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E-M:/ CAFOs and "cheap food"



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The article in the Free Press by Chris Christoff, did a great job calling attention to the CAFO issue. However, one of the most disturbing aspects of the discussion on CAFOs is that it is framed in terms of cheap food vs. environmentally sound and healthy food. It is very discouraging to see our land grant university (MSU) frame the issue this way. "We can't go back to the bucolic, small family farm - that's not what is associated with modern agriculture," said Bill Bickert,.."But we want inexpensive food. I don't think the consumer makes a connection between pristine air, clean water and the cost of their food."

While Bickert (from MSU), makes the connection between production methods and clean water and air, he blames the consumer's desire for cheap food for the polluting production system rather than where the blame should be, on the industry. And he ignores the fact that consumers have few alternatives and several surveys show their desire for food produced in a healthy and environmentally safe manner and they are willing to pay more for it.
There is also the myth of "cheap food". As those of us who live near CAFOs know, there are enormous costs to this food. There are the widespread environmental costs, the contamination of surface and ground water being the most obvious and documented, but the air quality, (hydrogen sulfide, methane, ammonia emissions, dust, airborne pathogens and other particulate) are major problems. There are mental and physical health costs for neighbors and workers and the unknown costs of the consumption of food produced with hormones and antibiotics and the known cost of antibiotic resistance.
There is the cost of the loss of farms and farm communities. North Carolina documented the loss of almost all small pig farms when hog CAFOs arrived, displacing thousands of small, independent operations. In the Lenawee/Hillsdale County area we have witnessed the closure of local, small, family dairies due to low prices, a result of government policies that favor industrial livestock production. There is competition for land. The CAFO owners can (and do) pay more for land for liquid manure disposal than the smaller farmers who need it for production, at least in the Lenawee/Hillsdale area.
 The most obvious cost to taxpayers are the farm subsidies to agribusiness. The CAFOs are multimillion dollar operations and are still eligible for many taxpayer subsidies including milk price support and EQUIP money not to mention the subsidized cheap corn and other field crops used for food for CAFO livestock.
We need to get the message out that this is not cheap food. For some reason, few in the media or elsewhere challenge this assertion.
There are alternatives. Rotational grazing for cows, deep straw bedding for pigs and other systems that are rarely talked about that are not part of a "bucolic past" but part of profit making, healthy, production systems today. We need to ask MSU why they are not promoting such systems and the farms who use these systems. Why aren't they on the farm tours in Michigan? And we need to educate people who dismiss these alternatives.
And as consumers of meat, milk and produce we have to make the tough choice to pay more for our food. To vote with our dollar, to speak out for food produced in a sustainable way or at least in a more responsible way. To buy locally whenever possible.

Sincerely,
Kathy Melmoth
Pittsford, MI