An Explanation of CAFOs

green writer samantha frapartIf you are a reality TV fan like me, you may have watched Top Chef DC or a version local to your city.

And if you’re not, here is a little synopsis of a recent episode that I watched. The chefs spent the day cooking at idyllic, organic Ayrshire farm in Upperville, Virginia.

It was everything a consumer could hope for: spacious, green, with horses, cows and chickens roaming freely. But farms like the Ayshire are few and far between. Contrary to what food packaging suggests, the food industry has a dark secret. Seriously guys, if the food industry had a skeleton in its closet, this would be it.

They are called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) and they have transformed the once picturesque farm into a daughter of the industrial revolution.  Pigs, cows and chickens are placed in confined indoor spaces where they can barely move.  Since the conditions are inherently disease ridden, the animals are pumped with antibiotics to ward off viral infections.  This has become a global health issue because it poses some serious complications to our antibiotic immunities. By eating livestock pumped with antibiotics, we are exposing ourselves to too many of these chemicals and, in turn, developing immunities to them.  As a result, our bodies may not be able to fight off infections.  And the cows are pumped with Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (RGBH) that “enhances” the livestock to produce more meat and milk. The potential hazards to our health are still being researched, its concerning.

Besides being an explicit illustration of animal cruelty and a human health hazard, CAFOs play an enormous role in climate change. Livestock can be attributed to 18% of greenhouse gas emissions – that’s more than transportation according to some sources.

    • Water Pollution: while all of the animals are placed in confined spaces, they have to poop somewhere – right where they are standing! The fecal matter and urine is piled below their cages, and is often disposed of in runoff lakes nearby known as “lagoons.” According to, agriculture is accredited to 48% of stream and river pollution, and 41% of lake water pollution, mostly from poor disposal of animal waste. In contrast, more natural and organic farms often use safer disposal practices.
      • Deforestation: 90% of soy and cereal agriculture is used as feed for our livestock. explains that a normal cow eats around 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. With hundred of millions of quarter-pounders eaten every year, we are consuming thousands of acres of farmland just to grow livestock feed that could otherwise be used to grow other crops or converted back to forest.
      • Fossil Fuels: Where to begin? Fossil fuels are all over CAFOS, from the giant tractors, to the machinery pumping milk out our dairy cows (Heidi the “Milk Maid” has been out of the job for years). Soils producing livestock feed are enhanced with fertilizers from petroleum products. And we must not neglect the serious methane emissions from our grazing grub. Animals like cattle, buffalo, sheep and goats go through a process called “enteric fermentation” which helps them digest their abundantly fibrous diets. Basically, it makes them pass gas at an ungodly rate and produce 18% of all anthropogenic methane into our air.

      Books can be written about the catastrophic effects of CAFOs. Its important is to stay educated about the meat, dairy and eggs you buy and vote with your purchasing dollars.

      A quick google search can lead you to organic and local products near you.

      Organic is a little more expensive than the factory farm CAFO meat,  but if you consider the repercussions of those purchases to our health and the earth, its worth it.

      To learn more about the environmental effects of CAFOs check out these websites.

      Check out these other Green Blizzard articles that you may find interesting:  Organic Foods – Truly Eco Friendly?,  Are We Eating Fish Into Extinction?, Which Fruits and Vegetables Have the Lowest Carbon Impact?Make Your Next Surfboard GreenEcoChargeGreen Film Festival, and Environmental Impact of Printer Cartridges.


      About the author

      Samantha Frapart

      Samantha was the first staff writer at Green Blizzard, way back during the start-up phase, and has written a series of fresh and spirited articles from the millennial's perspective. Samantha's portfolio of green living tips ranges from green apartment living, urban transportation options, green underwear choices, re-usable coffee cups, bathroom habits, and even…. drinking straws.