Hog Farms and Their Impact on the Quality of Life of People Living in Rural Areas

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Public health professionals are increasingly concerned about hog farms and their impacts on the quality of life in rural areas. The potential impacts of hog farms are raising questions about environmental health. On the one hand, their potential impacts are being put forward by citizens during public debates on hog production.
On the other hand, the presence of these controversies raises concerns about their potential psychosocial effects. A systematic analysis of the findings from 21 studies on livestock production facilities, including hog farms, shows that the quality of life in rural areas comparable to those in Quebec is widely discussed, particularly when it comes to issues of psychological and social well-being. These results also show that under certain conditions, hog farms can have an impact on the quality of life of surrounding populations.

Impact on social well-being
The production of livestock, including hogs — especially industrial production — appears to have an impact on the social well-being of rural populations. These impacts emerge fairly strongly from the studies:

  • The presence or establishment of industrial livestock operations, including hog farms, is associated with conflict and increased opposition and social tensions. This opposition polarizes social relations and contributes to the development of negative feelings within the community. This opposition can be sustained by a number of factors, but it appears to be diminished when a relationship of trust exists between farmers and citizens;
  • The acceptability of hog production depends on several factors and the relationships between them. Proposed farms seem to have a lower degree of acceptance than those that have already been established. Distance is reported to have a significant impact, especially in the case of hog production. Also, the role of the producer in the community targeted for the development appears to be a key factor in the social acceptability of projects; 
  • It was found that citizens from exposed rural communities experience greater inequality in the distribution of harms and risks, including those related to health, the environment and quality of life (QoL); 
  • Generally, when livestock production is imposed on citizens, it appears to produce a decrease in confidence in government institutions at all levels and in the capacity to comply with existing standards.

Impact on overall quality of life
The impacts on overall quality of life also seem clear: the production of livestock, including hogs, has a negative impact on the surrounding populations’ perceived quality of life. Odours are the source of exposure most often cited in connection with this impact, but are not the only such source. Proximity and age are factors that
contribute to the strength of this impact.

Impacts on psychological well-being
No trend emerges with regard to the dimension of mental well-being. As the findings re divergent regarding possible impacts on the psychological condition or mental health of people exposed to odours from hog farms, it is not possible to draw a conclusion on this subject. However, it is important to keep the conclusions as to the psychological dimension in perspective. They are invariably linked with the findings regarding the dimension of social well-being. Conflicts surrounding livestock farms in a community may give rise to personal fears and a sense of insecurity, as well as feelings of anger or tension. Moreover, psychological perceptions of loss or lack of control can have an impact on the perception of democracy, the mobilization of civil society groups and increasing public pressure.

The studies on the issue of hog production that were the subject of this systematic review of the literature suggest many avenues of research. The issue of quality of life and the social implications of hog production are the variables that must be documented in order to make the relationship between residents and producers a more harmonious one. Research should also provide us with a deeper understanding of the impacts related to human health and the exposure environment and should help define the political frameworks that can make hog production socially acceptable. The available findings thus tell us as much about the gaps in our
knowledge as they do about the possible impact of hog farms on the quality of life of the rural populations exposed to them. These gaps can have a significant effect on our reading of the social and psychological impacts that emerge from this literature review. In particular, we would like to see better documentation of social, community and geographic variables, and of those connected with the technical and administrative aspects of the operations studied. Moreover, we believe it is essential to develop more precise definitions of the concepts used and the variables associated with them — especially the concept of quality of life.

Implications for practices and policies
In the light of the findings, it is clear that livestock production is a source of conflict, debate and concern within all the populations studied, and QoL — whether real or perceived — is affected by such controversy. We therefore believe that these perceptions and concerns need to be addressed. Based on the findings available
through this systematic review of the literature, solutions that seem relevant include communication, the social integration of projects, and addressing issues connected with the location of hog farms. Also, an analysis of the impacts on QoL, beginning with its social dimension, needs to be given greater consideration, not only through research but also in the criteria and processes for establishing and siting hog operations. Finally, we recommend that the social integration of hog and other livestock production facilities be increased.

Publication Date May 15, 2009
Author Brisson G, Godbout S, Lemay S, Mercier G
Posted by NCCEH Aug 16, 2009