CAFOs and Democracy

Today I listend to a podcast about CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operation). These are basically places that raise a lot of livestock. Today the issue was how CAFOs pollute the water supply.

Apparently, human shit is very closely regulated. Where it can and can’t be put, how it has to be cleaned etc. We’re particular about our own. But animal shit can go anywhere. Because some people realized that animal shit would help crops go, there seems to be unlimited regulatory latitude about where it can go. In fact, the animating issue of this entire podcast was that there is too much shit for it to used as fertilizer and so the excess just goes in waterways, which then causes enormous algal blooms where the nutrients are. The algal blooms in turn eat up the oxygen in the water causing everything else to die.

The ins and outs of this problem seemed complex, but I heard two things over and over.

1. There are laws against dumping this stuff into the water and about using too much of it on land, which then seeps into the groundwater and into rivers and lakes. However, no one brings enforcement actions because big agriculture is, well, big. And powerful. Or maybe the enforcement agencies are understaffed. They interviewed a few farmers from Wisconsin who said that there are just never any enforcement actions.

2. Random redirection of the question, and denials that anything is wrong.

2 gets so old so fast. It was standard redirection, non-answer type stuff. The science appeared to be overwhelming judging from the other guests.

1 made me even more upset, because I hear this line ALL THE TIME. Banks, pharma, military, etc. etc. The pattern of our government appears to be; there is a problem x that we have already addressed, but not really, since nothing that we actually make into law affects anything. This is incredibly aggravating and disconcerting.

What does it mean to have a law against dumping waste in the river if it is so non-enforced as to become a running joke of those people who are supposed to be obeying the law? It seems that it is not law at all. But worse than that, there is a legitimacy problem. If we are supposed to be getting together to make the laws, but then the interests that are meant to be regulated just make the rules themselves, then this is a disastrous state of affairs. This no different than a modern kind of feudalism in which some people get to set the rules for some people and can, in this instance, dump waste into the water of other people if they so choose.

It makes me think that a candidate who simply promised to enforce the laws as written would actually have a powerful philosophy, because even if a law were actually intolerable, it would at least spur people to actually change the laws, rather than let them linger on the books as they do now.


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