Dear Editor: The zoning waiver application that will be voted on by our commissioners on March 7 is a first step in allowing a Concentrated Animal Feed Operation (CAFO) to operate in the county. Now the area is zoned for family homes and farms, not CAFOs. Madison County citizens must retain the existing zoning designation to allow family farms, not a large-scale factory farming operation that will threaten our health and degrade our environment and quality of life.
The selling point of CAFOs is that they can produce more meat at a lower cost and bring more income to a community. We hear it from industrial integrators, their lobbyists, insurers, and others whose motivation is more profit. But we don’t hear the truth from them about the downsides. That’s what you don’t hear from them.
A large CAFO like the one proposed produces at least 150 tonnes of manure per year. All of this manure produces toxic gases including ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic compounds. It would kill all the confined birds in no time. But the installed ventilators evacuate the toxic gases in the environment where we can be exposed to them. An average sized broiler CAFO will produce 20 tons or more of ammonia gas each year of operation. A third of this gas is deposited within half a mile of the CAFO, and the rest can be transported up to 30 miles, studies show. Hydrogen sulfide smells like rotten eggs and, along with ammonia gas, is a strong respiratory and eye irritant. Both gases have been linked to higher rates of asthma and lung disease in those living around CAFOs. Note that there are already many dwellings around the proposed CAFO site.
Although chicken manure can be a good source of nitrogen and phosphorus when properly dispersed over crops and pastures, soil near CAFOs cannot absorb as much manure. Groundwater and waterways are polluted and untreated pathogens in manure can enter water wells causing a number of diseases. The American Public Health Association, which is the nation’s largest public health group, in 2020 called for a moratorium on CAFOs until further studies could be conducted on serious health and environmental threats. environment posed by CAFOs.
There is another potential health threat that CAFOs could promote, and it could be deadly to our poultry industry and our human population. In February, a highly pathogenic strain of bird flu was detected in a CAFO of 240,000 broilers in Kentucky and four commercial turkey farms in Indiana. This strain of bird flu can kill confined birds within nine hours of infection. Because these confined birds are genetically nearly identical, the infection can spread quickly. Georgia is on high alert for this strain of bird flu, but it hasn’t appeared here yet. He seems to be popping up in these big CAFOs lately. Even scarier is the possibility that highly pathogenic bird flu could spread to humans here. It has already done so in a few other places, and the death rate of those infected was 50%! Although unlikely, we must do our best to protect our local herds and be wary of any associated human disease.
Our county planning and zoning board voted 5 to 1 to deny the zoning variance request, to preserve our zoned areas for family farms and homes. Let’s make sure our commissioners are wise enough to accept the opinion of the zoning board on March 7th. Please contact your commissioner. His number and email are on the Madison County website.
MPH, CHES, retired, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention