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When Agriculture Meets Big Business… February 9, 2009

Posted by yostliketoast in Environmental Health.
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The Environmental Protection Agency distinguishes agriculture as one of the leading causes of environmental pollution in the United States. All aspects of the agricultural process emit pollutants into our air, water, and soil. However, with the raise of large-scale agri-businesses, these emissions have reached overwhelming amounts.

In small, sustainable farming operations, each aspect of the growing and husbandry process is used to benefit the farm creating little unused waste: the animals feed on crops which are fertilized by the animals’ wastes. While these operations do not produce extremely large quantities of food, they reduce agricultural run-off which pollutes the surrounding air, water, and soil.

On the other hand, large-scale argi-businesses, defined as crop and animal husbandry operation generating an income greater than $300,000, grow, raise, and process thousands of livestock and crops creating enormous profit and pollutants. Substantial amounts of animal manure are applied to surrounding crops increasing run-off and contamination of groundwater, surface water, soil, and air. These problems have grown as agriculture continues to concentrate resulting in larger farms and larger polluters.

As a major environmental culprit, it is vital to address those farms that contribute immensely to the contamination of our air, water, and soil. By enforcing EPA regulations on these large-scale farming operations we can progress towards several objectives of the Health People 2010 environmental health indicator: 1) improving outdoor air quality, 2) water quality, and 3) toxic and waste emissions.

However, these goals cannot be met with the current US EPA policy towards agriculture which provides no distinction between agri-businesses and medium to small farming operations. Current policy not only provides unnecessary subsides and allowances to large agri-businesses, but favors them. The Environmental Protection Agency also has a pollution prevention strategy in place, however these interventions are usually enforced on a voluntary basis.

The US government should create legislation which clearly defines large agri-businesses and medium to small sustainable farming operations. This legislation should also enforce the current pollution standards through mandatory regulations. If farming operations that generate over $400,000 in profits annually, the largest 7% of all US farms, are held accountable to environmental standards we can eliminate 50,000 premature deaths due to air pollution, the 170,750 river miles, 2,417,801 lake acres, and 1,827 estuary square miles contaminate by run-off, and 27,156 visits to health care facilities due to pesticides. What are we waiting for?

“Ag 101.” Environmental Protection Agency. 2009. <http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/ag101/index.html>.

“Healthy People 2010- Home.” Healthy People 2010. 2009. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. <http://www.healthypeople.gov>.

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