By Dr. Mercola
Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are a major environmental polluter, destroying both soil and waterways. Making matters worse, a large portion of the food produced by American CAFOs is not even sold in the U.S. It’s exported to China.
What’s more, Chinese companies are increasingly buying up American farmland and U.S. food producers.1 So while China is reaping the best of what rural America has to offer, all of the pollution remains on American land and in our waterways.
The U.S. is also using up precious water to grow animal feed for export. In 2014, during the worst drought on record, California farmers were using 100 billion gallons of water to grow alfalfa (hay), destined for export to China, Japan, Korea and the United Arab Emirates. The combination of polluting streams, rivers and lakes while draining the aquifers is setting ourselves up for a disaster.
At the time, professor and water policy and law expert Robert Glennon, from the University of Arizona College of Law, told BBC News:2
“A hundred billion gallons of water per year is being exported in the form of alfalfa from California. It’s a huge amount. It’s enough for a year’s supply for a million families — it’s a lot of water, particularly when you’re looking at the dreadful drought throughout the southwest.”
China Has Made Major Agricultural Acquisitions in the US
Foreign corporations are also circumventing American farmers altogether by purchasing farm land in the U.S. In 2011, Chinese companies owned $81 million worth of American farmland.
By the end of 2012, Chinese ownership had skyrocketed by 1,000 percent, to $900 million.3 They’re also buying up food producers.
In 2013, pork processor Smithfield was bought by Shaunghui, the largest meat processing company in China.4 At $7.1 billion — 30 percent above its estimated market value — it was the largest-ever Chinese buyout of an American company.
Also included in the deal was $480 million worth of American farmland.5 With this buyout, the Chinese now own 1 out of every 4 pigs raised in the U.S.
The Chinese are also buying agricultural resources in Africa, Europe, Australia, Argentina and Brazil. ChemChina (a Chinese-government-owned company) is also currently negotiating a takeover bid for Syngenta, which makes agricultural chemicals.
One of the biggest concerns with trade agreements and farm bill subsidies is that they undermine local food production systems. Shipping agriculture products around the world amounts to shipping water and leaving a trail of pollution behind. The amount of water required to support CAFO meat production primarily by growing GMO crops is astonishing.
Politicians Are Facilitating Foreign Takeover
A mere 11 percent of China’s land is suitable for farming, and an estimated 40 to 60 percent of this arable land has been severely degraded by pollution, erosion, salinization and/or acidification. Chinese rivers have also dwindled, and 75 percent are severely polluted.
Factors such as these make food security a major concern for China, which also has a rapidly growing middle class.6 After a spate of food scandals, Chinese consumers have also lost much of their trust in the Chinese food supply and are willing to pay more for imported foods.
The solution is a clever one. Buy American farmland and meat producers, and then send the food back to China. Politicians are largely to blame for facilitating this foreign takeover of American agriculture and food production. As reported by TakePart.com earlier this year:7
“On Feb. 11, Nebraska’s Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts signed L.B. 176 into law, reversing a 1999 law that prevented meatpackers from owning livestock for more than five days prior to slaughter.
Pork processors like Smithfield … will soon be able to vertically integrate their operations. Instead of buying hogs from numerous independent farmers, farmers will contract with processors like Smithfield for the privilege of selling their pork.
It’s a big concern for farmers who worry the pork industry will be swallowed up by contract farming, like the chicken industry …
Chicken “growers” are paid to raise the birds on their land as well as pay for expensive poultry houses, labor and maintenance. But it’s the major poultry companies who own the chickens — as well as the hatcheries, slaughterhouses and feed.”
Smithfield Food Ranks No. 1 Toxic Polluter Among Agribusinesses
Smithfield Foods, now owned by a Chinese company, produces and releases vast amounts of waste into our environment.8
According to the 2016 report,9 “Corporate Agribusiness and the Fouling of America’s Waterways” by Environment North Carolina, Smithfield discharged 3.6 million tons of toxic pollutants from its hog slaughtering plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, in 2014.
That waste ultimately ends up in the state’s waterways. Smithfield, the largest pork producer in the world (with a total of 2,700 hog CAFOs in 12 states), ranks third in terms of the animal manure produced by hog CAFOs in the U.S., and No. 1 in terms of the toxic pollution released into water supplies.
When other sources of pollution related to Smithfield are taken into account, the company was responsible for the release of 7.4 million pounds of toxic pollution — more than U.S. Steel Corp or Exxon Mobil. The vast majority of this toxic water pollution is nitrates, which have been linked to:
- Birth defects
- Bladder and thyroid cancer
- Blue baby syndrome
- Autoimmune diseases
- Reproductive problems
CAFOs Ruin Farm Land and Waterways
As noted by Dave Rogers, state director of Environment North Carolina:10 “When most people think of water pollution, they think of pipes dumping toxic chemicals. But this report shows how, increasingly, corporations like Smithfield are running our farms and ruining our rivers and bays.”
Travis Graves, a Lower Neuse Riverkeeper, added:
“We have, and have had, one of the largest industrial scale pollution issues in the world flowing right through our backyards, 24 hours a day — seven days a week, for decades. It’s no mystery why our rivers are sick and our fish are dying. The mystery to me is this; why do our elected leaders refuse to acknowledge that it exists, and why do they continue to chip away at our already inadequate environmental protections with bad legislation?”
North Carolina Politicians Choose CAFOs Over Residents’ Well-Being
Crazy enough, in 2015, Smithfield asked a federal judge to forbid people living near facilities from mentioning the fact that the company is Chinese owned when arguing nuisance lawsuits in court.11
More than 500 North Carolina residents have brought suit against the company, saying the manure lagoons are harming their health and lowering property values.12 They also object to Smithfield’s expansion. The company is increasing production in order to meet Chinese demand.
Meanwhile, all the waste remains on American soil. A single manure lagoon can contain 4.3 million gallons of urine and feces, which is then sprayed on nearby fields. The stench from the fine mist spreads much further, however, fouling up neighboring properties, which is the cause for the nuisance lawsuits.
Even crazier than forbidding the mention of Smithfield’s Chinese owners, the North Carolina General Assembly has proposed legal changes that would ban anyone moving into a neighborhood where a CAFO is already established from ever filing a nuisance lawsuit. Moreover, anyone filing a nuisance lawsuit would have to pay the legal fees of the CAFO should they lose their case in court. Clearly, this would effectively prevent anyone from ever filing a lawsuit against a corporate farm!
Investors Urge Meat Producers to Address Water Pollution
Just before Thanksgiving, 45 leading institutional investors — all members of the sustainability organization Ceres and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, jointly responsible for managing $1 trillion in assets — called on American meat producers to address the water pollution risks associated with CAFOs. A joint letter13 was sent to Cargill, JBS, Perdue Farms and Smithfield Foods — four of the largest meat producers in the U.S. As noted in a press release:14
“The letters come one month after Hurricane Matthew inundated poultry and hog farms in North Carolina, flooding manure lagoons and killing more than  million chickens, turkeys and hogs. ‘As investors analyzing water risks in our portfolios, we believe that robust management of water quality challenges is a critical aspect of risk management in the meat industry, and one of increasing importance in the context of climate change and growing weather extremes,’ the investors wrote …
Last year, Ceres released a report that ranks major food companies on water risk management. Several meat companies including Tyson and JBS were identified among the worst performers.
A recent report from Environment America ranked Tyson as the biggest water polluter in the meat sector, releasing 104 million pounds of toxic pollutants into waterways from 2010 to 2014 from its slaughtering and processing plants, and buying livestock that generates approximately 55 million tons of manure per year.
During the same time period, it is estimated that collectively Smithfield (27.3 million [pounds].), Cargill (50.4 million [pounds]), JBS (37.6 million [pounds]) and Perdue (31 million [pounds]) directly released 146.3 million pounds of toxic pollutants into U.S. waterways.”
Taking Control of Your Health Is Part of the Solution
There’s absolutely nothing sustainable about our current farming model. Buying up American farmland may be a short-term solution for China, but eventually, the end result will still be the same. Instead of producing ecological balance and food for the masses, the result is global hunger, pollution and water scarcity.
For Americans, the sale of farmland and food production to foreign nationals is an absolute disaster, and may make efforts to improve sustainability even more difficult than it already is. A foreign company is likely going to be less concerned about environmental and human health since they don’t have to live with it. There are no really easy answers here. I believe selling American farmland to other countries is an extremely unwise move.
While there’s little you can do about this situation, what you CAN do is take control over what you and your family eat each day. Growing some of your own food is a foundational step toward creating greater food security, but unless you own a farm, you probably will not be able to produce all of what you need. Connecting with a local farmer who grows food according to organic or sustainable standards is your best bet. If you live in the U.S., the following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh foods:
EatWild.com provides lists of farmers known to produce wholesome raw dairy products as well as grass-fed beef and other farm-fresh produce (although not all are certified organic). Here you can also find information about local farmers markets, as well as local stores and restaurants that sell grass-fed products.
Weston A. Price has local chapters in most states, and many of them are connected with buying clubs in which you can easily purchase organic foods, including grass fed raw dairy products like milk and butter.
The Grassfed Exchange has a listing of producers selling organic and grass-fed meats across the U.S.
This website will help you find farmers markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats and many other goodies.
A national listing of farmers markets.
The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, hotels and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
The FoodRoutes “Find Good Food” map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs and markets near you.
The Cornucopia Institute maintains web-based tools rating all certified organic brands of eggs, dairy products, and other commodities, based on their ethical sourcing and authentic farming practices separating CAFO “organic” production from authentic organic practices.
If you’re still unsure of where to find raw milk, check out Raw-Milk-Facts.com and RealMilk.com. They can tell you what the status is for legality in your state, and provide a listing of raw dairy farms in your area.
The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund15 also provides a state-by-state review of raw milk laws.16 California residents can also find raw milk retailers using the store locator available at www.OrganicPastures.com.