COLUMBIA — Concentrated animal feeding operations, or "factory farms," aren't economically efficient for farmers who operate them and do not actually increase food production, John Ikerd said. The retired MU professor and sustainable agriculture activist spoke Tuesday afternoon at the CAFO — Far from the Farm symposium.
Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and the issues surrounding their use are the subject of the three-day symposium in Columbia that will continue with events Wednesday and Thursday.
Ikerd was one of four speakers who participated in a panel discussion before an audience of several hundred. A consensus about the inefficiencies of factory farms developed during the two-hour discussion as Ellis Auditorium filled with passionate frustration.
Terry Spence, a hog farmer from Putnam County who served as the moderator for the discussion, said it's important to think about future generations when considering farming practices. "And we should leave the quality just like we’ve had throughout our lifetime,” he said.
Speakers addressed public health risks associated with antibiotic resistance, which they said is being exacerbated by drug use in animals, environmental degradation from concentrated animal waste at factory farms, animal welfare abuse, water pollution and negative economic effects of factory farms on independent, rural farmers.
Factory farms that house 10,000 hogs or 1,000 dairy cows produce the equivalent biological waste of a city with 30,000 to 50,000 people, Ikerd said.
“CAFOs are a threat to human health. They’re inhumane to animals by the very nature of the system,” he said. “Let’s develop strategies that ultimately lead to doing away with CAFOs."
The issue has long been a topic of national discussion, but has attracted more attention from young people in recent years. Hundreds of college students attended Tuesday's event.
“People are coming to recognize how important our food choices are and making choices that are just healthful and transparent,” said Gene Baur, an animal welfare activist. “The passion is growing and the sense of injustice and anger about how bad the system has gotten.”
Wes Shoemyer, a former Missouri senator and farmer, implored young people to become involved, identifying them as the source of a potential solution.
“How do we win? It’s going to be you," he said. "We are going to have to have consumers to drive this movement to make a difference. If you care where your food comes from, if you care about how animals are treated and if you care about the future of this country and the wealth distribution and how we are going to build communities, this is an issue that makes a huge difference in Missouri.”
The symposium will continue with another panel discussion Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at Ragtag Cinema and Thursday with a presentation beginning at 6 p.m. at the Columbia Art League.