Monday, June 2, 2014

Biohazardous Ground Zero: Factory Chicken Farms

Scientists have discovered that crops of spinach growing in fields within 10 miles of a factory chicken growing operation are 172 times more likely to be contaminated with deadly E. coli bacteria.  This contamination likely comes from the chicken factory exhaust air that is spewed into the atmosphere on a near-constant basis.

The study was done by Texas A&M University, published in July 2013 in the peer-reviewed journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology., and was summarized in Science Daily in June 2013.

As we should know, correlation doesn't prove causation.  There is a slim chance that this 720 times higher risk is a spurious correlation that means nothing.  However, that is highly unlikely, especially with such a huge risk ratio of 720 times.

As an example, the odds ratio for cigarette smoking and lung cancer vary between 7 (1 cigarette per day) to as high as 16.3 (25+ cigarettes per day).  See the 1947 epidemiological study of Doll, and 1951 study by Hill and here.

Compare the odds ratio of 720 for E.coli/chicken factory to 16.3 for cigarette-lung cancer. If you believe cigarette smoking increases the risk of lung cancer, should you believe that mega chicken factories cause or contribute to significantly higher risk of E.coli induced food contamination leading to food poisoning?
Wrinkles and crevices in baby spinach
hold tight any any contamination, defying
most attempts to remove

In 2006, baby spinach grown by Natural Selection Foods LLC in Salinas Valley, California USA was contaminated with E. coli, killing 1 person and making over 193 other people in 21 States seriously ill.  They packaged the same spinach under 34 different brand names, then distributed it to every major city and 74 percent of America's supermarkets in the US.

In Sept. 2013, four brands of contaminated spinach packaged and distributed by a Burlington ON company were suspected of having Salmonella.  It is unknown

Spinach is especially dangerous, as the wrinkly leaves defy the effective removal of the contamination through any feasible methods of washing, whether at the farm, packaging, or the home.  If the baby spinach is used raw in a salad, likely somebody will get sick or die from eating contaminated spinach.

Will mega chicken factories, whether in US or Canada, share this news with their neighbouring farmers, warning them about the airborne contamination spewed into the atmosphere by their bad acting chicken farm neighbours?

In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1980, is supposed to control worker exposure to biological and chemical agents. At the present time, the OHSA does not apply to farming operations (per OMAF website). Consequently, farming operations are exempted from the general industrial establishment standards which cover ventilation requirements, and the regulations regarding air contaminants and dust.

OMAF also says,
 "In animal housing, 70 to 90% of the dust is organic. This means that it is biologically active and will react with the defense system of the respiratory system. Included in the organic barn dust are feed components, dried faecal material, hair and skin cells, feather particles, pollen, insect parts, molds, fungi, viruses and bacteria. Endotoxins are produced by bacteria. These endotoxins are generally strong allergens causing immediate or delayed reactions in the respiratory system."
"The main health problems with poultry workers occurred while moving or handling older birds; these symptoms could be attributed to exposure to the combined effects of dust, ammonia and endotoxins."
Since it is standard practice to put antibiotics in chicken feed so as to maximize the mega chicken factory's profits, those antibiotics also enter the air as dust, Carol Morison was allergic to the dust and many antibiotics used for humans from her occupational exposure (see our 2013-10-27 Blog posting:  Chicken Factory ).  Shortly after appearing in the documentary Food Inc., she quit as a chicken farmer, and is pleased to report a significant improvement in her personal health.
After years working in a mega chicken factory, Carol Morison's
health is severely compromised.

In a 2004 scientific report on poultry factory air quality (made available in 2011 by a leading supplier of products and services to the poultry industry), they reviewed all the available scientific literature, and concluded":
"The data that does exist is quite clear and unequivocal. Air quality within poultry housing is poorer than in confinement facilities for any other species. Subsequently, poultry workers suffer from more respiratory damage than any other workers in animal agriculture. Because much of the damage is insidious in nature and/or delayed in onset, its connection to occupational exposure is often overlooked."
There is no legal protection for the workers inside the chicken factories, even less protection for all those unsuspecting victims down wind from a mega chicken factory, yet this air pollution is clearly causing or contributing to the death and/or disease (both acute and chronic) of hundreds or thousands of people.

The proper thing to do is:
  1. Define "Acceptable Farm Practices" to include adequate indoor air quality for both animals and workers; and
  2. Install filters and scrubbers on any mega chicken factory that exceeds emissions of X kg/yr of organic dust, or Y mg/litre organic dust concentration levels.
  3. Determine the acceptable level of bio-security risk for mega chicken factories.  For example, even if the exhaust scrubbers are 99.999% efficient, with the trillions of bacteria that are potentially released each year from mega chicken factories, the risk will likely be significantly greater than zero.  How bad is "good enough"?
  4. Ensure zoning separation between mega chicken factories and all  homes, public buildings (eg. schools, hospitals, arenas, etc.), agriculture lands that grow food crops (animal or human), and other land users.
  5. While a 10 mile radius is clearly a problem, just how big is No Man's Land around mega chicken factories?  We need scientific research to determine the No-Go Zone around the mega chicken factory Ground Zero sites.
  6. With all of the growing lists of risks and unintended consequences with the mega chicken factory model (eg. biosecurity, occupational health, tainted raw chicken, poor nutritional profile for rapid-raised chicken, unaffordable food prices, etc.) is this a flawed model for food production that must be phased out or abandoned?
As soon as I finish this posting, I will send a link to it for Chicken Farmers of Canada ("CFC"), Chicken Farmers of Ontario ("CFO"), Health Canada ("HC"), Ontario's Ministry of Environment ("MOE"), Ontario's Ministry of Health & Long Term Care ("MOHLTC"), and Ontario's Ministry of Agriculture and Food ("OMAF").

Who wants to bet that they are all silent, or say its not them who is responsible to protect the public?

The obvious solution is treat mega factory chicken farming as being similar to nuclear fuel processing, lead smelting, PCB's, dioxin, or other similar noxious and dangerous environment.  The offending source of air pollution must be filtered and scrubbed before it is exhausted into the air to everyone downwind.

Just how strong is the Chicken Mafia lobbying effort?  Will it be able to deflect and avoid this issue as well?

We will have to wait and see.

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