, free-range farms is a step that readers can take. But you can multiply your impact by getting involved at an even broader level: Give your voice to upcoming legislation in 2011 that will safeguard our rivers, groundwater, and ultimately our health. To learn more, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject heading, “CAFOs.”