The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory

C.A.F.O.S – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations And Our State Of North Carolina

Risk or Reward?


Defined by the E.P.A. (Environmental Protection Agency) C.A.F.O. is an acronym that stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.6 The terms confined or controlled can be replaced with Concentrated while retaining the same meaning.3

The EPA has three (3) criteria for what composes a C.A.F.O.:

  1. Confinement of animals for more than 45 days during a growing season
  2. this confinement is occurring in an area that does not produce vegetation
  3. The Feeding Operation meets certain size thresholds.1

There are close to 257,000 animal feeding operations (A.F.O.s) around the United States & there are about 15,500 that meet these three (3) criteria to be considered a concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (C.A.F.O.)2 & Of these 15,500 there are 2,514 located in North Carolina.

It is important to note that although C.A.F.O.s are usually described as large Hog operations, this acronym encompasses all different animals not just pigs. North Carolina is the 2nd largest producer of Hogs in the U.S.3

 Where do they exist? Who do they Affect?

C.A.F.O.s exist throughout the united States but in terms of our state of North Carolina they are most prevalent in the coastal plain region.3

The above image depicts the numerous C.A.F.O.s located in the coastal plain region of N.C. In the image to the right the redder the area is the greater the amount of persons in poverty.  These two images show that the majority of hog C.A.F.O.s are located in the most poverty stricken areas of the state. This is happening in the South Eastern part of the state the most and quickly developing in the North Eastern part of the state. The fact that C.A.F.Os are most prevalent in low income areas provides structural, economic and health problems that all need to be dealt with immediately.4

For example Duplin County located where the arrow is pointing is in the thick of C.A.F.O.s. as well as in an impoverished area5 Duplin County is the largest producer of hogs in the United States with close to 2.3 million per year.5

Why is it a problem? 4

  1. Health6, 7
  2. Environment6, 7
  3. Economics4

On each of these important fronts, C.A.F.O.s prove to be a burdensome obstacle to overcome.  The very nature of a C.A.F.O. is harmful to the immediate environment as well as organisms higher up the food chain (yes, like us).7 This is because the over-consumption of antibiotics in C.A.F.O.s is creating resistant bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus (among many other drug & multi-drug resistant diseases).7  We are at risk because we are over-consuming these antibiotics leaving us more susceptible to illness and infection.7 The toxic gas vapors that are emitted from “pink” lagoons visible to your right also have harmful chemicals that leech into surface water.6 Studies of emissions and modeling approaches have suggested serious lung problems as a result of these toxic gases like asthma among other chronic respiratory diseases.6 As far as economics go the location of C.A.F.Os says it all.3  These large scale operations are taking advantage of these lower socio-economic communities and they are paying for it with their health.  Would you want to live near something like this?

The photo depicts the “pink” lagoons of filth that accompany every C.A.F.O. This water then leaches into ground water as well as causing harmful air emissions.6



One way to combat this very obvious problem of Overconsumption of antibiotics is to implement the Take Care – Use Antibiotics Responsibly program.9 There are close to 50 Million pigs sent to market each year by social and environmentally conscious producers who care about public and animal health.9 This number needs to be increased dramatically because Producers are sending many more than that to market being that an average American eats about 50 to 60 pounds of pork per year.11


Scientists located in the Netherlands at an Animal Research Group has come up with three (3) steps or sustainable plans to make hog production more environmentally and socially friendly.10 The three (3) prototypes are:

Pagode – this prototypical model brings the health and well-being of the animals to the forefront. Used for family farms having between 150 and 200 sows.10

Pillar – larger prototypical operation containing about 750 sows. This design focuses on minimizing odors and waste production.10

Pearl – this is the best design for about 500 sows.  This prototype is focused on protecting local environment while using the farm to produce energy for surrounding areas.10

This is what a sustainable hog farm should look like


Pertaining specifically to Duplin County , North Carolina there have been a number of policies and legislation put in place over the past decade or so to stop the building of environmentally hazardous C.A.F.O.s.  Although these moratoriums have slowed and even halted the construction of C.A.F.O.s only 14 farms have been lost since 1997.5 This may seem like a lack of progress but legislation against these new C.A.F.O.s has made the market remain stable with no room for growth of these environmentally hazardous and socially harmful buildings.5



1. The Transformation of U.S. Livestock Agriculture: Scale, Efficiency, and Risks. James M. MacDonald & William D. Mcbride. Economic Information Bulletin. January 2009.

2. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. General Information on NPDES Permitting and CAFOs in Ohio.

3. Environmental Injustice in North Carolina’s Hog Industry. Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina.

4. Environmental Health Perspectives. Race, Poverty, and Potential Exposure of Middle-School Students to Air Emissions from Confined Swine Feeding Operations.

5. Agricultural trends Profile for Duplin County, NC Developed by Agriculture and Community Development Services Inc.

6. Health Effects of Airborne Exposures from Concentrated Animal Feed Operations. Research & Mini-Monograph.

7. Isolation of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria from the Air Plume Downwind of Swine Confined or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.  Research.  University of Texas – Health Science Center.

8. Environmental Health Impacts of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations: Anticipating Hazards – Searching for Solutions.  Peter S. Thorne.  College of Public Health, University of Iowa.

9. Environmental Health Impacts of CAFOs. Liz Wagstrom. 2007.

10. Three Sustainable Pig Prototypes Presented.

11. Factors Affecting U.S. Pork Consumption.  Christopher G. Davis & Biin-Hwan Lin. United States Department of Agriculture.  May 2005.

Photo Credits:





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Annotated Bibliography

 “Agricultural Trends Profile for Duplin County, NC.” Agriculture and Development Services Inc. Web.

This is a presentation or some sort of newsletter that is specific to the hog operations that are occurring in Duplin County, North Carolina.  This is important because Duplin County is located in the center of where most of the C.A.F.O.s in North Carolina is located and is also of a lower socio-economic status which just perpetuates the trend.  The reason this is being included is because it provides a concrete example of the impact both health and economically that is being faced by a community like Duplin County.

Bernstein, Jon. “Division of Surface Water: Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.” Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <;.

This website was useful in defining what a C.A.F.O. actually was and provided background information to large scale animal feed operations.  Even though this comes from the government of Ohio it is still applicable to North Carolina because we both have C.A.F.O.s.  The Environmental Protection Agency is the one who defines what a C.A.F.O is and is not.  This website also provides people with links about permits and different frequently asked questions about C.A.F.O. operation (more specifically to the state of Ohio).

Davis, Christopher G., and Biing-Hwan Lin. Factors Affecting U.S. Pork Consumption. Rep. no. LPD-M-130-01. United States Department of Agriculture, May 2005. Web. 5 Apr. 2012. <;.

This is a report that was contributed to by two authors and backed by the USDA.  It is an 18 page report that talks about the trends of pork consumption over the past few decades in the United States.  Surprisingly each American eats about 50 to 60 pounds of pork per year but of course that varies by location of where people live and their race.  This article also touches on an important point that higher income consumers usually don’t eat as much pork as those that are at a lower socio-economic position.  This could have to do with the great problem of the location of C.A.F.O.s located in the most impoverished of areas especially in North Carolina.  Pork consumption has actually declined since about 1960 by about 10%.  This could be in for a change due to the recent growth of the hog industry due to advances in technology.  Along with all this other data the report analyzes the amount of processed versus fresh pork consumed by an average American and undoubtedly the processed pork is much higher than the fresh pork.  This just contributes to the obvious American diet problem of not eating locally and if more people did eat locally large industrialized C.A.F.O.s might not be necessary.

Gibbs, Shawn G., Christopher F. Green, Patrick M. Tarwater, Linda C. Mota, Kristina D. Mena, and Pasquale V. Scarpino. “Isolation of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria from the Air Plume Downwind of a Swine Confined or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.” Environmental Health Perspectives. 7th ed. Vol. 114. Brogan & Partners, 2006. 1032-037. July. JSTOR. Web. 9 Apr. 2012. <;.

This article describes a study that was conducted by the authors of the article and aims to determine the concentration of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria both up and down wind of a C.A.F.O. facility.  The increased use of antibiotics in C.A.F.O.s in order to have the pigs make weight faster as well as not transmit disease in such close quarters leads to super resistant strains of bacteria that no longer respond to the antibiotics.  This is then being eaten by humans and we are consuming these antibiotics making ourselves more susceptible to super bugs that are being bred out of these C.A.F.O.s.  The results of the study were much like expected.  They noted and evaluated numerous strains of Staphylococcus aureus that have become resistant to numerous antibiotics mainly because of the over use and over consumption in large scale animal feed operations like C.A.F.O.s.

Heederik, Dick, Torben Sigsgaard, Peter S. Thorne, Joel N. Kline, Rachel Avery, Jakob J. Bonlokke, Elizabeth A. Chrischilles, James A. Dosman, Carolina Duchaine, Steven R. Kirkhorn, Katarina Kulhankova, and James A. Merchant. “Health Effects of Airborne Exposures from Concentrated Animal Feed Operations.” Environmental Health Perspectives. 2nd ed. Vol. 115. Brogan & Partners, 2007. 298-302. February.JSTOR. Web. 9 Apr. 2012. <;.

In this article that was contributed by a myriad of authors the main issue has to do with the numerous health concerns that surround C.A.F.O.s and their distribution of waste and their management of waste.   There are already a number of gases and vapors that are actually toxic that are emitted from these areas but since C.A.F.Os primary management of waste is lagoons there is no doubt this has extreme effects on the water quality if so many toxic vapors are already leeching into the air.  At the completion of the article there is some suggestions about how to turn the actual science into some sort of legislative action that will stop these harmful health effects.

MacDonald, James M., and William D. McBride. The Transformation of U.S. Livestock Agriculture: Scale, Efficiency and Risks. Rep. no. 43. United States Department of Agriculture, 2009. Web

This is a 37 page report that focuses on the shifting of the U.S. livestock industry from smaller farms to much larger and more specialized farms.  This report goes on to acknowledge the different structural, environmental and health risks that this new form of livestock production will bring.  The report relies on data collected at a grassroots level from actual famers to track the changes that have been occurring in the livestock sector.  The report focuses on the economic aspect of the driving forces of finance and industrialization to put the livestock market where it is today.  The report ends with the different impacts on structures, markets, and health that these changes in livestock production have brought about.

Mirabelli, Maria C., Steve Wing, Stephen W. Marshall, and Timothy C. Wilcosky. “Race, Poverty, and Potential Exposure of Middle-School Students to Air Emissions from Confined Swine Feeding Operations.” Environmental Health Perspectives. 4th ed. Vol. 114. Brogan & Partners, 2006. 591-96. April. JSTOR. Web. 7 Apr. 2012. <;.

This article from a similar source focuses on the health effects that C.A.F.O.s in North Carolina pose to adults as well as students, specifically middle-school students since those were the ones polled.  In this study it was important to deduce where a C.A.F.O. was located and in what proximity that was to a school.  Then researchers investigated those schools that were in close proximity and found most of them to have a higher enrollment of non-white students and of students of lower socio-economic status.  Those schools that had students who were majorly white and of a higher socio-economic status were located a distance much farther away from a C.A.F.O.  This study was conducted during the 1999-2000 school year in surveyed about 500 students.  The important goal to this study was to show that there were negative health impacts associated with C.A.F.O.s (of which we already know) but that these negative impacts are now in our schools.  Something needs to be done with the location of C.A.F.O.s and the sheer discrepancy between schools of lower and higher socio-economic status.

Thorne, Peter S. “Environmental Health Impact of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations: Anticipating Hazards – Searching for Solutions.” Environmental Health Perspectives. 2nd ed. Vol. 115. Brogan & Partners, 2007. 296-97. February.JSTOR. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <;.

This article that was authored by only one person comes from the state of Iowa and reports on a scientific conference and workshop held there to address the major environmental concerns behind C.A.F.O.s.  The workshop was successful in being able to formulate numerous different approaches to lessening the harmful effects of C.A.F.O.s on the environment but unfortunately not completely eradicate them.  These solutions to environmental problems caused by C.A.F.O.s could end up leading to a newer, safer form of industrialized meat production or a lesser form of industrialized meat production.  The groups also tried to transform their analysis into some type of policy that could be implemented on an industry wide standard such as certain occupational hygiene requirements as well as increased monitoring of antibiotic and pesticide usage.  Water conditions as well as air conditions affected by C.A.F.O.s were both prominent in the discussion.

“Three Sustainable Pig Farm Prototypes Presented.” Pig Progress. Web. 4 Apr. 2012. <;.

This is a news article found on and talks about how scientists at Wageneningen University’s Animal Sciences Groups are trying to make steps towards having a more sustainable meat production.  The research that was conducted by these Dutch scientists revealed three viable designs that could provide for more sustainability in hog production.   The first design is called the Pagode and takes animal health and well-being into account above all else.  The second research design is known as the Pillar and is for a larger operation.  The focus of this operation is on minimizing odors and energy usage.  The last prototype is the Pearl design which focuses on protecting local environments and agriculture.  This also focuses on using the hog farm as a means to produce energy for nearby cities and neighborhoods.

Wagstrom, Liz. “Environmental Health Impacts of CAFOs.” Environmental Health Perspectives. 7th ed. Vol. 115. Brogan & Partners, 2007. A342-343. July. JSTOR. Web. 5 Apr. 2012. <;.

This is a response or critique of something her colleagues wrote that she did not agree with certain articles of the work.  She went on to point out flaws in their arguments and incongruences within their six stories.  However, at the end of her critique she offers a beneficial solution to serious problems being faced by C.A.F.O.s. This solution has to do with the Take Care program and deals with lessening the use of antibiotics among industrialized hog and other farms.

Wing, Steve, Dana Cole, and Gary Grant. “Environmental Injustice in North Carolina’s Hog Industry.” Environmental Health Perspectives. 3rd ed. Vol. 108. Brogan & Partners, 2000. 225-31. March. JSTOR. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <;.

This article comes from the greater work of Environmental Health Perspectives and argues against the C.A.F.O. operations in general but more specifically against the environmental injustice of air pollution being purported disproportionately on the poor and people of color.  This article goes into the health problem that hog operations existing in North Carolina cause.  However addressing many problems that are caused by C.A.F.O.s in this article the author’s main point is that these hog operations are being located in areas where individuals of lower socio-economic status live.  The numerous social, environmental and health justice issues that are being overlooked is outright absurd and needs to be taken into account immediately or these counties of North Carolina will continue to get poorer and sicker.


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