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The major goals of this project are to analyze the social and environmental sustainability of dominant animal farming practices by building the most comprehensive database of animal farms and using a scalable quasi-experimental design to quantify the externalities generated through environmental pathways. U.S. livestock farming has greatly intensified over recent decades and is now predominantly composed of industrial ``animal feeding operations'' (AFOs). The confinement of animals in great densities, sustained by the routine application of low-dose antibiotics, generates pollution sources that, through air- and waterborne transmission, expose an increasing share of the population to multiple health threats, decrease quality of life and property values, and promote antimicrobial resistance. While nuisance lawsuits against AFOs are increasing across states, we lack a systematic and causal understanding of the impacts of AFO practices on the rural environment. Our study assembles the most comprehensive geo-coded AFO database, covering major producing states since 1984, and a causal inference design capturing exposure to farm pollutants from weather variation, in order to estimate the impact of environmental exposure to AFO practices on: antimicrobial resistance; key human health outcomes obtained from hospital records, medicine purchase data, and birth certificates; water quality; and neighboring property values. We leverage wind and precipitation variation and model the position of all units in the hydrological network to capture exposure mechanisms.This project addresses key elements of the U.S. animal agricultural system that determine its sustainability, on the local, national, and global scale. It will generate comprehensive and detailed knowledge on a system-wide level of significant externalities, in order to inform policy to address them and improve the sustainability of the system.This project addresses an important and understudied topic of environmental and natural resource economics (ENRE): the impacts of exposure to air and water pollution from animal feeding operations.It aims to estimate the causal relationship between the by-products of AFO practices and measures of environmental health, human health, and rural prosperity, caused by two channels of exposure: water and air transmission.This project combines (i) an identification strategy that captures \textit{causal} effects, (ii) granular data for all variables, which also enable us to capture potential heterogeneity--e.g., across number, size, and type of AFOs--in these relationships, and (iii) an extended spatiotemporal coverage (multi-state, 1984-present), and thereby will generate knowledge on these externalities that are both finely estimated and relevant on a national scale.

Frank, E.
University of Chicago
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