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Factory Farm Map Brings Big Ag Close To Home

A report from The Food & Water Watch says factory farms are on the rise across the U.S. Using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Census of Agriculture from 1997, 2002 and 2007, the Factory Farm Map shows the density of animals confined, and visitors can select by animal to see specific populations (cattle, dairy cows, hogs, broiler chickens or layer chickens).

"This is not what most consumers think about," says Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch. "This is not something you learn at the grocery store."

The Chicken And The Egg

Eggling operations have made news lately with salmonella detected in eggs from farms in Ohio and Iowa. According to the Factory Farm Map, nearly half of factory-farm egg-laying hens are located in just five states - Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, California and Pennsylvania.

In terms of population, there are 4 factory-farmed chickens for every single American. And over the ten year span of the data, the number of U.S. factory farm egg-laying hens increased by 24 percent to 266.5 million.

Adjusting Our Beef And Milk Desires

Just as staggering is the increase in numbers of cows in dairies and feedlots. Industrial feedlots added nearly 1,100 beef cattle every day between 2002 and 2007, while dairies added nearly 650 cows every day.

Environmental problems come from this high density of animals. Commercial confined livestock and poultry operations produce half a billion tons of manure each year, more than three times as much as that produced by the entire U.S. population. As a result, excess livestock manure applications to fields of crops is the fastest growing large source of the greenhouse gas methane.

Americans appear to be changing their beef consumption habits, with numbers decreasing from a high of 28.1 billion pounds consumed in 2007 to 26.9 billion pounds consumed in 2009.

According to political science lecturer and food author Christine Barbour, if Americans ate three fewer cheeseburgers a week, it would have the equivalent of taking all the SUV's off the road. "Our beef farms and feedlots are one of the biggest problems we have in terms of pollution, and we could change that with just a little decision."

A Problem Long In The Making

The rise of factory farms over the past ten years was no accident, according to the Food & Water Watch report.

Big agribusinesses, particularly meatpackers and processors, have influenced public policy in their direction. "The silos and gentle meadows pictured on the labels of the food most Americans buy have little relation to how that food is actually produced," the report says, as the vast majority of pork, beef, poultry, dairy and eggs produced in the United States come from large-scale, confined livestock operations.

Spotlight On Indiana

The map allows visitors to click on specific states and counties for a closer look. While Monroe County (the home of Earth Eats) boasts zero factory farms, the number of factory hog operations across the state of Indiana grew by 18% to 3.3 million between 1997 and 2007.

Focusing on Randolph County on the Eastern border of the state, there are an average of 5,000 animals per site, up 2,000 from 1997. While the human population is on the decline - from 27,401 in 2000 to 25,696 in 2009 - the hog population has increased nearly 40% over a similar time span.

Randolph County has garnered plenty of press over the past few years for violations related to their factory farms. The state's environmental management agency (IDEM) has issued a notice of violation to a pork producer who sprayed 200,000 gallons of hog manure onto a field upstream of a major fish kill. And in 2007, Union-Go Dairy paid a $5,000 penalty to settle a complaint that it discharged manure into two miles of the Sparrow Creek.

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