Monday Reads: The Pigs and Toilets Edition

As anyone who has been lucky enough to pass by a factory farm can attest, Confined Animal Factory Operations (or CAFOs) bring a certain...fragrance to the surrounding environs.

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As anyone who has been “lucky” enough to pass by a factory farm can attest, Confined Animal Factory Operations (or CAFOs) bring a certain…fragrance to the surrounding environs. It doesn’t matter if you’re downwind or up—the stench is inescapable.

The problem (of which there are many, when speaking of CAFOs), is poop. Lots of it. Large factory farms pack animals numbering in the thousands into very close quarters, all generating a lot of stinky waste, all around themselves. Day in, day out. All that accumulated waste doesn’t just smell bad; it’s literally toxic—to the animals’ health and to ours.

From southern Taiwan comes an approach every parent would nod their head knowingly to: potty training.

Six years ago, Chang Chung-tou of Shantung Animal Husbandry Farm decided he was fed up. (Not with the smell necessarily, but rather with all the pollution fines he was continuously facing.) Leveraging pigs’ natural desire for cleanliness (don’t let those mud baths fool you) and their intelligence, Chang began training piglets to use homemade Port-a-Potties.

The swine outhouses consist of raised wire mesh and a specially designed vacuuming system, which whisk away the pertinent liquids and solids (to see a second life as manure compost, biogas fuel, etc.). And there’s no need to queue for these loos; there’s a toilet for every 40 pigs.

The pigs catch on quick. At the last reported count, Chang’s farm had nearly 600 commodes in operation. Unsurprisingly, not living in their own waste has been a marked improvement in quality of life (such as they have) for the pigs, with lower rates of illness and a sizeable increase in births. Chang has also slashed his water usage substantially, to say nothing of the water quality and olfactory benefits to the surrounding human population. Earlier this year, the EPA (Taiwan’s, not the U.S.’s) announced plans to expand the potty training regimen, as a way of combating water pollution and other environmental degradations caused by the farms.

CAFOs have been on Earthjustice’s docket for years. On top of egregious and downright awful treatment of animals, the massive operations put workers and nearby communities at the mercy of toxic pollutants fouling the air and water. While potty training certainly isn’t a panacea for CAFO-ills, here’s to hoping that this one, out-of-the-box idea can inspire solutions to the broader CAFO issue.

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Shirley undertakes sous chef duties on Earthjustice’s website, serving up interactive online features for our advocacy campaign and litigation work.