It is no surprise that factory farming has an adverse effect on its workers, who are often undocumented, low-income, and people of color. From criminally low wages to long-term mental health problems, their immeasurable sufferings continue to be ignored as the need to provide for their families outweighs the impacts on their health. On top of all this is another inevitable obstacle—environmental racism. Not only does it affect the workers, it also harms the community as a whole.
According to “The Industrialization of Agriculture and Environmental Racism” by David H. Harris, Jr., environmental racism occurs in rural locations in three ways: “the construction and operation of intensive livestock operations in or near people of color communities; labor practices dangerous to workers (including factory workers and farmworkers); and the placement of landfills, incinerators, and other noxious production and waste facilities in or near people of color communities and low-income communities”. These operations are held in Eastern North Carolina where “the greatest concentration of people of color in the state” also reside.
Waste treatment methods are an issue, as half of these waste lagoons could leak into groundwater, where 70-90 percent of the state’s rural residents drink from. Toxic chemicals, such as antibiotics, are also concentrated within the waste. For infants, excess nitrates that contaminate the water can lead to blue baby syndrome, a potential deadly outcome. The discharge of hog waste also affects the aquatic ecosystems as it ends up polluting larger water bodies, killing fish and depleting food and economic resources of the communities.
It should be noted that low-income people and people of color, who often have no say or power regarding decisions in the areas they live in, are the ones most impacted by these issues. The companies that own the factory farms may rely on the assumption that people are in desperate need for jobs and would not have any complaints toward the development of facilities. Environmental justice organizations like the Food Empowerment Project believe that such action is “a form of economic extortion—having to accept the negative health consequences and adverse effects on the environment in order to have a job”. For example, undocumented workers are less likely to enroll in healthcare programs due to fear of deportation or other related concerns. In a revealing survey of North Carolina schools, it was found that schools with a significant number of black and brown students (about 37%) and slightly less than half of the students on reduced lunch programs were located an average of 4.9 miles from pig factory farms, yet schools with more white and higher-income students were found to be an average of 10.8 miles away.
Factory farming and environmental racism are tied in ways that many do not expect. The legality of these practices does not conform to the public health interest of the people. It is up to our generation to amend these unjust actions and support our workers, many of whom do not have the choice of leaving the industry.
Rendabel “Abel” Radian is an FFAC college intern.