The Viva Vine: vol #6, no #2: March / April 1997


Manure Madness Sweeps the Nation
By Pamela Rice

Manure-industrial complex

Want to argue the virtues of vegetarianism? Get to know the industrial waste products of the food-animal industry. Sure, meat eaters may defend their gustatory preferences by citing principles of free choice, but unfortunately, their dietary habits have a couple of troublesome drawbacks. I'm talking about manure, and I'm talking about dead animals.

To outsiders the subject of animal waste may seem funny, but to meat and poultry producers, manure and dead animals are serious business. In an industry where one facility can produce tens of thousands of tons of manure, ignoring it would be like ignoring an avalanche. Animals themselves become a waste product when they die before they can be slaughtered-due to the the horrific conditions they are forced to live under. A 1,000-sow farrow-to-finish operation may produce over 40,000 pounds of dead pigs a year.

Get to know this ludicrous story of excrement and dead-pig and -chicken disposal and you'll easily win any argument with a carnivore.

Animal factories-what a waste

It's not my idea of a good time, but the food-animal industry has decided that it is worth enduring the self-imposed burden of manure-by-the-ton. To deal with it, they cook it, they spray it, they truck it out of town. They move it slowly past blowers. They try to reduce the surface area exposed to air to lessen the stench. They add chemicals to animal feed and to the waste itself-all in an attempt to decrease the extreme noxiousness of industrial-size amounts. Study teams measure it, scrutinize it and contemplate it ad nauseam. As for dead animals, they bury them, they incinerate them, they compost them, or they allow nearby buzzards or alligators to take care of them. In the end, it's still a mess! And the cost is astronomical.

Europeans, are currently far ahead of Americans in developing every odd system to control the problems of animal waste. Historically, European communities have been close to farms. Consequently, European laws regarding manure are much stricter than those in the U.S., where farms have been more isolated.

Still, the food-animal industry in the United States, especially hog factories in North Carolina, have gotten so huge-almost overnight-that the U.S. is fast having to confront the problems the Europeans have been dealing with for years. Lawsuits-mainly over manure odor-challenging the lax practices of American manure management are proliferating. Ultimately, only those large operations with the advantage of economies of scale will be able to survive the legal onslaught.

Manure: May kill on the spot, eat through metal

With the rise of factory farming, animal-waste management has become a science. In a report entitled "Options for Managing Odor: A Report From the Swine Odor Task Force," published in March, 1995, we are made cognizant of what most of us normally put out of sight and out of mind.

Few people know that odorous gases from hog manure in factory sheds can occur in such concentrations that equipment is damaged by it. Some 150 gases that are found in hog manure can eat through metal and corrode electrical wiring, putting hog housing at risk for fires.

The gases that are created by imprisoned hogs in today's intensive industrial hog factories reach such high concentrations that piglets are put at risk. Indeed, even full-grown hogs can die on the spot when hydrogen sulfide is released from liquid manure that has been agitated.

One method of disposing of animal manure is to spray it over nearby fields via sprinkler systems. An intensive food-animal factory operator can learn through a statistical service that the cost of spray-field preparation and irrigation equipment, including labor and pumping, ranges from $1.16 to $2.32 per "finishing hog space." This term refers to the space allotted to a hog in the final stages of fattening before slaughter. The "lagoons," in which such manure is stored before it is sprayed? To construct one adds up to about $1 per cubic yard, or about $4.50 per finishing hog space. Undoubtedly, such unit costs and statistics can offer any factory farmer invaluable planning data. To the uninitiated, however, such ratios may seem beyond absurd.

60 Minutes offers glimpse of factory farming

Last December 22, CBS TV's 60 Minutes aired a full segment on the massive problems of manure in North Carolina.

The segment showed filthy factory conditions, including sows individually packed in farrowing stalls "so narrow, they can't even turn around." It publicized to its millions of viewers the unsavory fact that "pigs excrete four times as much waste as humans...turning North Carolina into a toilet."

Quoted in the segment was Larry Cahoon, a scientist from the University of North Carolina, who acknowledged that manure from corporate hog-confinement operations should be considered industrial waste. "I would consider it hazardous...germs, bacteria, viruses such as flu virus, protozoans, various worm-type parasites," he said. And hazardous chemicals from the manure are seeping into the groundwater via the many leaking cesspools throughout the state.

Morley Safer wrapped up the 60 Minutes segment with a startling revelation-even for this seasoned observer of animal factories: "Four of the nation's biggest companies," he said, not naming which ones, "have banded together to build a two-million-pig farm in Utah, and more are planned for Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois."

Thus, the bizarre evolution that has brought the world its current system of intensive food-animal production reaches yet a new level of absurdity.

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