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Empty Pastures

Empty Pastures: Confined Animals and the Transformation of the Rural Landscape

Terence J. Centner
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Empty Pastures
    Book Description:

    Over the past century American agriculture has shifted dramatically, with small, commercial farms finding it increasingly difficult to compete with large-scale (mostly indoor) animal feeding operations (AFOs). In this book, Terence J. Centner investigates the environmental, social, economic, and political impact of the rise of the so-called factory farm, exposing the ramifications of the contemporary trend toward industrial-scale food production. _x000B__x000B_Just as Rachel Carson's landmark Silent Spring used the disappearance of songbirds as a jumping-off point for a work that raised public awareness of pesticides' devastating environmental impact, Empty Pastures sees the dwindling numbers of livestock in the American countryside as a symptom of a broader transformation, one with serious consequences for the rural landscape and its inhabitants--animal as well as human. _x000B__x000B_After outlining the rise of the AFO, Centner examines the troubling consequences of consolidation in animal farming and suggests a number of remedies. The issues he tackles include groundwater contamination, the loss of biodiversity, animal welfare, concentrated odors and other nuisances, soil erosion, and the economic effects of the disappearance of the small family farm. _x000B__x000B_Inspired by largely abandoned traditional practices rather than a radical and unrealistic vision of a return to an idealized past, Centner proposes a series of pragmatic reforms for regulating factory farms to halt ecological degradation and revitalize rural communities. _x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09080-6
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. 1 Serenity in the Countryside
    (pp. 1-12)

    Family farmers are part of our country’s heritage.¹ They helped found our country, and their labor and independence have championed the values of democracy. I grew up on a farm, where my childhood revolved around farm chores and youth projects involving food production. The chores required lots of hard work, but being a part of such an occupation and lifestyle offered real satisfaction. As others have stated, farmers tend to be friendly, healthy, honest, and hardworking.² Farming is the most basic of occupations: humble, necessary, and worthy of support. Agriculture is like “motherhood and apple pie”—it is America.


  5. 2 Changes in Agricultural Production
    (pp. 13-29)

    The manure-handling practice of my childhood exemplifies a formerly normal farming practice now recognized as contrary to good stewardship. Spreading manure daily throughout the winter risks contaminating water. Animal farms need manure-holding facilities so that applications of manure occur during appropriate times of the growing season.

    Other practices and procedures, both voluntary and those required by governmental regulations, have similarly altered agriculture. Many of the changes result from the industrialization of agriculture. Our food-production system has been transformed from a labor-intensive to a mechanized one. Technology, specialization, and innovation have wrought an industrialized agricultural-production system that can grow more food...

  6. 3 The Production of Animals
    (pp. 30-47)

    When I grew up, dairy farmers had a name for every cow. Although the animals had ear tags for identification, herds were small enough that farmers knew the habits and dispositions of each animal. They could identify an animal that needed special care or medical attention. But small herds of dairy cows no longer exist. The farms where they lived have been replaced by farm factories producing milk. In fact, there are fewer dairy farms in our entire country than there are households in St. Paul, Minnesota.

    The consolidation rampant within the production of animals has made it difficult to...

  7. 4 Concentrations of Animals and Water Pollution
    (pp. 48-59)

    Canadaway Creek’s story is typical, for the same thing has occurred in rivers and other water bodies throughout the world. Water has historically served as a conduit for the disposal of refuse, including human and animal waste and by-products discharged from factories. In the United States point-source pollutants were commonly deposited into waters and onto land until the enactment of environmental controls during the late 1960s and the 1970s. Waters near most populated areas were horribly polluted. Even Lake Erie, with its expansive waters to absorb contaminants, was so polluted that it suffered summer fish kills and its beaches had...

  8. 5 State AFO Regulations
    (pp. 60-73)

    Public-health objectives underlie numerous governmental regulations. As new technology (such as a bulk tank) becomes available, the government may adopt new requirements. Similarly, scientific discoveries may lead to safer procedures or products. State and local governments have broad powers for dealing with public-health, safety, and environmental issues. Given the health and environmental concerns accompanying animal production, state governments have been active in regulating AFOs. For example, under the authority of the federal Clean Water Act, every state has designated a lead state agency to respond to water pollutants from AFOs. (See appendix 1 for a list of agencies regulating CAFOs.)¹...

  9. 6 The Environment of Rural America
    (pp. 74-89)

    As our childhood fun shows, small amounts of apple remains were manageable, but greater amounts yielded tumbling children and soiled clothes. In a similar manner, when farmers raise only a few animals, their manure does not overwhelm nature’s ability to handle the nutrients. As more animals are added in one location, however, their manure may overwhelm fields and streams, leading to nutrient pollution.

    The adults in the family saw us playing in the remains, but they never stopped us. Our mothers simply cleaned up both the children and the clothes. Correspondingly, farmers often realize that their activities have a potential...

  10. 7 Agricultural Conservation Efforts
    (pp. 90-102)

    My family’s wooded reserve reflected my parents’ efforts to operate a business while preserving native resources and the beauty of the countryside. By retaining this natural area for recreational activities and enjoyment, my parents helped preserve habitats for native animals and plants. But the more important efforts involved the conservation of the farm’s soil resources and practices affecting the two creeks that traversed parts of the farm. My parents sought to employ appropriate stewardship practices so that the farm would not lose any of its productive capacity. For the creeks, a major goal was to maintain their banks and prevent...

  11. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  12. 8 Odors and Nuisance Law
    (pp. 103-116)

    Excrement stinks, and although the public may continue to support conservation programs even when they fall short of expectations, it has little patience with malodorous neighbors.¹ Whether the stench is coming from industry, municipal wastewater-treatment facilities, or farms, most perceive such annoyances as unfair. Citizens have moved beyond mere discussion to petition legislatures for relief. And they are turning to the courts as well, using common law to sue those responsible. Under nuisance law, a court balances the equities, deferring to majority rule to enjoin a nuisance activity.

    AFOs are prime targets for such lawsuits. Manure and other waste accompanying...

  13. 9 Pesticide Contamination Precedents: Liability and Management
    (pp. 117-130)

    America is a country of survivors. My family survived a ruined garden, our country survived the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and we are all managing to carry on despite the widespread pollution of our waters. Nevertheless, frustrated with their inability to use nuisance law or the Clean Water Act to remedy pollution from AFOs and other agricultural activities, the public may seek alternative options. Lawsuits and regulations dealing with dangerous pesticides suggest two directions. First, legal principles underlying liability for water contamination by pesticides may be used to hold agricultural producers accountable for nutrient pollution. Second, states may adopt regulatory...

  14. 10 Accountability and Enforcement
    (pp. 131-144)

    Like my dad, many of us feel helpless in addressing wrongs. Despite all our laws and regulations, and the various agencies for enforcing them, wrongs sometimes go unpunished. In some situations the perpetrators know they have violated a law. In other cases persons may honestly believe that their conduct was legitimate. Of course, we cannot expect our government to address every possible wrong, but we strive to create a workable democracy that is open and fair.

    Numerous laws and regulations have been enacted to prevent all sorts of pollution from harming people and degrading the environment. But do our governmental...

  15. 11 Transformations in Food Production
    (pp. 145-157)

    Over the past century agriculture has changed tremendously, employing technology and science to increase production and limit environmental degradation. An unscientific, labor-intensive agriculture limited primarily to local markets has evolved into a scientific, computerized, capital-intensive agriculture that markets products globally. As agriculture enters the twenty-first century, how will it keep pace with ongoing changes? Is the agricultural sector in tune with current public opinion, or are agriculturalists lagging behind, pursuing twentieth-century agendas?

    Agendas from the last century will not survive because of new public demands for accountability. Although efforts to suppress terrorism may be accompanied by the temporary abeyance of...

  16. 12 Plowing Forward to a Cleaner Environment
    (pp. 158-168)

    Agriculture will continue to evolve, and our rural countryside will continue to change. Rural dwellers will notice the transformation and may lament bygone features they were accustomed to seeing and enjoying. Those of us who remember the countryside from forty or more years ago will likely berate the circumstances that have led to the demise of the bucolic America we loved. Although we may seek to return, however, there is no way to go back. And indeed, the rural America of the 1960s, or of prior generations, was not the utopia we conjure in our memories. Rural America of the...

  17. Appendix 1: Regulatory Agencies for Animal Feeding Operations
    (pp. 169-177)
  18. Appendix 2: State CAFO Regulations
    (pp. 178-182)
  19. Index
    (pp. 183-190)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 191-192)