By Abby Ford for the Kirksville Daily Express
Aged red theater seating and a mixed crowd sat above Take Root Cafe on a Tuesday evening and viewed “Right to Harm.” The new documentary examines the devastating public health impact factory farming has on many disadvantaged citizens. Locals and college students, farmers and cityfolk alike all booed and cheered along with the heart-rending true stories played out on screen.
The villain of the movie? Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, also known as CAFOs. The film described a CAFO as an industrial-sized farming operation usually producing cows, hogs, or chickens. These animals spend days confined in an area without vegetation, crowded in steel boxes. The extreme amount of waste (369 million gallons nationwide) these animals produce is often overwhelming to the local environment and its citizens.
The audience nodded along and scoffed in sympathy as the film depicted story after story of loss and civil rights violations. In Wisconsin, dairy mega farms contaminate local well water with pathogens like salmonella. In North Carolina, citizens were misted with liquid manure from hog farm spray fields built right beside their properties. In almost every state in the continental U.S., the film depicts, there are people unable to breathe, eat, and work in a safe manner because of a local CAFO.
In the film, Sonia Lopez recalls the awful stench surrounding her home after a local CAFO, Hickman Farms, built near her property. The smell and water pollution overwhelmed her family. Her son became violently ill and her daughters quickly followed. Vomiting, rashes, headaches, and more all detrimental to her children’s growth and way of life.
“I wanted to stay here. That was my dream,” Sonia Lopez said, tears in her eyes. “I guess it was just a dream.”
The crowd was infuriated and sympathetic. A woman in the back row of the small theater furiously knitted a scarf as the film showed family after family suffering under this strain.
The film also depicted communities who banded together to successfully fend off CAFOs. In North Carolina, citizens have filed a lawsuit against Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, the local mega farm in their area. According to “Right to Harm,” community organization and local involvement is key to saving towns from this civil rights threat.
The film commented, “Democracy, voting, is not a part time gig...it shows what can be done when you show up.”
The end of the film was met with enthusiastic applause. A panel then convened including local farmers, an elected official, activists and members of the organizations who brought this event to the community, including Truman States College Democrats, College Republicans, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, and Missouri Rural Crisis Center.
The panel discussed the effect that CAFOs have on local people and what can happen if communities remain passive. Toxic smell, unsafe drinking water and contaminated land all could contribute to forcing people out of their homes, their communities.
“A CAFO could be built right outside the city limits,” Adair County Commissioner Mark Thompson said.
Senate Bill 391, known as the CAFO bill, was also discussed along with the pending lawsuit against it. If passed as is, 391 could nullify existing local ordinances surrounding factory farming. In Iowa, there exists few CAFO regulations and, originally, a lack of local pushback. Presently, the panel said, there are over 10,000 CAFOs in the state. Comparatively, Missouri has a little over 500. Regulations and local involvement are the difference.
The panel stressed the importance of political involvement and raising awareness as a means to fend off advancing factory farms.
Jeff Jones, an eighth-generation farmer and activist, said, “We will not be beat off our land.”
Audience members were encouraged to ask questions and some asked, as non-farmers, what they can do to help. Ed Smith, from Missouri Coalition for the Environment, gave this advice:
“Know where your food comes from and know where your elected officials stand on the issues,” he said.