AMA Supports Tighter Restrictions to Curb Pollution From Industrialized Farms

Derick Alison
Derick Alison
4 Min Read

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Delegates of the American Medical Association (AMA) passed a resolution calling for increased regulation of industrialized farms during the interim meeting of the House of Delegates on Monday.

The resolution calls for the AMA to “recognize that Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) may be a public health hazard” and to “encourage the Environmental Protection Agency and appropriate parties to remove the regulatory exemptions” for CAFOs, in addition to tightening restrictions on pollution from these operations.

The language of the resolution was slightly tweaked from the version introduced by the Medical Student Section by the reference committee before being adopted by the House of Delegates, to indicate that CAFOs “may be” a public health hazard, after some criticism.

Robert Emmick, MD, an alternate delegate speaking for the Texas Medical Association, said that his delegation supported the resolution in part, but felt that declaring all CAFOs a “public health hazard” was over-reaching, given the “extensive” definition of what constitutes a CAFO.

“Just remember that because of CAFOs, milk production has doubled, meat production has tripled, and chicken production has quadrupled,” Emmick said, adding that he wondered what it would cost to eat if regulations on CAFOs were tightened.

CAFOs contribute to air and water pollution, as well as other public health concerns, including cardiovascular mortality, a delegate for the Medical Student Section said during reference committee discussions on Saturday.

Congress is currently investigating the need for increased regulation, and passage of the resolution would support those efforts, the student noted.

Neal Barnard, MD, a delegate for the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, speaking on his own behalf, agreed with his fellow delegates that CAFOs do make for cheaper products.

“Milk is much cheaper, chicken is much cheaper, steak is much cheaper, cholesterol is much cheaper, saturated fat is much cheaper, and that’s the problem,” he said.

Products from CAFOs are “major drivers” of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and have been made “artificially cheap” because of exceptions in government regulations, which Barnard argued are the direct result of successful lobbying by the agriculture industry.

There are 80 million cows in the U.S., each one of which is “belching methane,” Barnard said. “And we’re bemoaning the fact that we’re seeing changes [to the environment] everyday, but we’re forgetting the fact that we’re subsidizing them.”

Robert Orford, MD, an alternate delegate and president-elect for the Aerospace Medical Association, speaking on behalf of the Section Council on Preventive Medicine, also supported the resolution, arguing that CAFOs, in addition to being sources of water and air pollution, carry potential risks for zoonoses and “sometimes pandemics such as avian flu.”

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    Shannon Firth has been reporting on health policy as MedPage Today’s Washington correspondent since 2014. She is also a member of the site’s Enterprise & Investigative Reporting team. Follow

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