All right, it’s no secret that we are not fans of factory farms. Industrialized animal agriculture is not only incredibly cruel to animals, but the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also estimates that livestock production is responsible for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while other organizations like the Worldwatch Institute have estimated it could be as much as 51 percent. Really, we struggle to find something to like about these institutions, and with the latest findings that particulate fecal matter from factory farms can travel far and wide … we stand firmly planted in our disdain of industrialized animal agriculture.
If you’ve ever been near a farm, you are familiar with the very distinct smell that accompanies these facilities. Driving on long car trips, we’ve all been hit with the wall of manure stench. Well, it turns out that there is much more than the smell of manure that is transported through air.
A new study from Texas Tech researchers found that not only are you getting a whiff of ammonia and other harmful gasses when you ride past an open-air feedlot, but you are also taking in antibiotic resistant bacteria, and microscopic particles of poop. Major ew-alert.
Open-air cattle farms are the main culprits in this air-offense, as the sheds that house animals like chickens and pigs tend to trap most of this fecal air pollution inside (not that this is really any better).
In their experiment, Texas researchers placed air samplers 10 to 30 yards both upwind and downwind from beef and dairy feedlots throughout the fall and winter months. A stunning 100 percent of the samples tested positive for Monenisin, an antibiotic that is commonly used in human medicine. While this antibiotic is not thought to contribute to a surge antibiotic resistant bacteria; tetracycline antibiotics, that do contribute to bacteria resistance, were found in 60 percent of the downwind samples and 30 percent of the upwind. Tetracycline antibiotics are used to treat pink eye and urinary tract infections, both of which are becoming more difficult to treat as bacteria develop resistance.
While we might think that fresh air would help to mitigate the amount of pollution from open-air feedlots, researchers found that the concentrations of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the air ranked alongside concentrations found inside a closed hog farm shed. Meaning, standing next to a feedlot you are being dosed with just as much bacteria and particulate fecal matter as you would if you were standing inside a massive pork facility. (Seriously, how messed up is that?!)
You’re probably wondering: How does this happen? Well, some simple science can explain it. The ground of feedlots is essentially covered with urine and feces from cows (remember livestock produce 130 times more waste than the entire human population combined), as the sun causes the moisture that is holding together this waste to evaporate, that moisture takes antibiotics and tiny bits of poop and urine with it. The wind plays a large role in spreading this airborne waste far and wide.
The study also notes that the majority of cattle feedlots are located down the center of the Great Plains region – Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado – which is prone to major wind and dust storms. The potency of feedlot waste, coupled with high velocity winds does not bode well for public health.
In short, if you live near a feedlot, you are definitely breathing in poop and antibiotics – and if you live in the Great Plains region of thereabouts, you’re probably getting some of that wonderful pollution mixed into your air too!
While there is not much we can actively do to prevent the transmission of this particulate matter, aside from making a surgeon’s mask your new go-to fashion staple, we can all work to decrease the number of feedlots in the U.S. by reducing our consumption of meat, eggs and dairy. The beef and dairy industry is the major culprit in this case, but all factory farms produce similar forms of air pollution. Seeing how this industry contributes to the spread of disease and airborne antibiotic resistant bacteria, we have to ask ourselves if that cost is really worth a cheeseburger ?
Image source: Randy Heinze/Flickr