Around 95% of Americans make meat or poultry as part of their balanced diet, and a lot of us buy processed meat at the grocery store. Meat processing includes slaughtering the livestock or the poultry, processing, and rendering. According to The Market Works, “On an annual basis, meat packers transform 33.6 million head of cattle, 587,000 calves, 129.9 million hogs and 2.23 million sheep and lambs into more than 55 billion pounds of beef, pork, lamb and veal. Meanwhile, poultry processors transform 9.34 billion chickens and 227.6 million turkeys into more than 50 billion pounds of chicken and turkey products.”
Of course, the meat industry supports farmers and ranchers, provides jobs, and food security, I cannot deny that. But you cannot ignore the consequences. The construction of more meat processing plants (factory farms included) can become a health problem, especially to communities who live near them. In recent news, the Washington County Commission in Tennessee was voting to rezone the construction of a regional meat processing facility near Grandview Elementary School. This plan may actually bring more harm than good…
When livestock is brought to these meat processing plants, they excrete waste like manure, which can contain highly concentrated chemicals and bacterial toxins. The waste could be dumped or sprayed over fields, and this gets into the air that we breathe in and the water we drink. By building a new meat processing plant, that would mean contributing even more to air and water pollution.
Some toxin gas such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfite, sulfur dioxide, methane (in high concentrations), and volatile organic compounds are emitted from animal waste. Remember, the gas and bacteria from the waste can easily be distributed to areas nearby by wind, and can cause serious respiratory problems like asthma, both chronic or acute bronchitis, heart disease and lung cancer if these pollutant gasses enter the lungs of an individual.
The CDC further states that the chemicals and compounds from the waste are able to runoff into soil and water. In a contamination study conducted by John Chastain, an agricultural extension engineer, the pollution of raw manure is 160 times greater than raw municipal sewage. When the waste is left untreated, it can make the workers and the local community ill.
If water is polluted and is left untreated, it may leave communities who consume fish or are often exposed to the water source at risk. Pfiesteria piscicida is an algal toxin which comes from sewage treatment plants, septic tanks, runoff, farms, etc., and can cause “...temporary memory loss, immunosuppression, and decreased cognitive function in exposed populations, respiratory problems and eye irritation, as well as gastroenteritis, headaches, and fatigue…” (Baskin-Graves, Leah et al., 2019)
Long exposure to the pollution could affect the nervous system and increase anxiety (and depression) in adults. In other cases, long-term exposure impacts the brain development in children and may lead to more health problems in the future. The pollution is also responsible for antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections- that means bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat or resist the drugs designed to kill them. (CDC, 2021)
What about transporting livestock or processed meat? The construction of a new meat processing plant will mean more vehicles will be traveling from and to the location. Not only will this increase traffic, it will further degrade the air quality and increase runoff in the area. The transport of the meat or poultry can spread harmful bacteria to other drivers, workers, and residents. A study found that there was an increased level in antibiotic-resistant bacteria on the surfaces and air inside of passenger vehicles that drove behind these transporting trucks.
The Environment, Obviously
I probably don’t need to say this, but if someone has forgotten, the health of the environment is also going to be negatively impacted by the construction of a new meat processing facility. Rewind back a few paragraphs. We don’t want more runoff. We don’t want to continue polluting the air and the water. And we don’t want to further degrade the environment.
Overall, the location of the planned meat processing plant near Grandview Elementary School is very questionable, undoubtedly will leave the community and the environment at risk if approved. And that goes without saying that students and local residents will have to deal with the construction for one or two years, and the future generations will have to live or go to school near the meat processing plant. So now I ask: Why this location? Does a meat processing plant just around the corner of a school seem ideal? I imagine a clean environment that students can use the opportunity to learn in, not a factory.
Cockerham, Amy. “Washington County Commission to Vote Monday on Meat Processing Facility Rezoning near Grandview Elementary.” WJHL, Nexstar Media Inc, 23 Jan. 2022, www.wjhl.com/news/local/washington-county-commission-to-vote-monday-on-meat-processing-facility-rezoning-near-grandview-elementary/.
Houk, Robert. “Commissioners to Hear Rezoning for Meat Processing Plant Near School.” Johnson City Press, BLOX Content Management System, 22 Jan. 2022, www.johnsoncitypress.com/news/commissioners-to-hear-rezoning-for-meat-processing-plant-near-school/article_af2d7e62-7ad4-11ec-9c58-eb8e559b2cef.html.
“The Meat and Poultry Industry: Basic Statistics.” The Market Works Highlighting Progress in the Meat Industry, www.themarketworks.org/stats.
Dong, Xiao. “Manufacturing.” USDA Economic Research Service U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, 22 Dec. 2021, www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-markets-prices/processing-marketing/manufacturing/.
Smith, Kat. “Living Near a Factory Farm Is Bad News for Personal Health.” LIVEKINDLY, 15 Dec. 2020, www.livekindly.co/living-near-factory-farm-bad-news-personal-health/.
Baskin-Graves, Leah et al. “Rapid Health Impact Assessment of a Proposed Poultry Processing Plant in Millsboro, Delaware.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 16,18 3429. 16 Sep. 2019, doi:10.3390/ijerph16183429.
“Other Health Risks of the Meat Industry.” PETA, 3 June 2014, www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/health-risks-meat-industry/#:~:text=People%20for%20miles%20around%20are,birth%20defects%20and%20premature%20death.