To food safety advocates, CAFO is a four-letter word. The acronym stands for Concentrated Animal Feed Operations. They came into being as industrialized farming methods took hold largely as a result of the demand for food worldwide and the decreasing amount of land upon which to grow it. Author/journalist/activist Michael Pollan is among many others who have reported damage done to animals, the environment, and food itself with the advent of CAFOs that house cattle in large buildings with rows of narrow stanchions. The cows eat feed from lower-quality surplus corn — not locally grown non-chemical feed corn raised in traditional fashion — and shipped in trucks traveling long distances that create local road congestion and burn precious fossil fuels.
Much has been written and discussed about the relationship of CAFOs to food and animal safety. Transportation is a neglected but equally important economic and environmental concern. In 2009, graduate students in the University of Wisconsin – Madison Transportation Management Program (TMP) used statistical modeling to determine the effects of a CAFO or large dairy farming operation locating along USH 14 in rural Vernon County Wisconsin, 100 miles northwest of Madison. TMP students considered five hypothetical scenarios using available county data and found that traffic congestion, accidents, injuries and air pollution increased with the size of CAFOs or large farming operations. The larger the operation, the heavier the truckloads of feed, water, milk, and manure. The heavy loads have been shown to cause pavement damage on highways and local roads. In an article that I wrote for National Center for Freight & Infrastructure Research and Education (CFIRE)also indicated that one CAFO could put three local farms out of business and reduce property values for nearby local farms.
In addition, the study entitled Transportation Infrastructure Inventory and Economic Scenario Analysis: Vernon County expressed some economic concerns. Local farmers, for example, spend 90% of their income locally, compared to 20% for CAFO or commercial dairy farms. CAFOs may also discourage tourism, another key] part of Vernon County’s economy.
TMP students concluded that the county — with help from government and local business people — needs to develop an integrated land use plan for a sustainable future. In this way, freight movement — how food moves to destinations — has far-reaching implications for agriculture, transportation, energy use, and quality of life in food-growing regions.