Human Health, Hog Production and Environmental Harm

I’ve been offline not just for deadlines (as usual), but also because I was preparing for the annual conference of the National Association of Science Writers; I am a member and was a presenter on a couple of panels. The NASW meeting is twinned every year with a second meeting hosted by the nonprofit Council for the Advancement of Science Writing; NASW sessions are peer-to-peer journalism learning, whereas CASW ones feature academic researchers talking about their newest work.

This year’s meetings (collectively called SciWri12, or #SciWri12 if you want to find them on Twitter) were held in Raleigh, NC, and one of the most striking talks there was a report from epidemiologist Steven Wing of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill about his decade-long work investigating the local health effects of very large swine farms. (I’ve written about Wing’s work before.)

The newest news is a paper that he and his team published just as his talk commenced, in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, which finds an association between air pollution and odor in the near vicinity of swine farms, and hikes in blood pressure in local residents. When you put the pieces together — most hog c0nfinement operations are in poor, non-white areas; cardiovascular disease is endemic in African Americans;  North Carolina lies within the worst US area for cardiovascular disease, known as the “Stroke Belt” — you can see that anything that makes blood pressure chronically worse is bad news for public health.

That study, though, is just the latest in a long string of publications that Wing and team, and the community they have been studying, have brought forward over the past decade. During the meeting, Wing gave a comprehensive overview of the major problems with confinement agriculture, setting it within a context of environmental injustice and worsening public health.

I livetweeted the presentation, with help from several other NASW members, and made a Storify of it to preserve the talk. Here you go.


Image: Dead pigs and manure spraying at a North Carolina farm/Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy + S. Wing, UNC



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