Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Dirty Situation of Poultry Farms

Expanding on the sort of muckracking that our author Eric Schlosser enlightened us with in "The Most Dangerous Job, Ch. 8, Fast Food Nation," I thought it wise to touch upon another scary enterprise, the poultry farms of America.

The rural south is home to a number of different ecological and health issues related to farming practices, but never has there been a problem that stinks so bad, literally. Most densely located in Western Kentucky, Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee, poultry farms are and have been causing some serious controversy in the community and environmental organizations have responded. The problem is air pollution. The 2 trouble-makers are ammonia and dust. Without proper maintenance and filtration systems, every time the wind blows particulates are swept into the public's air space. The pollution often comes from fecal matter and animal dander blown out of huge chicken houses through vents. If the material remains inside the chicken houses, it could sicken or kill thousands of birds being grown for market. These giant chicken farms also can be sources of potent air toxins and poisonous gases. The sources of odors are confinement buildings, lagoons, and spray irrigation. Besides the harmful particulates that are present in the plumes, the odor itself can have some detrimental psychological effects. Residents living in close proximity to these dirty mechanized communities experience immediate physiological stresses such as loss of appetite and food rejection, low water consumption, poor respiration, nausea, and even vomiting, and mental perturbations. In extreme cases, offensive odors can lead to deterioration of personal and community well-being. These contaminants can irritate people's lungs (chronic bronchitis) or burn their eyes. Since the turn of the century thousands of chicken houses have cropped up across the South as consumer demand for poultry has grown. Today, the United States leads the world in production. Broilers, chickens raised for their meat, generates the majority of the capitol. The leading broiler production states of the South are home to the world's largest poultry producer, Tyson Foods. Currently there have been a couple dozen lawsuits filed against Tyson Foods all related to air pollution and poor waste disposal practices that have caused chronic respiratory problems, pest issues, and a more general case of "I cannot live here anymore." Like chemical companies and industrial hog farmers, poultry producers don't tend to place these concentrated animal-feeding operations, or CAFO's, in upscale neighborhoods. Instead, chicken houses are placed in spacious rural areas, where local residents need the income and their neighbors won't speak out against them or are unaware/ uneducated of the factories' environmental and health consequences. Although poultry farms are not unique in this sense, because hog and dairy farms can have similar effects, they reign in magnitude.

The working man (or woman) spend their days amongst the 'stinkiness', reporting that it can be unbearable, however these growers say that the stench is not what troubles them the most. It is their rights that are limiting. These companies seek rural areas where unemployment is high and people are desperate for ways to stay on the farm. They assume that poor, country people will not organize or speak up and that they will be ignorant of the impacts on their health and quality of life. The companies provide local growers, who work under contract, with chicks, feed, medicine, and transportation. Growers take care of the rest, investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in construction, maintenance, and labor costs. When the company requires upgrades to the farm, the costs fall to the growers. The massive amounts of manure are their responsibility as well. In Arkansas chicken farms produce an amount of waste each day equal to that produced by 8 million people. Payment is based on weight gain of the flock. It's a system that leaves roughly 2/3rds of growers earning below poverty level wages. If growers protest, companies can cancel their contracts, leaving farmers responsible for incurred debt and that debt can be substantial; since banks in the region will more readily loan money for poultry houses than other types of agriculture. Some farmers put everything on the line, mortgaging their property to make a living this way. If those contracts are canceled and if the farmer doesn't do what the industry wants then that farmer could lose their homes.

Thus is the paradox that we face here in America, if we want food and we want it cheap people will be negatively affected along the way. As our discussions have concluded, the issue is the food system which is not regulated, wildly disregarding it's workers, neighbors, and the enviornmental.

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