Katelyn Kelly

Annotation #6, Factory Farm Waste


Word Count: 1572

Title: A River of Waste

Director: Don McCorkell

Release Year: 2008
What is the central argument or narrative of the film?
The central narrative of the film is how factory farms are producing pollution in water ways and in neighboring communities that are exposed to toxic fumes. The film also delves into how animals are being mistreated in factory farms and how our reliance on cheap and fast production has led to mechanized farming and confined spaces.
How is the argument or narrative made and sustained? How much scientific information is provided, for example? Does the film have emotional appeal?
The film opens a little dramatically with dramatic music, and an old run down barn with free chickens running around, then showing mass production chicken farms, as the music changes ominously, showing how chickens nowadays are treated and farmed for mass production. This plays on human emotions as we pity the animals, then see how they’re being treated, and ultimately how their waste is being treated; being dumped into water pools and ponds.
The film goes into a couple of specific examples of toxins that are harmful to aquatic life, farm animals, and most importantly, humans. One example the film describes is the algae pfiesteria, which forms under high nitrogen and phosphorus in water, i.e. runoff from farms into waterways. This algae forms a toxin to fish and people, the specific example giving by the film is a mass of fish dying from lack of oxygen in Chesapeake Bay during the Spring of 1997. In conjunction with the fish population being wiped out, there were mass reports of people catching sickness with skin irritation, coughing, and neurological impacts, specifically the inability to remember and coordinate. Scientists linked this to water and pfisteria exposure.
The film plays heavy on emotions by intertwining testimonies of people being affected by the pungent manure from factory farms versus the “traditional dairy farm smell.” It also plays on emotions by exposing how animals are slaughtered and displays it as inhumane, as well as the overall treatment of animals in confined spaces as inhumane. The most influential testimonies were those from Arkansas, where in a small residential area surrounding a major chicken farm, several children were diagnosed with and then lost due to cancer by being exposed from atmospheric toxins from the chicken farm waste, specifically arsenic which was later tested in surrounding homes.
What sustainability problems does the film draw out? Political? Legal? Economic? Technological? Media and Informational? Organizational? Educational? Behavioral? Cultural? Ecological?
The film harped on a lot of legal and economic issues, specifically with relaxed standards regarding major manufacturing companies, such as Tyson, which have enough money to “buy out the system” in order to bypass scrutiny. A specific example given in the film were the ammonia levels in mass chicken farms that were measured at 72 ppm, while the legal limit in Europe, that was developed based on the health of the chickens, capped at 20 ppm.The companies, however, have enough influence in the political world that they can influence certain bills or can afford to pay off in a certain jurisdiction or case study. For example, the former State Attorney General opposed Congress’ ruling that animal waste from factory farms isn’t toxic since it’s animal waste. He filed numerous law suits, however, was out-matched in court by Tyson, despite having evidence of pollution in Oklahoma water sources.
Behaviorally and technologically, the film focuses on our tendencies as Americans to demand as much food as possible at the lowest cost. This behaviorism, combined with mechanized technology, led to factory farming for mass production, as well as the introduction of mechanized farming equipment, which were identified as inhumane by the film.
What parts of the film did you find most persuasive and compelling? Why?
While the film was generally one-sided in the case of proving how farms have become confined and mechanized to a terrible and inhumane degree, the history of farming provided by the film was factual and did, while exaggerating, exposed the truth, which is that farms have become unsafe for animals and farmers and have become confined and use technologies such as hormones to a dangerous level. One specific example is a particular scene in which a scientist is cooking a chicken while wearing a toxic suit. Again, while overdramatized, the point he makes is driven home, which is that the growth hormones given to animals in factory farms are not eliminated by heating the chicken to a certain temperature, and furthermore the byproducts and hazardous wastes produced by the farms, if in the same vicinity, can affect crops as well as the animals.
Another fact, that was slightly overdramatized with emotional film was how growth hormones are causing chickens to grow at a rate faster than is natural and therefore allows the chicken to be slaughtered faster, however has affected the consumer with hormones. These hormones and antiviruses given to the animals can also lead to superhuman strands of viruses. The close confinement in chicken and pig houses can also lead to unsanitary conditions, which, as proven with testimony exposes people to the viruses as well, in this case, a pig farmer was exposed to a super strand of Strep.
What parts of the film were you not compelled or convinced by? Why?
The claim that factory farms are becoming “mini Chernobyl’s” due to their mass pollution. It has a certain emotional draw, and while I don’t doubt that there is a pollution problem, comparing them to the cholera outbreak before the implementation of sewage systems and the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl seems a little ridiculous. For example, the first instance of pollution the film looks into is a growing blue-green algae in the Illinois River, Oklahoma. While it has affected the fish population, there wasn’t any direct effect on the human population to the extremes of the cholera outbreak have. I do recognize it is a severe issue, however is not on the same level of magnitude as a “mini Chernobyl.”
The film also claims that the United States is far behind from other countries in production and health. But it doesn’t go exactly into what those policies are and how they are different, rather it just has professors talk about how different things are “F” on a “report card.” Furthermore, the film claims the US doesn’t have a regulation like Europe’s to have a certain area around a facility, however following a spillage in the NC hog farming industry, during the Clinton administration, there was a bill passed saying hog farms need a certain amount of space around their facilities that no home or building should occupy. Instead focuses on the presidential pardon from a convicted Tyson representative.
What audiences does the film best address? Why?
This film best addresses the average American consumer or family leader/parent. The film exposes the truth behind factory farms, their byproduct and how their byproducts have caused disease outbreaks in certain areas. The film also addresses how the average American consumer can vote with their purchases in grocery stores and can do their part to eliminate the production of factory farm meats.
What could have been added to this film to enhance its environmental educational value?
The film focused heavily on failed law suits and negative testimonies, the film, therefore, could have focused more on the actual policies in place and where they are going wrong rather than playing on emotions so much. In other words, rather than showing high ammonia levels in one area and then cutting to an emotionally-appealing testimony, the film could demonstrate the scientific outputs more and then show how those affect a population.
What kinds of action and points of intervention are suggested by the film? If the film itself does not suggest corrective action, describe actions that you can imagine being effective.
The points of intervention suggested by the film were mainly lawsuits. While it followed immediately with how power hungry certain corporations are and how they are able to influence law suits in court by buying out their opponent. There were a couple of winning cases, however, the main one being the families in Arkansas that sued the major chicken farms that resulted in a legal limit on arsenic levels produced by chicken company farms.
The film focused on a couple of very specific but successful testimonies such as a law student with a drive to turn around Lake Erie. The student went to law school specifically for this effort and despite being declared polluted beyond salvage, is still working on how to reverse the pollution on Lake Erie. The film ended by showing a before and after shot of the Black Sea. The before was before the collapse of the Soviet Union and the after was after the collapse, which also encompassed the closure of industrial agricultural factories and their waste. This removal of waste was evident in that the Black Sea’s ecosystem was restored, as evident in the photo.
What additional information has this film compelled you to seek out? (Provide at least two supporting references.)
This film has driven me to seek out actual policies regarding factor farms: the first article is more recent than the film and focuses on President Obama’s new policy regarding factory farms. The second link is an awareness reference of different policies on farms such as use of GMOs, and overall agricultural wellbeing of farms.