There are two days of scientific workshops going on at the University of Iowa on Confined Animal Feeding Operations or CAFO. They were kicked off by a public conference Monday that included farmers and rural residents as well as researchers from around the world. One of them was Peter Thorne, head of the U-of-I Environmental Sciences Center, who says the conference was designed to include a wide array of topics. Water and air quality, community and occupational health, and important emerging areas like antimicrobial resistance from the increasing use of antibiotics as a growth promotant in animal feed, as well as the prospects for influenza pandemics arising from inter-species transmission of viruses between poultry, swine and humans. Dr. Thorne says the scientists aren’t for or against farming, rural development of feedlots. In the scientific endeavor, he says they work to gather data that’ll help others make good public policy, so using their information can lead to discussion that leads to good policy and reconciliation. Thorne says some of the researchers challenge the assumption that big animal-confinement operations are “economically sound,” and a good way to maximize profits. He says this kind of agriculture treats effluent, or animal waste, as an “externality” and doesn’t really cover the cost of the pollution that extends a burden to all citizens. Some of the worst health threats are pandemics…waves of disease like influenza that sweep around the world, beginning with germs that jump from animals to people. Thorne says one way to limit that would be to prevent the raising of poultry close to pig farms, as those CAFOs — Confined Animal Feeding Operations — are the two most common source of new flu infections that affect the human population. In Iowa, he says there’s no restriction on having a big swine CAFO right next to a poultry one, and the scientists saw aerial photos of just that kind of operation, so he thinks the possibility is there. Today the tomorrow the scientists are now in four groups discussing air quality issues, water, community health, and new infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance. The scientific conference runs through Wednesday in Iowa City.
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