State and local health departments face significant barriers and usually do not get involved when confronted with public health concerns resulting from food animal production sites, according to a new study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.
For the study, “Investigating the Role of State and Local Health Departments in Addressing Public Health Concerns Related to Industrial Food Animal Production Sites,” researchers interviewed officials representing 13 county and eight state health departments and community leaders. Survey participants were selected in areas with high densities or rapid growth of large swine production sites.
Health department employees surveyed told investigators that, although some are often contacted by concerned community members living in close proximity to animal production sites, limited staff resources, lack of expertise or training, jurisdictional issues, and political pressures can hinder follow-up.
Political and economic pressures were frequently cited as barriers to health departments becoming involved. Similarly, the researchers heard from participants that efforts to establish ordinances regulating animal production sites are often hindered by economic and political power held by agricultural corporations.
Community members surveyed said engaging a health department about animal production concerns had never led to a resolution. Community leaders contacted in the study unanimously supported an expanded role for health departments to become involved in animal production, equal to that of other state and local agencies. Health departments could be involved with animal production sites through assessment, education, outreach, monitoring, and participating in permitting decisions.
Jillian Fry, lead author, and the study’s coauthors believe health departments with animal production sites in their county or state should be provided with training, educational materials, and additional funding to increase their understanding of the human health concerns surrounding animal agriculture.
Source: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health