• DanaAlexandraSargent

This Little Piggy Went to Market

16 Nov 2015

I promised to make these posts quick and dirty; this one is bursting with filth, but also jam-packed (like some sort of animal factory) with information to provide. During the writing process, I spoke with several friends who shared they had NO idea about this topic. Therefore, in the interest of ‘smartifying’ ALL my friends (and myself after this whollup of a research project!) – this post is a tad lengthy. Just pretend you have as much time and interest as you do when starting a new show on Netflix (except, I won’t make you shamelessly tell me you’re ‘still reading’ hours later).

This post is about “factory farms.” I’m not sure “farm” even belongs in the terminology “factory farm” – but I don’t have enough followers to make “animal factory” go viral… (p.s.: please share my blog!).

There are factory farms confining all the major animals that have made it into the ‘human consumption’ category — 99% of the meat in the U.S. comes from factory farms.

If you eat meat, frozen or fresh, and you don’t make a concerted effort to seek out the source, you are most likely eating factory farm meat.

Factory Farm = Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO).

This post will share some information on CAFOs, and also delve a little deeper into hog factories – as I happen to live downstream of the densest throng of hog factories in the world (yes, the world).

Let’s Start With Some Real Dirt:

It’s hard to delineate all of the negative outcomes created by CAFOs, as they overlap – but I’m going to try to break it down for you, and I hear people dig numbered lists, so here goes:

Number 1: We Are What We Eat

Corn and bacteria – it’s what’s for dinner. CAFO animals are fed mainly corn (this all started with government subsidizing corn production: see King Corn ). They are confined to the smallest space possible in order to reduce their caloric expenditure and speed up growth to get them in and out of the system and sent to slaughter as quickly as possible. To get the animals as fat as possible, in the shortest amount of time and to reduce illness and the spread of disease, their feed has been injected with antimicrobials (which includes antibiotics) for more than 50 years.

Why should we care? When antibiotics are overused, pathogens become resistant to them. Bacteria that has become resistant to antibiotics is then transferred to humans through: the handling and eating of the animal whose body these bacteria resided in (even if we wash our hands and cook the meat); and through the manure that runs off into the water supply (a quarter to 75% of antimicrobials given to CAFO animals pass unchanged into manure waste (Institute of Science, Technology and Public Policy)).

About 23,000 people in the US die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections (Swain, 2015). Antibiotic resistance is costing the U.S. healthcare system between $21 and $34 billion a year, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America (Kurtzman, 2015).

An FDA guideline that’s supposed to end the use of antibiotics for weight gain and boosting production takes effect at the end of 2016. However, the rule still allows farmers to routinely use antibiotics in animals’ food or water for disease control and prevention, under the guidance of veterinarians. Essentially, according to federal law, they can still use antibiotics with very little oversight.

BUT- here’s where consumer pressure has proven powerful: some companies and the state of California have announced stronger restrictions on antibiotic usage in agriculture!!!

And then there’s this:

Number 2 (literally):

What else can I share to convince you to stop supporting CAFOs?

Well, shit …

The most critical byproduct of CAFOs is the enormous amount of manure they produce.

According to a 2008 GAO estimate, hogs in five eastern North Carolina counties produced 15.5 million tons of manure in one year (Peach, 2014).

Manure can contain plant nutrients (which can cause algal blooms that choke aquatic ecosystems – ie, choke fishing industries, tourism industries, etc.), pathogens, including E. coli, growth hormones, antibiotics, chemicals used as additives or used to clean equipment, animal blood, silage leachate from corn feed, or copper sulfate used in footbaths [specific to cows]; and manure emits methane and nitrous oxide which are 23 and 300 times more potent as greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide, respectively, (Hriber, 2010).

Earlier this year, the University of North Carolina and Johns Hopkins University found elevated levels of hog-related fecal bacteria – which can cause hepatitis, typhoid, dysentery and other health problems – in waterways near hog operations (Kuo, 2015).

Lagoons of filth Independent farmers that run true farms leave the pig droppings where they lay and, as things left to nature often do, they find a natural purpose, as fertilization for the soil that grows the food that farm animals are eating (nice little poop loop). Factories generally don’t grow their own feed (it’s cheaper to outsource it), and the animals are confined in close quarters – so…

North Carolina’s hog factories use a lagoon and spray field system, where feces and urine is transported to open-air pits called lagoons, shown here in pink (thanks to pink-colored bacteria that like to colonize the muck).

Beaufort Farm – NC: Photo- Steve at FlickrDuplin NC: Photo-Waterkeeper Alliance – Larry Baldwin

Farmers spray the liquid waste on nearby fields to move it from the lagoon (cesspool) before it overflows. Quick drone footage found HERE if you can’t visualize this.

The Waterkeeper Alliance has documented hog farmers spraying during rainy days – which leads to more run-off into the waterways (despite regulations), and spraying on bare and frozen fields and even on grazing cattle! (Kuo, 2015).

“The result, says Steve Wing, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is that ‘the eastern part of North Carolina is covered with shit’” (Peach, 2014).

On a side note, thankfully, flooding is not a concern, since Eastern North Carolina is not in a hurricane corridor (oh wait, it is).

After Hurricane Floyd-1999: Photo-Reuters/

On another side note, thankfully, the NC Department of Environmental Quality regularly checks these lagoons to ensure safety and durability (oh wait, they don’t).

One of the largest environmental spills in U.S. history (twice as large as the Exxon Valdez oil spill) occurred in North Carolina in 1995 when a 120,000 square-foot lagoon ruptured releasing about 26 million gallons of liquid waste into the New River (Institute of Science, Technology and Public Policy). The spill killed an estimated 10 million fish and contributed to an outbreak of Pfiesteria piscicida, which causes health problems for humans including skin irritations and short term cognitive problems (Natural Resource Defense Council 2011).

Beyond the health-risks and general unpleasantness associated with living within a few miles of these things (see next section), North Carolina’s hog factories lie among several watersheds that provide livelihoods, recreation, and drinking water to thousands of residents ← this is huge.

And what about the air? CAFOs emit tremendous amounts of particulate matter, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide into the air – none of which is regulated under the Clean Air Act, which brings us to …

Number 3: Friendly Neighborhood CAFOs

Residents living near hog CAFOs bear the stinkiest burden in this battle.

Back in the day, meat was a treat – it was too expensive to eat daily. But, similar to the results of mass-producing other products, the advent of mass-producing meat has ramped up production and lowered costs. Now, Americans have become accustomed to $1 cheeseburgers and bacon donuts for breakfast. To accommodate the demand, agribusiness responded with mass-producing the mass-production modus and CAFOs popped up everywhere – that is, everywhere they could without raising a stink (figuratively).

Photo: NIH

Duplin County, NC is home to about 530 hog CAFOs confining more than 2 million pigs (they outnumber humans almost 32 to 1) (Kuo, 2015). Throughout the 80’s and early 90s, these factories, and their feces lagoons continued to crop up in this low-income, rural county, even while residents voiced concern, and even outrage, when several lagoons overflowed during storms in the late 90s (Kuo, 2015).

The following sentence SHOULD be true (hint – it’s not): This outrage from all of the low-income, rural citizens dealing with this filth led to a statewide moratorium on the opening of new hog sites. What actually happened is that a hog farm was proposed near a wealthy golfing village – that’s when the moratorium was passed (Kuo, 2015).

Why Raise a Stink? Private nuisance law: “unreasonable, unwarranted, or unlawful use of one’s property in a manner that substantially interferes with the enjoyment or use of another individual’s property, without an actual Trespass or physical invasion to the land” (Legal Dictionary). Public nuisance laws: “cover a wide variety of minor crimes that threaten the health, morals, safety, comfort, convenience, or welfare of a community; violators may be punished by a criminal sentence, a fine, or both; defendant may also be required to remove a nuisance or to pay the costs of removal” (Legal Dictionary).

Multiple studies over the years have shown higher infant mortality rates (Sneeringer, 2009), higher asthma rates in children (Pavilonis,et.,al, 2014) and higher blood pressure rates (Wing, 2013) among populations living near CAFOs.

Beyond the documented health risks, these CAFOs devalue properties, force families to close businesses (try running a restaurant covered in a mist of liquid feces); families and children are embarrassed by the smells of their homes and their clothes; residents who venture outside are swarmed with flies and enveloped in an unbearable stench.

“The poor people, they literally get shit on,” says Kemp Burdette, Riverkeeper for North Carolina’s Cape Fear River Watch (Kuo, 2015).

In reviewing our nuisance definitions, I’d say all this falls in line with “interfering with the enjoyment…of their property…threatening their health, comfort and convenience…” wouldn’t you? More than 500 residents agree, and are suing Murphy Brown, which runs hog CAFOs in NC for Smithfield Foods.

Speaking of Smithfield…

Number 4: Proudly Made in the U.S.A.??

Yes, Smithfield – ya know, the Chinese operation. Oh, you hadn’t heard?

In the largest takeover of a US company – ever – Chinese company Shuanghui, now called WH Group, acquired Smithfield for $4.7 billion in 2013. “WH Group effectively owns one in four pigs raised in the U.S.” (Kuo, 2015).

Their response to the nuisance claims? – “…unfounded… and… frivolous…” (Kuo, 2015).

For those of you who made it this far in this long post, here’s a kicker to share with your friends; it’s cheaper for China’s WH Group to raise pigs in North Carolina and export them back home than it is to raise them in China.

China is outsourcing pig production to North Carolina.

Cheap feed and the cheap and dirty lagoon and spray systems, which require little manpower to run, make operating hog factories in North Carolina about 50% cheaper than in China, where hogs are bred on thousands of small farms (Kuo, 2015). All of WH Group’s pork farms in China use more advanced manure removal systems than are currently required in North Carolina; two of the farms even use the waste to generate electricity (Kuo, 2015).

Yes, China is generating electricity with its waste, and the U.S. is spraying it on its communities.

Number 5: But, CAFOs Create Jobs and Support Local Communities…


  • Corporate contractors don’t often buy materials, equipment, feed from local community suppliers

  • Jobs generally pay at or slightly above federal minimum wage requiring assistance through social programs (ie tax dollars) to support their incomes

  • Workers at these factories tend to have extreme health care costs due to the labor-intensive, repetitive nature of the work

  • Many workers migrate (therefore, do not support or engage in the local community’s prosperity)

  • Public services (schools, roads, health assistance) are underfunded due to the low-wages of the majority of the workers and the low property values caused by the stench.

  • Communities cannot attract development (again, the stench)

  • Profits go to the corporation, not the community or its farmers

Number 6: Who’s the Dirty Animal In All This?

While animal cruelty is at the top of my list of “bad things about CAFOs,” I know that many folks see these animals as commodities – and I’ll never change that mindset. But, I can share some images that I do hope at least make you ponder. I think these images speak for themselves – but if you need more – check out this graphic video.

First, a quote from Mahatma Ghandi – he’s got a tad more followers than me: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the ways its animals are treated.”

Gestation crates where momma pigs spend most of their lives – banned in the European Union, Canada and Sweden and some U.S. states

Disease runs rampant at factory farms due to the close proximity of the animals to one another and to all the waste they create

Those are live baby chicks being ground up – there are no slaughter laws on fowl, meaning they can be killed in any way deemed profitable.Tail docking (burning or cutting off tails of cows)Veal calf – made to wear heavy chains to keep them still – also kept in darkness and forced anemia to keep their flesh pale and “attractive.”Fowl are exempt from the Humane Slaughter Act – and can be killed any way a factory sees fit. Most are also “de-beaked” (beak is burned or chopped off) as they are kept so close and will attack one another.Dairy cows intensive “lives” lead to health problems – most are killed before 5th bday (natural life expectancy 20-25 years)

Now for Some Fun Facts

Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) as defined by the EPA – are :

  • “…agricultural operations where animals are kept and raised in confined situations.

  • AFOs generally congregate animals, feed, manure, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area.

  • Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed in pastures.

  • Animal waste and wastewater can enter water bodies from spills or breaks of waste storage structures (due to accidents or excessive rain), and non-agricultural application of manure to crop land.

  • An AFO is a lot or facility (other than an aquatic animal production facility) where the following conditions are met:

  • Animals have been, are, or will be stabled or confined and fed or maintained for a total of 45 days or more in any 12-month period, and

  • Crops,vegetation, forage growth, or post-harvest residues are not sustained in the normal growing season over any portion of the lot or facility.”

Hungry for a burger?

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are big AFOs.

Once an AFO is designated a CAFO (of a certain level and based on increasingly differing rules as states and courts continue to debate), it is required to apply for a permit under the Clean Water Act and is subject to regulation. For details on CAFO categorization – link to: EPA — psst: don’t click the link if you’re like me and numbers make your eyes glaze over.

A large pig CAFO confines 10,000 or more pigs.

Family Farm: Oftentimes this term cultivates an image reflective of farming prior to the factory farm revolution (which began in the 1970s): a farmer waking at dawn, working the fields, eating a meal picked straight from the garden, maybe sowing some oats and then drifting off to sleep before the rooster wakes him to start all over again. These farmers made independent decisions about their processes, generally bought feed and other equipment locally, and generally managed their farms in a manner passed down through generations – one that supported the sustainability of their livelihood.

Factory Farm: With the advent of the factory farm, most family farms are now contracted to a corporation. This system rewards larger farms with lower costs – quantity over quality. The corporation (represented by what’s often called the “integrator”) owns the animals – the farmer must pay for the land, equipment, feed and other costs in order to maintain them.

Exploitation of Factory Farmers

Our agricultural industry is run by a small number of large agricultural and slaughter corporations.These corporations contract out America’s farmers to run the farm factories for them.

These corporations knew what they were doing when they created this “partnership.” The small farmer has to bear the brunt of the costs associated with building and running the farm, while the corporation owns the animals. Many of these farmers take loans to build the facilities, based on promises of return from the corporations – returns that, many farmers have gone on record to say, never come.

Moreover, many of these farmers have reported mistreatment, fraud and blackmail tactics by the corporations. Those that speak out are dealt silencing blows (such as a being provided a truckload of lower-quality or sickly animals). Suicide rates of farmers are some of the highest of any profession in the U.S.

HBOs “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” ran a segment on the silencing of the factory chicken farmers and efforts of Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) to pass a provision that would allow the USDA to ensure fair treatment of farmers. If you didn’t click the link to that segment, you should – it’s a nice reading break … ok, welcome back …

The integrators require their farmers to turn and burn the animals as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

The health of the farmers, health of the citizens near the farms, animal rights, and environmental stewardship are not priorities under this business model. So…

Who is Regulating the Corporations?

There is no regulation of factory farms under the Clean Air Act. There is no regulation of factory farms under the Clean Air Act. (Not a typo, I just wrote that twice because, hello!?)

EPAs regulations of these factories under the Clean Water Act are only required of certain operations; are difficult to regulate; and are written so that corporations must only adhere to the “best conventional pollutant control technology.”

“Conventional” technology? Smart word choice meaning, they don’t have to do anything but what they’re doing.

As of 2012, according to the National Resources Defense Council, only 40% of 20,000 large livestock operations in the U.S. are regulated under the Clean Water Act; this is because only CAFOs that discharge directly into streams or other water sources are required to apply for federal permits under the Clean Water Act (Peach, 2014).

In addition, the thresholds of allowable pollution under the Clean Water Act continue to be debated. As a federal law, the Clean Water Act cannot address the vast differences in topography, CAFO abundance per area, soil, air and water quality standards, etc., of each locale where CAFOs exist.

Some waterways downstream of CAFOs fail to label the pollution found in these waterways as pollution stemming from the CAFOs upstream, thereby allowing the CAFOs to remain exempt from responsibility.

Testing is incomplete and/or inaccurate; studies are debunked; the list goes on and on, and the government is slow to react.

Comment from the USDA on Minimizing Pollution from AFOs/CAFOS:

“USDA’s goal is for AFO/CAFO owners and operators to take voluntary actions to minimize potential air and water pollutants from storage facilities, confinement areas, and land application areas.”

Voluntary actions?

I’m certainly not holding my breath for that (unless I’m driving through a CAFO town, where it’s safer not to breathe).

On a positive note, state and local governments have the authority – through zoning and health ordinances – to regulate the location and operations of CAFOs; the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled that public health interests take precedent over private economic interests, so states can enact tougher health ordinances than those required under federal law, even if they interfere with interstate commerce (Parmet, 2002).

However, (you knew there was a ‘however’ coming), many state legislatures are apt to coddle the big ag corporations, rather than enact laws to protect the environmental and/or public health– ya know, that old saying “our government is owned and operated by special interests and huge corporations” – rearing its head again (ok, not yet an old saying, but at least it’s getting some air time these days!).

So, many of the farm state legislatures continue to strengthen so-called ‘Right to Farm’ laws, further weakening requirements and reducing the ability for anyone to file nuisance cases (more on that later) against these behemoths.

Right to Farm laws were originally intended to protect small farmers from urban sprawl (prior to the advent of factory farming), but are now being exploited to shield big agri-businesses from responding to concerns about animal cruelty or the damaging effects their practices have on rural communities, water, soil, air, and human health. “A CAFO is an industrial operation that uses animals as raw material. But since food is its byproduct, a CAFO still counts as a farm and … is covered by so-called ‘Right to Farm’ laws (Hoppe, 2015).

Moreover, ‘Ag-gag’ laws have passed in many states, making it illegal for whistle-blowers to make a peep about conditions (of workers or animals), pollution, or any other atrocities at these factory farms.

The EPA consistently backs away from stricter laws that would help regulate these facilities.

And now, a call-to-action!

Here are some ways you can help change hog (and chicken and cow) hell:


To hog heaven:


  1. Buy meat from an independent farm that raises animals that are pastured: watch out for terminology here – they can say ‘pastured’ even if the animal is technically pastured for a tiny fraction of its life before heading off to CAFO hell). Best to just find yourself an independent farm and do some research. They exist and so does Google. It’s not hard.

Prices are going down as more and more consumers realize they’d rather eat meat that is not pumped with hormones and antibiotics, from animals not caged and rolling in their own feces, being constantly force fed a diet they would never choose – from momma pigs who get to roll in the mud with their piglets, rather than feel them only through metal bars and only until they’re taken away to begin their own miserable lives.

2. Contact your local, regional, state and federally-elected officials and tell them you support more regulation of AFOs and CAFOs. Find their contact info here.

3. If you live near a factory farm and see illegal spraying (when it’s raining, or icy) or any other action you think is questionable; or you have health issues that you think may be related to the factory, contact your local EPA office AND health department. Find their contact info here (EPA) and here (Health Dpt.)

It’s not realistic to think we will take down the CAFOs. They produce jobs (albeit, dangerous, low-paying jobs) and their lobbies are too powerful; (for more on the power of the “big ag” lobbies, see: Open Secrets & this & this & this).

BUT, if enough people stop buying meat from these dirty animals (the corporations), and make their voices heard on the need for more regulation – we can affect meaningful change and become a nation that raises animals humanely and provides meat that is healthier for humans, and the earth.

Thanks for reading – here are some resources to learn more:


American Public Health Association. 2003. 2003 Policy Statements. Association News;

Environmental Protection Agency. 2015. AFO. EPA;

Environmental Protection Agency. 2015. EPA; How the regulations define Large, Medium, and Small CAFOs (PDF) (1 pg, 21K, About PDF).

Environmental Protection Agency. 2015.Harmful Algal Blooms. EPA;

Food and Drug Administration. 2015. FDA’s Strategy on Antimicrobial Resistance – Questions and Answers. FDA;

Gardiner, Beth. 2015. Taking on the Superbugs. New York Times;

Gucciardi, Anthony. 2014. Drone Video Exposes ‘Feces Lake’ Inside Mega US Factory Farm Video reveals disturbing images of US farming. NaturalSociety;

Harper, Jake. 2015. Sickened By Smells, Retired Farmer Looks To Challenge Indiana’s Right To Farm Law. Wfyi Indianapolis;

Hoppe, David. 2015. Factories Ain’t farms: HEC takes on CAFOs. Nuvo net;

Hriber, Carrie. 2010. Understanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and Their Impact on Communities. National Association of Local Boards of Health;

Institute of Science, Technology and Public Policy. 2006. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations(CAFOs) Assessment of Impacts on Health, Local Economies and the Environment with Suggested Alternatives. Maharishi University of Management;

Kuo, Lily 2015. The World Eats Cheap Bacon at the Expense of North Carolina’s Rural Poor. Quartz;

Kurtzman, Laura. 2015. Doctors Call on Hospitals to Oppose the Overuse Of Antibiotics in Animal Agriculture. UCSF;

Natural Resources Defense Council. 2013. Facts about Pollution from Livestock Farms. NRDC;

Natural Resources Defense Council 2015. Saving Antibiotics. NRDC;

Parmet, Wendy E. 2002. After September 11: Rethinking Public Health Federalism.

Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics;

Pavilonis, Brian T., Sanderson, Wayne T., Merchant, James. A. Relative exposure to swine animal feeding operations and childhood asthma prevalence in an agricultural cohort. 2013. Environ Res;

Peach, Sara. 2014. What to Do About Pig Poop? North Carolina Fights a Rising Tide: The pork-loving state faces challenges in protecting water from contamination. National Geographic;

Sneeringer, Stacy. 2009. Does Animal Feeding Operation Pollution Hurt Public Health? A National Longitudinal Study of Health Externalities Identified by Geographic Shifts in Livestock Production. Journal of Agricultural Economics Vol. 91, No. 1 (Feb., 2009), pp. 124-137. Oxford University Press on behalf of the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association;

Swain, Marian. 2015. What you need to know about antibiotics in livestock. Grist;

U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015. AFO. USDA;

Wing, Steve, Avery Horton, Rachel, Rose, Kathryn M. Air Pollution from Industrial Swine Operations and Blood Pressure of Neighboring Residents. 2013. Environ Health Perspect;

Wing S, Horton RA, Rose KM. 2013. Air Pollution from Industrial Swine Operations and Blood Pressure of Neighboring Residents. Environ Health Perspect 121:92–96;

Woodruff, Judy. 2015. Who’s Behind Chinese Takeover of the World’s Biggest Pork Producer. PBS;

Legal Dictionary:

King Corn – the documentary:

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