Community health impacts of factory farms: Steve Wing at TEDxManhattan 2013


The way we eat doesn’t just affect our
health it affects other people’s health too hog production in north carolina is a good example since the mid twentieth century
livestock production has shifted from pastor based farms to factory operations there are hundreds to over a thousand pigs
in each building the feeders are automated the giant fans blow the waste, gases and
dust out of the buildings ventilation helps the pigs but it
results in air pollution for their human neighbors many of us know more about the inhumane
treatment of livestock than about inhumane treatment of people
living nearby liquid insulted waste are flushed into
open lagoons then its sprayed out on nearby fields here are the three main components of a
typical industrial hog operation: the confinements the lagoons and the spray fields notice the house nearby in the upper
right liquid waste is supposed to stay on site
but rain is a problem North Carolina is in the path of
tropical storms in 1999 hurricane floyd
affected hundreds of industrial animal operations in eastern North Carolina here plumes of feces and urine are
streaming out of breached lagoons and pigs are flooded out of confinement along with the factory farms come the slaughter houses Smith Fields plant in Tar Heel, North
Carolina employs five thousand workers to
slaughter thirty six thousand hogs per day these jobs are dangerous but workers need the money hog, beef, poultry, dairy and egg production are now
highly industrialized in 2010 97% of the hogs in the U.S. warehoused in facilities with more than five hundred head I study occupational and environmental
health and sometimes people call me about problems with pollution in 1995 I began to meet neighbors of industrial
hog operations I saw how close some neighborhoods are
to hog operations like this one in the upper right people told me about contaminated wells the stench from hog operations that woke
them at night and children who were mocked at school
for smelling like hog waste people also told me about the horrible
odor from dead boxes with festering carcasses that attracted buzzards and flies i studied the medical literature and
learned about the allergens, gases, bacteria and viruses released by these facilities all of them capable of making people
sick and i talked with people like Elsie Herring who described what it’s like to live
near an industrial hog operation They’re blowing animal waste on us so you really can’t stay out there long enough to do anything, you’re eyes start running water, you start coughing and gagging like you want to throw up you know and trying to hold your breath too, at the same time trying to get to and from your destination. They’re just taking every
freedom that we have away from us and we’re just supposed to become complacent and say oh this is ok this is just a normal way of living but they’re
not breathing it in I agreed with Elsie and other
residents who said this was wrong and I wanted to use my skills and
resources to help document what was happening with other scientists from universities
and government agencies i partnered with community-based
organizations that understand hog country and are
trusted by residents in one study funded by the national
institute of environmental health sciences we took a trailer full of air pollution
monitors to sixteen neighborhoods where people lived within a mile and a
half of between one and sixteen industrial hog operations. Every week we downloaded hourly measurements of
hydrogen sulfide a toxic gas produced by the
decomposition of fecal waste that smells like rotten eggs we also measured concentrations of
particles small enough to enter the lungs while we measured the pollutants groups of neighbors participated in a
health study at pre-selected times every morning and
evening for two to three weeks they sat outside on their porches for
ten minutes and rated the odor during the past twelve hours in their
diary back inside they recorded physical
symptoms feelings of stress and anxiety and daily activities and they measured their lung function and blood pressure using these digital instruments that
stored the data What did we find? neighbors know what hogs smell like this graph shows average hourly odor
ratings from one a.m. on the left to midnight on the right in yellow see how well they tracked the hydrogen
sulfide concentrations shown in red levels of gases and particles recorded
by the pollution monitors were related to respiratory symptoms lung function irritation of the eyes and nose stress and anxiety and resident’s ability to engage in
daily routine activities this figure shows that as the hog odor during the ten minutes they spent
outdoors increased from faint to moderate to strong participants blood pressure measured just a little while later
indoors also increased our research is taking place in
predominantly african american communities where people pointed out that hog
factories would never be built in rich white communities they said industrial hog production
was another case of what’s been seen before in North Carolina environmental racism industrial hog production began in the
1970s as the number of factory farms increased and small farmers were driven out of
business the size of North Carolina’s herd
increase dramatically by the late 1990s when a
moratorium was put into place after a hog operation tried to locate nearby
golf courses and country clubs there were ten million hogs in North
Carolina sadly the moratorium didn’t stop the
existing pollution each of these hog operations holds a
permit from the state of north carolina that allows them to store fecal waste in
open pits and spray it out where people like Else live eastern north carolina also has high
proportions of people of color and many of the poorest communities in
the state but dumping on communities that lack
political power doesn’t just affect low-income people of
color maybe you’re thinking this doesn’t affect me but industrial livestock production
affects us all industrial producers use antibiotics to
promote livestock growth which selects for bacteria that are
resistant to drugs needed to treat human infections unlike traditional farms were animal
wastes are recycled to produce feed for the next generation of livestock grain is shipped from faraway to supply
factory farms this results in overloading of nitrogen
and phosphorus and pollution of rivers coastal waters, contamination of
groundwater and fish kills air pollution from livestock production
especially methane contributes to greenhouse gases and climate change to make matters worse global
corporations are expanding industrial livestock production around the world those of us with means and opportunity
can change the way we eat we can buy local produce and meat we can support farmers who treat their
animals humanely minimize environmental impacts and promote local economy but you know what that’s not gonna change the system even if sustainably produced meat were
available most people can’t afford it we need to support local and organic
farming but we can’t change industrial
production just by buying local and organic to change the system we need to support the communities that
are directly impacted while pushing our political leaders to
promote small and medium size farms we need to insist that industrial producers pay for their damages to human health and the environment this starts with increasing and
enforcing regulations on polluters ending the use of antibiotics as growth
promoters and creating a fair playing field for
local producers rather than monopolies for global
corporations neighbors of north carolina hog
operations are fighting back they’re protesting in small towns and at the state capitol we need to fight back too luckily there are groups like the north carolina
environmental justice network and food and water watch working everyday to promote sustainable
farming and an end to agricultural practices
that threaten us all the more of us who join this movement the quicker we can bring about an
agriculture system that is more socially just and environmentally sustainable and remember the way we eat doesn’t just affect our health it affects the health of other people
too

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