In my previous entry, "The Small Town and the Factory Farm", I wrote about how factory farms are forced upon a community in a very undemocratic process. Political, corporate and financial priorities tend to push aside community and environmental concerns about intensive agricultural practices and factory farms. I also wrote about my emotional attachment to the river in front of my home and how I feared the new pig farm upstream would jeopardize the health of the river's ecosystem. You might wonder why a citizen of the United States should worry about how pigs are raised in Canada; consider this: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada says that in 2007, Canada exported 1.03 million tons of pork to the USA.
I would now like to go into some of the nuts and bolts that bring credibility to the gut reaction when a factory farm becomes part of everyday life in a community. The first problem that comes to mind when "pig farm" and "neighborhood" have to coexist is the smell.
Keeping a safe distance away
The Quebec provincial laws have come up with some solutions to sweeten the cohabitation problems. Our government measures in meters (about 3.3 feet in a meter) the minimum distance between pig farm buildings and a home. Our citizens' group paid for a scientific study to determine how far the smell of the pig farm buildings to be built in our town could be detected in different metrological scenarios. NOVE Environnement did the study, and the provincial Ministry of the Environment recognised the scientific validity of the study. Looking at one of the charts of the study, we think the distance should be measured in kilometers (.6 mile in a kilometer).
Photo: pig barn smell spread over the countryside near Richelieu, my home town.
Wherever the wind blows
Another solution proposed by our government is the planting of a windbreak. Industrialized farming has brought the leveling of the land, the cutting down of trees to maximize crop surfaces and the straightening of ditches and streams. So it is suggested that subsidized windbreaks be planted in strategic directions in an effort to change wind patterns. To maximize survival rates and minimize costs, small trees are planted in a row, hopefully to grow quickly and alleviate aggressive smells for the neighbors. Needless to say, just looking at the picture below, years will go by before these trees make any difference!
What's that I smell?
A document of the Ohio State University says that livestock operations emit odors and dust. About odor, the document states: "More than 160 volatile compounds have been identified as contributors to odor from confinement facilities. These compounds include ammonia, hydrogen sulfide..." and so on. As for the dust: "Dust particles are carriers of odor, toxic gases, endotoxins, and pathogens".
Amongst the pathogens, let me just mention MRSA, a "superbug" resistant to antibiotics. Common knowledge says that MRSA is spread in hospitals, but an Ontario study in 2007 showed that pig farmers and their veterinarians are often carriers of MRSA, and the widespread use of low dosage of antibiotics to make pigs eat more and fatten quicker could be one of the causes in making pig farms breeding pools for superbugs. This study was published in "Veterinary Microbiology" in October of 2007 (Khanna et al. 2007).
My next entry will be about factory farming and water.