CAFOs Kill: Don McCorkell’s A River of Waste

When it comes to talking about environmental sustainability, the issue of food and agriculture is arguably one of the most relevant and important. How a society feeds its citizens directly affects public health and safety, and can have an incredible impact on the environment, especially on the scale our agricultural system has reached. A great majority of the livestock the United States processes comes from huge factory farms, or confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). These CAFOs have way too much freedom with not nearly enough ethical consciousness, and they play a huge role in the pollution problem, as well as the issues our country faces with disease outbreak and malnutrition. Often protected by lobbying for legislation, CAFOs continue to poison the country in more ways than we are probably even aware.

In 2009, Don McCorkell produced a provocative film documentary called A River of Waste: The Hazardous Truth about Factory Farms, which draws attention to such environmental and societal impacts of big-business farming as it covertly exists in the United States. This documentary offers a fact-based summary of the dangers caused by factory-farming as well as how the agricultural giants protect themselves from what should bring them crashing down. There are a lot of things the general public doesn’t know about what they are being fed: factory farms are a huge source of toxic waste which ends up in the atmosphere and drinking water, they abuse antibiotics and growth promoters that strengthen dangerous viruses and give us cancer.

In addition to exposing these condemnable practices, McCorkell also highlights the ways that commercial agriculture essentially use money to make sure there is legislation to protects them from penalty. CAFOs in Oklahoma, Ohio, and elsewhere even have protection from EPA investigation because of the terms of the Clean Air Act ( 1:08).

A River of Waste is a compelling exposition about how crippling the current state of United States’ agriculture is compared to the heavily regulated large-scale agriculture in the European union. The money in Monsanto, Tyson and their competitors keeps politicians on their side, and keeps the public uneducated about what is really happening. Interviews with farmers and activists reveal how difficult it is to fight an economic giant with giant political sway, and they are not afraid to play dirty (1:10:00). Although it seems grim, McCorkell reminds the audience that we can learn from historic revolutionaries that political reform is possible, and the faulty factory farms will not be able to continue under the radar before their threat to public safety is obvious. It all has to start with information: before change can happen, the political and moral will must be aroused in society.

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