Factory farms, officially called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), can make significant short-term profits because they externalize their production costs onto neighboring communities. Residents end up paying for damaged roads due to heavy CAFO semi-truck traffic, manure spill clean-ups, decreased land fertility, fish kills, and increased healthcare costs.
CAFOs generate massive amounts of waste. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, CAFOs produce 500 million tons of manure annually. This staggering number is three times the amount of sewage produced by humans in the U.S., but unlike cities, CAFOs do not treat the sewage they produce. Instead, they dump animal feces, urine, and antibiotic-laden waste into huge open-air lagoons until they can spread it onto neighboring fields.
While festering in these lagoons, liquefied animal waste often leaches into the groundwater, contaminating nearby wells and rendering water unsafe for humans and livestock. When CAFOs spread their waste onto fields, that waste frequently runs off into waterways. The resulting overload of nutrients causes rapid algae growth, which depletes the water of oxygen and kills large numbers of fish and other aquatic life.
Waste runoff also transports dangerous fecal bacteria, such as E. coli, into waterways and wells. CAFO waste pollutes the air. Liquefied animal waste emits 160 known toxic gasses, including hydrogen sulfide, a deadly gas with the characteristic stench of rotten eggs. Small droplets of waste also become airborne, carrying a plethora of microorganisms and pathogens into surrounding communities.
Decomposing CAFO waste releases greenhouse gasses too, including methane and nitrous oxide, which contribute to climate change. Worldwide, agricultural emissions comprise nearly 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions generated by human activities.