Thursday, August 25, 2011

Geysers and Floods of Pig Feces: The Bush Environmental Legacy

In light of the threat of Hurricane Irene wreaking havoc once again in the Coastal Carolinas I have decided to take up the sword and blog again.  Just as Hurricane Floyd did in 1999 when it washed out millions of gallons of animal waste from concentrated animal feeding operations, Hurricane Irene threatens a repeat of the same catastrophe since there are, as far as I can tell, still no hard regulations or laws dealing with the waste management practices of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). 

For now, allow me to address this matter with this old chestnut that I once crafted for my circle of e-mail friends in the days before Facebook and Twitter. Enjoy: 

Geysers of Pig Feces: The Bush Environmental Legacy:

(excerpted and adapted and de-nastywordified from a book by Al Franken, arch enemy of one Bill O'Reilly; Al Franken, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them:  A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, Dutton, New York, 2003, p. 329-335.  Since then Franken Became a Senator and Bill is still Bill and somehow still on the air although entrapped in the hermetically sealed bubble of FOX News's version of reality)

Former President G.W. Bush would argue that our natural resources are best managed by people intimately familiar with all the relevant regulations and statutes, and the tricks polluters use to evade them.

I agree. Such people include academics, regulators, and envi­ronmental advocacy groups. Experts all. Oh, but let's not forget the lobbyists for the polluters themselves. In their own way, they are every bit as expert. This last group seems to be disproportionately represented in this administration. There's people like: I am not going to put you through a long list of horrible environ­mental actions taken by this administration. Instead, I refer you to what TeamFranken calls the Internet. For instance, a Google search of the terms "Bush, horrible, environment" yields 42,500 websites, some of which discuss Bush's environmental record without any reference to horny, barely legal coeds.

Instead, I want to focus on what, for me, is the symbol of the Bush administration's relationship to the environment: the sky-scraping pig feces geyser.

The scene I described at the beginning of this chapter was not from some science fiction movie. It's very real. It happened on one of the growing number of factory farms that are despoiling vast tracts of America. It's a very, very crappy story.

Before we start, allow me to make it clear that I love meat. In fact, I am eating meat right now. Sitting to my right are two mem­bers of TeamFranken. Sitting to my left are two pounds of summer sausage.

Twenty years ago, the hogs produced in this country were raised by family farmers. Today, three companies produce 60 per­cent of all the hogs in America. And they do it in factory farms, or CAFOs: Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations are, perforce, Con­centrated Animal Feces Operations. Every hog produces ten times as much feces as a human being. Imagine if you produced ten times as much shit as you do right now. You'd probably be able to read this entire book on the can, instead of just this one chapter.

A single CAFO in Utah is home to 850,000 hogs, producing as much shit as the city of New York. New York City has fourteen sewage treatment plants. CAFOs have none. This presents some­thing of a problem.

In order to dispose of hog waste, farmers have, since time im­memorial, used it as fertilizer. It's a nice idea. The pig eats an ear of corn and, two or three minutes later, takes a dump. The feces is then used as fertilizer to grow more corn, which is then fed to the pig, producing more feces, and so on and so forth. It's the circle of life.

The concentration of hundreds of thousands of animals in a small area has disrupted this delicate balance by overloading the feces side of the equation. The waste from a hundred thousand pigs cannot be recycled in the same way. This is where our lagoons come into play.

A typical factory farm lagoon holds anywhere from five to twenty-five million gallons of untreated pig dung. As you might imagine, it smells a bit. In fact, according to pilots, you can smell a CAFO dung lagoon from an altitude of three thousand feet. The smell also travels horizontally. People lucky enough to live in the vicinity of an industrial hog farm are, with each breath, made keenly aware of the cause of their declining property values. If you live downwind of a CAFO, the value of your property drops thirty percent. If you drink a glass of orange juice, it tastes like hog shit.

"I've seen grown men cry because their homes stank," says Don Webb, a very sad retired hog farmer.

The dung stink is exacerbated by the practice of spraying excess shit into the air and onto fields of Bermuda grass when the lagoons threaten to overflow. The industry maintains that spraying the shit onto Bermuda grass is a productive way of recycling the sewage, al­though the grass is so toxic that it will kill any animal that eats it. At any rate, most of the sprayed feces just goes into the environ­ment, seeping into the groundwater, into the air, and into rivers and streams.

In 1995, a spill from one of these lagoons killed a billion fish in the Neuse River of North Carolina. Every year since, dead fish have continued to wash up onshore by the tens of millions. They're not dying from the smell. No, these fish are falling prey to a pre­viously unknown life form spawned in the pig shit basins and car­ried into the river waters: the pfiesteriapiscicida. This dinoflagellate is a microscopic free-swimming single-celled organism that can mutate into at least twenty-four different forms, depending on its prey. It attacks the fish, stunning them with one toxin, then lique­fying their flesh with another, then feasting on the liquefied skin and tissue. This is why so many of the fish in the Neuse (dead and alive) sport horrible, bloody lesions.

The fishermen and bridge keepers of the Neuse have also de­veloped these ugly sores, which is why they don't wear shorts on a first date. Of course, it's hard to get a date when you suffer from lethargy, headaches, and such severe cognitive impairment that you can't remember your own name or dial a telephone number. Which pfiesteria also causes.

Because the meat industry in this country has become vertically integrated, Big Meat has put the small independent hog farmer out of business. Twenty years ago there were 27,500 family hog farm­ers in North Carolina alone. Now there are none. Today, a single company named Smithfield owns more than 70 percent of the state's hogs. Small farmers are learning that you can't beat Big Meat.

Nobody claims that factory farming is pretty. But its defend­ers say that it brings economies of scale that drive down the price of meat for consumers. This is true as long as you don't factor in the all the dung. Bobby Kennedy, Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Al­liance, told me that, if the waste were disposed of legally, the cost of pork from factory farms would be higher than pork from fam­ily farms.

They cannot produce hogs, or pork chops, or bacon more ef­ficiently than a family farm without breaking the law. They aren't about the free market, because they can't compete without committing criminal acts every single day. Their whole system is built on being able to disable or capture gov­ernment agencies.

They're not in favor of responsibility, or democracy, or private property. It's just about privatizing the air, water, all the things that the public's supposed to own. They are try­ing to take them away from us, privatize them, and liquidate them for cash.

That's the only coherent philosophy they have. That's it.


To be totally honest, I wish the Clinton administration had done more to address the pig shit problem. But at least he was pushing in the right direction. Toward the end of his administra­tion, the EPA issued stringent new CAFO regulations, requiring hog factories to take responsibility for their waste and initiating suits against some of the violators.

When Bush took office, his appointees gutted the regulations. Eric Schaeffer, head of enforcement for the EPA, resigned in disgust after being told to drop the agency's cases against the of­fending conglomerates. The administration cut a deal granting im­munity to factory farm air polluters, and its Republican allies in Congress defeated a proposal by Paul Wellstone to bar hog pro­ducers from also owning the slaughterhouses. As Bush's stance on pig feces became clear, you could hear the squeals of joy at Smithfield.

They say that a rising tide lifts all boats. But in a pig dung lagoon, the only boat that rises is the one on top of the geyser.

Perhaps there is someone reading this who is saying, "Give me a break, Al. I don't care about pigs, or pig waste, or family farms, or mountaintops, or this pfiest-a-mahoosey, or the environment." To you, I have this to say: You were not legitimately elected pres­ident, sir.

But I respect the office you hold, and I'm honored that you're reading my book.

*The geysers, which are not necessarily explained in detail in the excerpt from Franken's work, having been explained before this section, are the phenomenon that occurs when seepage or a tear in the lining of a pig feces lagoon allows the substance to get under the said lining and build up a methane gas bubble that occasionally in magnificent glory not unlike that of Yellowstone's 'Old Faithful'.
(apply standard disclaimers about his views not necessarily being my views here)

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