Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) pose serious threats to public health
due to their impact on air and water quality and the potential to help
in the spread of disease, according to a new study released Thursday.
The study, commissioned by Cedar Rapids-based environmental law center Plains Justice, found that CAFOs can serve as breeding grounds for bacteria and dangerous pathogens.
"My hope is that this report will help legislators and the public
understand the potential health risks that confined animal feeding
operations pose," said Donna Wong-Gibbons,
a public health specialist with Plains Justice who wrote the report.
"In addition, I hope that it will help underscore the important role
that agencies like the Iowa Department of Natural Resources can play in
helping reduce these risks so that we can all benefit from safer
According to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report, Iowa ranks first in the nation
for both hog and egg production and second in the nation for commercial
red meat production. This translates into large numbers of animals
being raised in the state while the total number of farms in Iowa has
declined. The result is a smaller overall number of facilities housing
many animals in a relatively small area.
Health professionals fear the health impacts that could arise from
these facilities, including an increase in treatment resistant
bacteria. CAFOs are also considered breeding grounds for new viruses.
When the H1N1 virus first began making headlines, many felt CAFOs were to blame.
There are also serious concerns over air quality for residents
living near CAFOs. Among the health effects documented for CAFO workers
are altered lung function and an assortment of respiratory
complications including a worsening of existing asthma, asthma-like
symptoms, and chronic bronchitis. Workers in hog confinement facilities
have also been identified as being at risk for hydrogen sulfide
poisoning as a result of prolonged exposure.
Gibbons calls for several steps that could be taken, both at the
state and federal level, to protect public health - improved monitoring
and surveillance of air quality in areas surrounding CAFOs; remove
arsenic from poultry feed; and include CAFO workers in vaccination
programs to help stop the spread of animal-to-human disease, among
"The Plains Justice report proposes some science-based, but
common-sense, approaches to reducing the health and environmental risks
posed by CAFOs," said Francis Thicke, a farmer and candidate for state Agriculture Secretary. "Policy makers should take heed."