The human population in Montana hit the one million mark early in January. Of the 50 states, the Treasure State ranks 44th in population, fourth in area. There’s a lot of “there” out there under the Big Sky, and elbow room enough at roughly seven humans per square mile. We like it that way.
But the folks in rural Shelby, Montana (pop. 3500+) will have a million new squealing neighbors to cozy-up to if Gov. Brian Schweitzer prevails in talks with Chinese capitalist investors. Sure, a $150 million hog processing plant will bring jobs, but given what is well documented about factory farms, it will also bring tons of unwanted baggage in water pollution, air pollution, surface contamination, a host of human ailments including asthma, headaches, skin and eye irritation, and worse–much worse. Just ask the residents in south central Michigan, who now issue “stench alerts” thanks to the numerous CAFOs operating near Hudson, MI.
“Bakerlads manure stinks to high heaven in Clayton today,” reads one recent stench alert. And another: “Hartland Farms’ double-dumped manure fields stink again: they spread out the stockpiles at both field sites…sending a new flow of emissions into neighbors’ houses. Eye-watering, forced window-shutting, gag-inducing emissions.” More: “Heavy rains overnight has led to ponding in many manure fields…manure runoff is flowing down a road to a ditch in the South Branch of the River Raisin watershed.” Sound like a neighborhood you’d want to live in? Me neither.
All factory, no farm
Concentrate thousands of animals in an industrial setting–800,000 pigs annually in Shelby’s case should it come to pass (1.2 million according to industry news site SwineWeb, and possibly as many as a mind-blowing 2.4 million according to the Shelby Promoter)–and manure is the going, growing concern. Benign poop dropped here and there to fertilize daisies this is not. CAFOs produce oceans of toxic, liquified manure containing “ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, phosphorus, nitrates and heavy metals. In addition, the waste nurses more than 100 microbial pathogens that can make humans sick, including salmonella, cryptosporidium, streptococci and giardia,” according to Jeff Tietz, author of a compelling, horrifying read, “Boss Hog” (Rolling Stone magazine, Dec. 2006; mega-CAFO Smithfield Foods’ rebuttal here).
Factory farming is really all factory and no farm, with emphasis on turning out maximum production units (otherwise known as animals) at the least cost. This translates into horrific physical and mental suffering for sentient pigs, poultry, and cattle, but there’s no money in worrying about that. Mitch Daniels, who took the helm as Indiana’s governor in 2005, earned himself a Meritorious Service Award from the Indiana Pork Producers in 2011 for his vow to double pork production. According to Hat Chat, “the official blog of Hoosier Ag Today,” “Daniels drew rousing applause when he told the group of livestock and grain producers that he was a Governor that loved pigs.” We assume he meant “love” in the economic–not the emotional–sense, since no one with an actual heart would wish the cruel suffering of a CAFO life and death on a pig–or any animal.
If Gov. Schweitzer has his way with Shelby, neighbors will not only have processing plant jobs to look forward to, but others might have opportunities to learn new job skills as public watchdogs, organizers, bloggers, stench alerters, and such. Just as the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan organized under the banner Save Our Rural Communities – No CAFOs, Indiana CAFO Watch sprung up to “…prevent pollution and protect our valuable resources.”
And then there’s North Carolina, where more than a billion fish have died in the Neuse River since the advent of industrial hog production (scroll down at that link for pictures). Writing in the Blog for Rural America, Steph Larsen toured Duplin County, NC, home to the state’s highest concentration of hog CAFOs:
Toward the end of our tour, (the tour guide) told us about some of the actions residents are taking to draw attention to the problems of CAFOs and their efforts to get legislators to change laws to protect the people as opposed to the largest livestock producers. One creative method was for protesters to bring fresh hog manure to the North Carolina Capitol and stage a sit-in. They should have called it a “s*it in.”
Others tried to build a model hog farm on Halifax Mall, which connects the State Legislative Building with other state government buildings. The protesters found it ironic that they were not allowed to spray manure on the lawn of the mall — the same manure that is spread on fields near their houses — because it was deemed “toxic waste.”
As we drove back to Raleigh, grateful to leave the smell behind, I thought about the animals, people, and rural communities and (sic) that had to suffer and sacrifice so we as a society can have cheap meat.
In Montana’s case, the suffering and sacrificing, should it materialize, will allow the Chinese to “be inspired” to eat more pork. Says SwineWeb: “Schweitzer said that several of the state’s approximately 50 commercial-scale producers are planning to expand if the facility is built. Currently the state’s pork producers send most of their hogs to California and Utah for processing. ‘These producers would become much larger, much more cost-competitive,’ Schweitzer said.” Ain’t that just how it goes? Let one CAFO in and there goes the neighborhood.
But CAFOs spawn more than “just” animal and human suffering and environmental devastation. They game the system to gain huge advantage over the Little People. Back home again in Indiana,
Proposed legislation in the Indiana General Assembly appears crafted to give agricultural businesses special protections and could discourage citizens from exercising their right to access the courts.
House Bill 1091 was authored by Rep. William Friend, R-Macy, and co-sponsored by Rep. Donald Lehe, R-Brookston. It requires courts to award agricultural operations such as confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, that are the subject of a nuisance lawsuit with payment of their legal fees. The proposed bill recently passed its second reading in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development. StarPress.com article
The real kicker? Rep. Friend owns a hog CAFO! (I absolutely am not making that up.) “This sends a strong message to trial judges that CAFOs are to be protected,” said Kim Ferraro, water and agricultural policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council. “It adds a whole other level of threat to taking action against a CAFO. It would have a chilling effect.” Ferraro, according to an IndyStar editorial, “…has had some success representing poor clients pro bono against CAFOs. She says she would not advise them to sue if HB 1091 became law.” And according to the StarPress, another similar bill (SB 0184) “…would make it illegal to surreptitiously take video while visiting an agricultural operation.” Ag gag rides again.
Janet and Marjorie, two unassuming Hoosier women in Claypool (pop. 340 in 2009) tell a snippet of their story in a two-minutes-plus video filmed on the porch of a rural Kosciusko County home 50 miles west of Fort Wayne. It’s impossible to miss the David and Goliath dimensions of their situation–humble taxpayers engulfed by corporate hog factories, talking of health horrors and water woes. They seem beaten down but not beaten. One reveals that “they”–state officials they’ve appealed to for help–“keep suggesting that we have our water tested and our houses appraised…people don’t have the money to do that kind of stuff.”
But according to Gov. Mitch Daniels, those who were critical of his plan to double hog production are terrorists– “eco-terrorists” (not sure if that qualifier hurts or helps). His Big Ag allies at the Animal Agriculture Alliance even found a way to insinuate an outlandish Al-Qaeda link to further tarnish the efforts of hard-working rural people fighting to protect their lives, investments, and resources. Despicable? Yes, and it reeks of hysterical desperation.
If Gov. Schweitzer’s hog heaven is built in the Treasure State, will the Janets and Marjories of Shelby one day find themselves the subjects of a video chronicling a similar desperate plight? Whether they’ll be branded eco-terrorists remains to be seen, but given that the industry they’ll be fighting wreaks suffering, death, and destruction on animals, people, and the Earth, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind who the real terrorists are.
See also: Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations: What are the Potential Community Costs?
This post first appeared at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted. It was updated 2/19.