But not all local farms are sustainable, and some could even be promoting dangerous, drug-resistant pathogens. Food & Water Watch created an interactive map to point out that in many parts of the country, eggs, dairy, and meat products marketed as "local" could actually be coming from a factory farm in your county. Which means some of the local food sold in grocery stores could be from animals raised in inhumane conditions and in such high concentrations that they pollute your local water supply and air. Since many industrial farming operations are inconspicuous—they look like warehouses, with no animals to be seen—many people have no idea that they live near a factory farm, also known as a concentrated animal-feeding operation, or CAFO. The new and improved Factory Farm Map, created by Food and Water Watch, uses color coding and easy-to-understand stats to help consumers find factory-farm hotspots throughout the country. Using U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, consumers can easily drill down to the county level to see how many industrial farm animals are in each county of the United States.
Using USDA data from 1997, 2002, and 2007 for beef and dairy cattle, hogs, broilers, and egg-laying operations, Food and Water Watch discovered that biggest factory farms are now cramming more than 20 percent more animals onto farms, compared to 2002 stats. And virtually no region in the country is untouched by factory-farm operations that often deprive animals of sunlight, cleanliness, pasture, room to move, and high-quality feed. These large-scale operations also threaten local air and water quality, as raw manure runoff laced with antibiotics potentially contaminates groundwater. "While more and more light is being shed on the ways our food system is broken and consumers are increasingly interested in knowing where their food comes from, there is still a lot of information that’s hidden from public view," says Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch. "The purpose of the Factory Farm Map is to provide an easy-to-use tool that anyone can access to learn more about where our food is really coming from."
Here are some key findings in the Food & Water Watch analysis used to build the Factory Farm Map:
• In just five years, the total number of animals on factory farms grew by 5 million, or more than 20 percent.
• Cows on factory dairy farms nearly doubled from 2.5 million cows in 1997 to 4.9 million in 2007. Factory dairy farm growth in Western states like Idaho, California (not-so-happy cows), New Mexico, and Texas shifted the dairy industry away from traditional states like Wisconsin, New York, and Michigan. (Yes, we're now raising cows in deserts.)
• Beef cattle on industrial feedlots rose 17 percent from 2002 to 2007, adding about 1,100 beef cattle to feedlots every day for five years.
• Nationally, about 5,000 hogs were added to factory farms every day for the past decade.
• The growth of industrial broiler chicken production added 5,800 chickens every hour over the past decade.
• Egg-laying hens on factory farms increased by one quarter over the decade. (Learn how to buy the healthiest eggs; previous research found caged hens—the premiere method used in factory farming—raises salmonella risk exponentially.)
• In 2007, the average factory-farmed dairy held nearly 1,500 cows and the average beef feedlot held 3,800 beef cattle.
• The average size of factory hog farms increased by 42 percent over a decade.
• Five states with the largest broiler chicken operations average more than 200,000 birds per factory farm.
• Over a decade, ending in 2007, average-size layer chicken operations have grown by 53.7 percent to 614,000.
So much of what is harming humans and the planet today boils down to factory farms. These types of industrialized operations are growing in size but shrinking in ownership. Just a few giant corporations control most of our food system, and the focus is on productivity, not healthy food, control of water and air pollution, fair wages and safe conditions for workers, or animal welfare. This type of farming is also contributing significantly to the destabilization of our climate . It's not an appetizing picture. "Whether you live near a factory farm and are subject to the groundwater contamination or air pollution it causes, or live thousands of miles away and eat the meat or eggs from potentially unsafe facilities, very few people are spared the risk that these operations bring," says Hauter. "The Factory Farm Map arms consumers with critical information about how our food is being produced and what we need to do to chart a course to a more sustainable food system."
(Check out Food and Water Watch's complete Factory Farm Nation report for more details.)
For now, here's how to start wiping factory farms off the map.
• Interact with the Factory Farm Map. Click different types of animals to locate different types of factory-farm hotspots throughout the country, in specific states, and even in your own county. If you shop in a supermarket, question where "local" farm products come from, and share the Factory Farm Map with your grocery store's management team.
To support sustainable local farms in your area, and to visit the farm to check things out yourself and buy direct, visit LocalHarvest.org or the Eat Well Guide.
• Stop making things easy for factory farms. Factory farms don't require a permit for those massive manure-lagoon pits that often leak or overflow into groundwater supplies during heavy rains. They also can spray the farm animal sewage (uncomposted) on fields without a permit. One way to make it more difficult for factory farms to pollute is to urge the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate factory farms.
You can also take part in an action alert urging the Department of Justice to break up food corporation monopolies, and urge the Food and Drug Administration to reject proposals for genetically engineered animals that could threaten human and environmental health.