Toxic Algae Scare Prompts Backlash Against Factory Farms

What do a no-drink order in Toledo and a backlash against factory farming have in common? A lot, as it turns out. Residents of Ohio’s fourth-largest city were advised for multiple days earlier this month to refrain from drinking their tap water because it had been contaminated by toxic algae. As residents struggled to deal with their contaminated water supply, the culprit behind the problem became readily apparent: factory farms. The Ohio Agriculture Advisory Council (OAAC) is proposing a regulatory crackdown that could forever change industrial farming practices in this Midwestern state.

The chain between factory farms and contaminated drinking water is a long one. It starts with confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where animals are kept in close quarters in order to maximize production. This generates a huge volume of waste, which is stored in massive lagoons like the one seen above. That waste isn’t treated, however, and when those lagoons overflow or contaminate groundwater, the result is a release of waste filled with a variety of potentially infectious organisms — and nutrients that algae and plants love to feed on.

This causes a phenomenon known as nutrient pollution (another culprit for nutrient pollution is fertilizer runoff from industrial agriculture), where waterways become choked by organisms that are growing out of control because they’re getting far more nutritional support than they usually do. They can out-compete native species and totally change aquatic environments. And they can cause drinking water contamination, which leads to large-scale no-drink orders like the one that just happened in Toledo.

While factory farming is bad news for a number of reasons (not least of which is animal welfare), this is a huge problem — and it’s one that is very poorly regulated. Limited restrictions on how waste is collected, controlled and treated exist, and inspectors are overstressed with demanding schedules, which leaves few opportunities for monitoring farms in their regions. As a result, farms can store manure in unsafe conditions with few repercussions. Despite multiple record-breaking waste spills in regions across the United States, regulators have been slow to act on the problem. CAFO operators aren’t required to treat their waste, and often pass the responsibility for cleanup on to government agencies and other parties, sometimes escaping without even a fine for their activities.

Speaking on behalf of OAAC and as vice-president of the Ohio Farmers Union, Bill Miller says that: “To have less pollution and begin cleaning up the lakes, we must have fewer factory farms and begin returning to a more traditional system of agriculture where animals are treated like more than mere production units. Our water, the animals, our health and our rural communities will all be better off for it.”

His argument is a compelling one, even though it’s been made countless times across the country. Along with the Humane Society of the United State, he’s firing a shot across the regulatory bow, demanding that Ohio lawmakers sit up and take notice. Environmental organizations, animal welfare groups and family farmers all agree that it’s time to put an end to the CAFO, and the recent incident in Toledo might become a flashpoint, if this statement is any indicator. Can advocates successfully pressure Ohio legislators to overcome the industrial agriculture lobby and change the face of farming in their home state?

Given that legislators shifted regulation of CAFOs from the state’s EPA to its Department of Agriculture in the early 2000s, getting tighter regulations might seem like an uphill battle. But environmental groups are fighting back, questioning whether the legislation complied with the Clean Air Act, and demanding a moratorium on the discharge of CAFO waste. If they’re successful, their work could result in closer scrutiny of CAFOs, and a change of habit for legislators who have long supported industry over their state’s environment.

Photo credit: Friends of Family Farmers.


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage s3 years ago


Lorraine Andersen

it is time to change back to what is good for the animals and mankind.

Charlie Rush
Charlene Rush3 years ago

There is LITTLE doubt that too many of our legislators care nothing for the future of planet Earth.
They will say and do anything that they believe will get them re-elected. Big Business, in the form of factory farms, contributes to their campaigns, therefore, we know where their loyalties lie, especially among Teapublicans

Shirley Plowman
Shirley P3 years ago

This is an excellent article on this situation which is at a crisis mode now. Factory Farms are the most evil or one of the very most evil, humans have come up with. Course the leaders of farm factory farms was developed by humans without any souls whatsoever. With these types of further complications from such animal farming is UNNATURAL and goes against NATURE 100% of what they need to exist in ignored sadly. I am positive these animals were never created to live their lives in such agony and torture daily. People this gives us an open door to Stand Up Right Now and Fight to End ALL such industry factory farms, they are a CURSE upon everything and everyone. It is so very sick, and only serves one section of mankind, and that is those who profit from the animals suffering every day of their lives, it wasn't like this before, it Doesn't Have to be Like this Now! Let's take back what we all know to be right, and good for the animals, and all mankind, as this horror touches all mankind and turns us away from the once humane and positive way of having animals and gardens and farms----I'm old enough to remember how it was before the Giant Companies took over America. We Can Take It Back!!!!

Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

s M.
S M3 years ago

Why will politicians take overtures ! from industry (which is what factory farming is) before listening to common sense views and info from their citizens? We have said for a long time that factory farms are abnormal to an animal and toxic to humans whether by the stinking air breathed locally, gas released assisting global warming or toxicity of that much excrement.

Magdalena J.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thank you!

Warren Biggs
Warren Biggs3 years ago

Factory farms buy out or undercut traditional, independent farmers. Luckily where I live pretty much all of the farming is by independent farmers. My neighbor has gone organic. The cows I see are not overcrowded. Across the street (you have to understand that in rural areas "across the street" can be some distance) there is a farm/dairy. In spring they grow alfalfa and in summer, corn. I never hear cows crying out in fear or pain- just the occasional low or two There are some farms where it SEEMS like each cow has an acre. For meat-eaters there is even a butcher's shop. The guy will come out, bolt gun the animal, and then clean and then carve it however you want. Fast food gets their produce and meat from factory farms. Eat less, eat healthier. Only buy enough for what you will eat within a week. Too many people let their food become spoilt. Be willing to pay more to help independent farmers and try to buy locally-grown food. Unfortunately I think that I am preaching to the choir. The people who really need to see this don't bother to join forums like this one. :-/

Steven G.
Steven G3 years ago

Are we in zombie mode? Has the world gone mad? Something horribly has gone wrong in the mindset of our global society’s leadership - in their ability to judge right from wrong. They just don't seem to understand that "financial avarice" is the lubrication turning the gears of war, turmoil and environmental degradation that will eventually lead to [even] their own downfall as well. What does the world of the future looks like if we don’t see the apocalypse in sight of these global developments? Nostradamus may have been right... that the apocalypse is coming!