Scratch and Sniff–Neighbors Disagree about Hog Production Practices

Update, June 2014: Communities Struggle with Expanding Hog Operations

Some grow more concerned about smell, property values, and  water quality, while others see confinement operations as economic common sense–this article looks at one neighbor dispute, and this article looks at expanding ag’s mixed effects on the economy.

August 2013: Some residents in rural Iowa want to stop a hog confinement from being built near their town. This type of struggle is quite common, but the discussion points are complicated. The links and blog below examine this issue.

July 29, 2013: Can a CAFO Be a Good Neighbor? This article contends that animal agriculture can play a pivotal role in the economic health of a community, yet many times, producers are so intently focused on providing a profitable, quality product that they overlook the value of being a good neighbor.

Sept. 12, 2012: With an article titled “Another Attack on Large Livestock Farms,” it seems that the writer has no problem with expanding hog operations. The article is not a response to my blog entry below—a blog that looks at important questions raised if farmers do change from confinement practices. This “Another Attack…” link expresses fear about legal action underway against CAFOs.  As with many ag issues, the topic of best production methods is complicated, and it is best if all sides take time to look at research and science. Hence, the article below.  Enjoy.

Animal Welfare, Food Safety, and a Research Video

I’ve grown up watching the pastures and open feedlots of my youth gradually transform into confinement motels and large manure lagoons. I’ve driven behind honey wagons on country roads and been blindsided by the smell as a deceptively gentle breeze drifts in from a neighbor’s farm. I’ve listened to Willie sing about going back to the start as cartoon pigs frolic in open spaces. It’s hard to love a CAFO.

So when I watched the new video produced by the company I work with—the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology—I had to nudge myself into a neutral zone. I had read the impressive publication the film is based on: The Direct Relationships between Animal Health and Food Safety Outcomes. Now I wanted to watch and listen as experts examine livestock production and food safety. CAST is known for producing credible reports. What does the science show about all this?
Pressure from interest groups, policies from food chains, and a general sentiment from the public indicate that livestock producers will need to change some of their practices. Even the Wienerschnitzel Company—with a name like that who can dispute their claim to be the largest hot dog bunch in the world—just announced plans to phase out gestation-sow stalls. So what does this have to do with food safety?
Using peer-reviewed research and insights from specialists, the publication examines the effects that sudden changes in livestock production could have on animal health and, subsequently, food safety. The eight-minute film offers a visual look at the key points. A science-based publication can enlighten us, but a well-produced video allows us to “see” key concepts. 
OK. The film is professionally produced and the ideas are clearly rendered. I see the meat counter, the confinement facilities, and the experts speaking. Most importantly, I face some questions I hadn’t considered before:
1.     If indoor facilities—usually CAFOs—are modified or phased out, will animals be exposed to more disease, inclement weather, and predatory dangers?
2.     If sow stalls are banned, will sows fight and baby pigs get crushed more often?
3.     If antibiotic use is severely restricted, will animal health—and food safety for consumers—suffer?
When I see confinement hogs living in nose-to-rump-roast conditions, it’s hard to embrace the confinement method of raising livestock. But everyone wants safe food, so as production techniques change, we need to consider animal welfare and public safety. This film doesn’t tell farmers how to raise livestock. But it poses important questions that call for debate, analysis, and further research.
As the livestock industry transforms, it seems obvious that we need to work carefully to ensure humane, healthy living conditions for animals—and safe food products for consumers.  (by dan gogerty)
Links:  Video: The Direct Relationships between Animal Health and Food Safety OutcomesEnglish language version of the publication;  Spanish language version of the publication;  Dr. Scott Hurd’s blog (entries containing various comments and insights about animal health and food safety)

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