Written by: Lara Moody | May 26, 2021
“Air pollution from farms leads to 17,900 deaths per year, study finds.” It’s a catchy newspaper title reminiscent of a study from 2019 noting, “Corn pollution kills thousands of Americans a year, study finds.” These headlines surely grab your attention, but they don’t necessarily advance your understanding of the industry. Studies of this nature require models, models require a lot of assumptions, and model output and findings are only as good as the input.
The latest modeling study suggests that 57% of deaths are attributable to crop production driven mainly by ammonia emissions from livestock waste and fertilizer applications. And, because a substantial portion of crop production goes animal feed, the study alleges that 80% of deaths are attributable to animal-based foods.
The challenge is this: once again, current best practices to reduce emissions are ignored.
Ammonia emissions from manure and fertilizer applications for crop production are greatly reduced by a variety of best management practices (BMP) that include injection, incorporation, application timing, product choice (e.g., several commercial nitrogen fertilizers are not even subject to ammonia volatilization) and the use of coatings or inhibitors. While some data is available regarding the use of manure and fertilizer application BMPs for crop production on the farm, the data sets are limiting and incomplete. How accurate is a model’s output if the input doesn’t accurately reflect what is happening on the ground?
A response to the recent study by the Delmarva Chicken Association supports the point that modeling doesn’t reflect on farm actions. They have data to show that a year of ambient air quality monitoring in Maryland found almost no difference in PM2.5 levels in measurements taken near many chicken houses, near some chicken houses and in the city of Baltimore. You can view the current ambient air quality levels for yourself here.
This is yet another example of why IFEEDER is committed to clarifying how the animal food industry and animal agriculture are bringing new practices and technologies to market and why it is important to speak out.