Factory farming cruel for animals and hard on the planet, too

CANADA - The Fraser Valley, once a bucolic landscape of small family farms, has become a casualty of one of the great global issues of the 21st century: intensive agriculture - a business driven by our insatiable demand for cheap meat, writes Peter Fricker.
calendar icon 25 September 2007
clock icon 3 minute read

Earlier this year, the BC Agriculture Council quietly released a study that found "high to very high environmental risk" levels of nitrates in the soil of a number of the Valley's farms. Previous studies have identified agriculture as the main source of nitrates leaching into the Abbotsford aquifer, which supplies drinking water to 100,000 people.

Specifically, it's the enormous amount of nitrate-rich livestock manure that's the problem. Farmers spray masses of it on crops as fertilizer, causing excess nutrients such as nitrates, phosphates and potassium to seep into the soil and groundwater.

High levels of nitrates in drinking water are associated with blue baby syndrome, a condition that reduces babies' ability to carry sufficient oxygen in the blood. Nitrates also cause excessive algae growth in waterways, suffocating aquatic life.

The manure is from 128,000 cattle, 95,500 pigs, 767,000 turkeys and, most importantly, the 15.4 million chickens in the Valley. The chickens alone produced 736,500 cubic yards of manure in 2000; this is expected to rise to one million cubic yards per year by 2010.

The huge amount of manure is the direct result of the intensification of agriculture over the past 20 years. The Fraser Valley has more farm animals per square kilometre than anywhere else in Canada and the highest concentration of large farms.

The biggest change has been in the industrialization of the poultry industry. While the number of chickens in the Fraser Valley has increased, the number of poultry farms has fallen. During the 1990s the number of chickens per farm increased by 78 per cent. Out with the family farm's henhouse and in with giant broiler barns for meat chickens and battery cages for egg-laying hens. The factory farm has arrived in a big way.

Source: TheVancouverSun
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