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January 9, 2004       

Public Health Association Calls for Moratorium on Factory Farms; Cites Health Issues, Pollution

In an important step toward addressing the dangers of industrial-scale livestock farming, the American Public Health Association (APHA) has issued a resolution calling for a moratorium on new Concentrated Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs), sometimes called “factory farms.”  APHA cited a number of problems with CAFOs, including the contamination of drinking water with pathogens from animal waste runoff; growing antibiotic resistance resulting from the millions of pounds of antibiotics routinely fed to animals; severe respiratory problems in CAFO workers; and illnesses among people living near CAFO operations.

The Center for a Livable Future is in full support of this new policy statement from APHA. The rise of the corporate industrial livestock operation is a deplorable development in modern agriculture,” said Robert Lawrence, MD, director of the Center and associate dean for Professional Practice and Programs at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Factory farms make their workers sick, pollute the environment, and pose serious public health risks to people living nearby.”

“With this new statement, the world's largest public health organization has now weighed in,” said Dr. Lawrence. “We have enough science now to call for a moratorium on building more CAFOs.” 

The Center for a Livable Future is an interdisciplinary center at The Johns Hopkins University that focuses attention on equity, health, and the Earth’s resources. The Center supports study of the complex connections among diet, food production, health, and the environment. The Center supports scientific research in these areas, sponsors seminars and conferences, and supports projects focusing on urban food security, intensive farm animal production, estuary water quality, and nutrition transitions in the developing world. 

An estimated 54 percent of livestock in the U.S. are now confined to just 5 percent of livestock farms. These CAFOs generate an estimated 575 billion pounds of animal waste each year. This animal waste contains pathogen bacteria, including Salmonella, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, and E. Coli 0157:H7; heavy metals; nitrogen and phosphorus, which seriously degrade rivers and estuaries like the Chesapeake Bay; and an estimated 13 million pounds of antibiotics. The routine feeding of antibiotics to animals in CAFOs is helping fuel the growing public health problem of antibiotic resistance among pathogens.

These billions of pounds of animal waste are typically stored in storage pits or lagoons, which can leak millions of gallons of liquid manure. These lagoons are frequently sited on floodplains on alluvial aquifers, contaminating drinking water supplies.

Many studies of CAFOs have documented respiratory problems, including chronic bronchitis and non-allergic asthma, in approximately 25 percent of CAFO workers. Workers at CAFOs are also exposed to the potent neurotoxin hydrogen sulfide at levels that have accelerated deterioration of neurobehavioral function. Studies of people living near CAFOs report eye and respiratory symptoms associated with CAFO air emissions.

Finally, CAFOs are notoriously inhumane to animals. Life for an animal in a factory farm is characterized by acute deprivation, stress, and disease.  Farm animals are forced to live in cages or crates just barely larger than their own bodies, and typically they spend their entire lives without seeing daylight.

Public Affairs Contact for the Center for a Livable Future : Charles Miller 410-502-7578 or cmiller@jhsph.edu.

Public Affairs Media Contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Brigham at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu. Photographs of Robert Lawrence are available upon request.