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A Survey of Local Residents' Attitudes Towards Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in One Rural Michigan Co PowerPoint Presentation
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Josh Emington Matt Stiller James E. Hanley . Adrian College. CAFO’s Significance

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Josh Emington Matt Stiller James E. Hanley

Adrian College

CAFO’s Significance

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs are industrial farming businesses in which a high density of livestock is raised in a confined area.  These facilities are also known as Confined Animal Feeding Operations. A continuing debate exists over the ethics of animal treatment, the possible damage to the environment, the potential benefits of CAFO’s industriousness, and the effect on neighbor’s property.

This system also allows for standardization which many argue could destroy biodiversity and simultaneously quickly spread disease.  Some seem adamantly opposed for one reason or another while others see profit in benefiting from the economic boost.  Several are more concerned about the level of regulation imposed on the CAFOs.    

Public opinion on the way in which world agriculture innovates and is regulated could have major consequences.  Striving to feed a global population has lead to massive increases in production while the process has become more automated, employing fewer workers.  The number of farms has declined while the production of product has increased exponentially.  Concerns about the environment and the process continue to clash with the need to feed and produce at low costs.  As a catalyst for continuous change agricultural market trade is nearly a free market with very capitalistic ideals which brings focus on a consistent and low cost product.  This important and dangerous conflict will continue to affect more people.  Public opinion will likely dictate the course of agricultural effectiveness in the future.  Lenawee County seems to be a major battle ground for the debate.  On either side of the issue concerned citizens have been taking political action and seeking their say in the media.  Perhaps by studying the actual opinions of the county citizens and comparing it with policy action taken could indicate the direction of the conflict between production and its negative byproducts.

When asked if they had actually experienced problems personally related to CAFOs only twelve percent answered that they had. This reveals that political stance on the operations is largely based on outside perspectives and influences.

Have you experienced or not experienced problems caused by CAFOs?

The figure to the right illustrates a positive political viewpoint of conservatives toward supporting CAFOs. It is evident that very liberal respondents were far less likely to think of these operations as beneficial.

A Survey of Local Residents' Attitudes Towards Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in One Rural Michigan County.

Dairy Barn (Bruinsma Dairy)

The bar graph, right, indicates the recurring bias of conservatives in support of CAFOs. The majority of the county agrees that they should not be banned and the greatest portion of these respondents is comprised of conservatives. While liberals where for the most part neutral on the subject, overall they are opposed to an outright ban as well.

Coordinating the data from the survey allows several conclusions. Lenawee generally perceives CAFOs as a sort of ‘necessary evil’ that can cause problems but is an integral part of the economy. Most respondents thought that tighter regulation was the solution so long as it did not jeopardize the existence of the businesses.

The Survey

A survey of 300 Lenawee County residents’ attitudes towards Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations was conducted over 5 days between March 27 and April 4, 2008 by Adrian College students in PSCI 295 Research Methods class.

Respondents were separated by gender, whether they lived in a town or in the country, family connections to agriculture, and ideology. In the beginning, respondents were asked about their knowledge of CAFOs, starting with the question: “Do you know what a CAFO is?” Most respondents were unfamiliar with the term CAFO; however, most respondents knew what a CAFO was when they were given the definition: “A CAFO is concentrated animal feeding operation, for example a dairy farm, with 500 or more animals”. The respondents were then asked series of questions regarding the problems they believed were caused by CAFOs. Some of the questions involved issues such as CAFOs effects on Lenawee County’s economy, property values, the environment, the regulation of CAFOs, whether or not CAFOs posed a threat to the water supply or family farms, and their family connections to agriculture.

There are nine CAFOs total in Lenawee County (see figure, left of text) and about 200 in Michigan. The US census defines Adrian, MI as a micropolitan statistical area. That means that it has more than 10,000 but less than 50,000 people. Adrian, MI is estimated to have about 21,703 people. For our purposes, we decided that any town with city limits is considered “municipal” and any place without city limits is considered “non-municipal.”

Collecting concerns revealed that the mentioned world wide concerns from our research were also held by local residence.

The survey also confirmed that the stereotypes regarding the agricultural and conservative nature of the county are a reality.

Do you or anyone in your family work in agriculture?

Lenawee County’s CAFOs

In order to categorize our sample and learn about the country we asked some questions about the respondents themselves. Asking the question (right) regarding work in agriculture helped gather the perspective that this county is strongly involved in agriculture. Observing that three fourths of the sample answered yes to this question reveals one reason that agriculture is an important component of the economy and a personal issue for many.

Gender and Ideology in Lenawee County

As Lenawee develops and deals with its concerns regarding CAFOs the survey data can be used to establish political action patterns and solutions that will become applicable to many other geographic locations. These very issues are being discussed and acted on in India and other regions in need of low cost food right now. Our study predicts that as capitalism hunger increase CAFOs will be recognized as a legitimate solution. The results also indicate that concerns will be held and firm regulations will be presented to prevent economic damage.

Respondents where primarily female most likely as a result of the survey being taken by phone. The chart to the right also indicates that as predicted Lenawee County is largely conservative in political ideology.

Should/Should not CAFOs have to build waste treatment plants?

When asked whether CAFOs should build waste treatment plants the majority thought that that this regulation should be based on circumstances. Thirty six percent thought they should. This indicates that the county is in favor of tight regulation for CAFOs.