While industrialized farming practices are legally within the regulatory framework, it is critical for consumers to understand the costs of intensive forms of agriculture on public health. Industrialized agriculture delivers inexpensive, low-nutrient food in excessive quantities.

The large-scale methods by which this food is produced also generates massive amounts of animal waste and runoff laden with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, all of which degrades our soil, water and air. According to medical experts, bacterial resistance to antibiotics is on the rise, in part due to the excessive use of the drugs on factory farms, posing new and more deadly threats of infectious disease. 15 Excess nutrients from over application of synthetic fertilizers and animal waste becomes agricultural runoff, which can get into waterways, exacerbating algae growth in water systems, contributing to harmful algal blooms and sometimes making drinking water unpotable. The occurrence of these algal blooms has become more frequent in recent years owing to increased fertilizer pollution from agriculture. 18 Algal blooms have further harmed aquatic food systems and through seafood endangered human health. In 2018, shellfishing in Down East Maine was forced to stop production when a dangerous species of algae, pseudo-nitszchia, bloomed in Casco Bay. These algae produce the neurotoxin domoic acid, and eating mollusks contaminated with these strains can cause death. 33 Gases from manure pits including hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and methane fill the air, along with dust and irritants. 36

Surface Water Contamination

Surface water is also vulnerable to CAFO animal waste runoff. Contaminants such as ammonia and nitrates, the build-up of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, and the presence of fecal bacteria have affected lakes, reservoirs and rivers near the factory farms. Recently, in Des Moines, Iowa, animal waste runoff led to a ban on swimming and other recreational activities in contaminated lakes and rivers and also caused problems with the drinking water. In 2015, after paying for costly nitrate removal processes to make water drinkable for Des Moines residents, Des Moines Water Works sued three upstream agricultural counties, thereby shifting responsibility for the cleanup. The suit accused the counties of discharging nitrates from drainage ditches into the Raccoon River without a federal permit, in violation of the Clean Water Act. 56 Animals held in confinement can spread disease rapidly as infected animals are more difficult to identify and isolate, resulting in outbreaks within entire herds. The ability of diseases to spread rapidly among animals in close quarters can also result in public health epidemics. 61

Worker Safety

Farm and processing plant workers are exposed to an array of dangerous conditions while working for very low wages. It is estimated that six in 10 farm workers are undocumented immigrants, though this number is likely much higher, as undocumented workers are unlikely to disclose their status if threatened with deportation. 65

Meatpacking and Processing Workers

Jobs in meat and poultry processing plants are not only poorly compensated but some of the most dangerous. Meatpacking and processing workers kill, eviscerate and cut up thousands of animals every day in conditions that are humid, slippery, loud and in temperature extremes. Respiratory problems, skin infections and falls are common.

The amount of work is determined by the speed of the processing line; at poultry plants, line speeds have doubled in the last forty years, from 70 birds per minute in 1979 to 140 in 2015. Breaks are discouraged or denied, even for the bathroom.

What You Can Do

Regenerative Agriculture