Factory Farms Destroy Ecosystems
By Robert Hunziker
Factory farms are the Grim Reapers of civilization, inhumanely penning up and slaughtering cows, pigs, and chickens by the tens of millions, as well as unintentionally, but effectively, poisoning, maiming and/or killing birds, insects, amphibians, mammals, and crucial life-supporting ecosystems that are key to human life. And, it’s legal.
Factory farms have suddenly arisen out of nowhere, e.g., in Iowa “the state’s number of concentrated animal feed operations, known as CAFOs, grew from 722 in 2001 to more than 10,000 in 2017, according to a study on the industry by two retired University of Iowa professors.” (Source: Environmentalists Make Long-Shot Attempt to Ban New Factory Farms, Pew Trust, February 19, 2021).
The first sentence of the Pew Trust article reads; “Iowa has a poop problem.”
Meanwhile, factory farms are an environmental train wreck gone ballistic. The Center for Biological Diversity in conjunction with World Animal Protection-US released a new report entitled Collateral Damage (February 4, 2022) that studied the impact of an estimated 235 million pounds annually of herbicides and insecticides applied to feed crops for factory farms in the US for the most recent year for which complete information is available. The chemicals are applied to corn and soybeans for farmed animal feed in the US. Roughly 50% of highly hazardous toxic pesticide use on a global basis is for corn and soy for factory farms.
The report describes a brutal process of extremely tight-fitting ill-conforming inhumane penning/feeding of animals to fatten‘em up as quickly as possible for slaughter to satisfy the world’s addiction for fast food. The entire process from A-to-Z uses assembly line techniques to get food from pesticide/herbicide enriched mono-crop farm plantings into the grubby hands of stretched-wide-open-mouth humanoid creatures, eating and sweating like stuffed pigs, as the death knell of the Wet Bulb Syndrome –WBS- (95°F/90% wet) starts ringing its bell above and below the equator. Global warming has brought the onset of this deadly event that can kill a person within 6 hours, if they cannot escape the deadly combination of heat and humidity.
The Collateral Damage report describes the impact of widespread use of highly toxic chemicals, specifically herbicides and insecticides, applied to feed crops for factory-farmed animals.
According to the study – Collateral Damage: How Factory Farming Drives Up the Use of Toxic Agricultural Pesticides by World Animal Protection, New York, NY, February 2022: “High levels of meat consumption are driving the decline in wild animal populations via the ever-increasing intensification of monoculture feed crop cultivation to feed the farmed animals raised in the factory farming systems that produce the majority of meat consumed in the US today. This is best evidenced by the hundreds of millions of pounds of hazardous chemicals applied to corn and soy crops as pesticides in the US. These toxic chemicals are impeding the ability of insects, birds, fish, and other taxa to survive and thrive as well as destroying the diversity of native plants on which they rely for shelter and food.”
That’s a mouthful. In other words, the lifecycle of entire ecosystems are put at risk so humans can stuff food down their throats. That entire process is loaded with moral issues, and even plain ole common sense says “something is not right.” Prompting the question of whether humanity is trapped within a toxic chemical world for its survival. That paradox is beyond the pale, but real.
Glyphosate, which is the most widely used herbicide worldwide, is used extensively in factory farming. This is a nightmarish chemical that literally hangs over society like a hangman’s noose. Studies show that glyphosate reduces overall biodiversity by 22%. According to a 2020 EPA study, “it harms, injures or kills 93% of plants and animals protected under the Endangered Species Act,” Ibid. That’s in line with total extinction numbers. Meaning that one chemical is accomplishing over the course of a few decades what the Permian Triassic extinction event, aka: the Great Dying, of 252 million years ago accomplished over a period of a few million years.
As for human health, already more than 13,000 lawsuits claim the pesticide causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The WHO “Research on Cancer” claims that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
“Scientific studies show a strong correlation between glyphosate and serious health hazards including disruption of the hormonal system and beneficial gut bacteria, damage to DNA, developmental and reproductive toxicity, birth defects, other cancers, and neurotoxicity,” Ibid.
Other than glyphosate, atrazine is one of the most widely used, and toxic, agricultural pesticides in the US, primarily used on corn, sorghum, and sugarcane. According to Collateral Damage: “The vast majority applied in the US, some 87%, is applied solely to corn and an estimated 60-70% of all corn is treated with atrazine.”
Moreover, as stated in the report and of heightened concern, and nearly beyond belief: “Despite its popularity in the US and the Asian-Pacific region, atrazine has been banned in 35 countries. It was banned in the EU due to persistent groundwater contamination. It is relatively mobile, regularly entering water bodies via runoff and rainfall, and has been detected in rain or air in Europe and the US more than any other currently used pesticide. According to United States Geological Survey (USGS) assessments, atrazine has been detected in streams at levels of 200 micrograms per Liter (μg/L) and repeatedly detected at above 100 μg/L. In waters adjacent to treated fields atrazine was found in concentration as high as 1000 μg/I,” Ibid.
For comparison purposes of the impact: “Atrazine is highly toxic to algae in culture at concentrations ≥100 μg liter.” (Source: Kyle D. Hoagland, et al, Effects of Organic Toxic Substances, Algal Ecology, 1996)
According to the report, atrazine is a known endocrine disrupter with high toxicity, for example: “Atrazine is a potent endocrine disruptor and is linked to a variety of human health issues, including different types of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and harm to the reproductive system. After just six hours of exposure an increase in cell death and DNA damage were observed. The same level of damage from exposure to Gamma radiation would take a full 15 minutes. Atrazine also alters the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain and decreases the electrical activity of certain cells in the cerebellum (the region of the brain that controls motor function). As an endocrine disruptor it can interfere with the balance of hormones in the body, significantly impacting overall physiology and development,” Ibid.
It’s not at all surprising that 35 countries, including the EU, banned atrazine. But, it’s enormously popular in the US.
The aforementioned citations from Collateral Damage only scratch the surface of the 50-page in-depth analysis of the “toxic cost of industrial agriculture.” Here’s a link to the full report: https://dkt6rvnu67rqj.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/media/WAP_Collateral_Damage_Report_02_04_22_R3.pdf
The report does provide three pages of specific recommendations for governments and intergovernmental orgs and businesses and institutions and individuals. And, as a general approach, the report calls for individuals and institutions to opt for healthier diets and menus that prioritize plant-based foods to “lower impact on animals and the planet.”
It’s also worth noting that only recently a major international study on the impact of chemicals on the planet was released. It substantiates Collateral Damage, to wit: Marc Préel, Plastic, Chemical Pollution beyond Planet’s Safe Limit: Study, Phys.org, February 15, 2022.
The study states that chemicals have exceeded the limits of safety for the planet: ““We have overwhelming evidence of negative impacts on Earth systems, including biodiversity and biogeochemical cycles.”
In total, three hundred fifty thousand chemicals are now altering the composition of the surface of the planet. Switzerland’s Institute of Environmental Engineering only recently compiled the quantity, surprisingly finding the quantity of chemicals to be three times more than prior estimates.
In a similar fashion, greenhouse gases alter the composition of the atmosphere. All in, Earth has become an artificial chemically charged planet. Consequently, nobody knows what’ll happen next with the biggest chemistry experiment of all time. But, how could it possibly be good?
Based in Los Angeles, Robert Hunziker is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and published in over 50 journals, magazines and sites worldwide.
Robert Hunziker can be reached at [email protected].
This article was originally published on February 25, 2022 © Counterpunch