Thursday, February 6, 2014

Capitol of mystery meat

Posted By on Thu, Feb 6, 2014 at 12:00 PM

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Our state legislature's attempt to declare gay people unfit to marry one another has, understandably, drawn a lot of attention during this "short" session.

But that's not the only outrage the Republican super-majorities in the House and Senate are toying with.

Here's another: SB 186 is a bill put forward by Sen. Carlin Yoder aimed at all but delivering Indiana's countryside into the hands of factory farmers.

Yoder's bill claims "to protect the rights of farmers to choose among all generally accepted farming and livestock production practices, including the use of ever changing technology."

But as has been pointed out by the Hoosier Environmental Council (among others), farmers already have the right to do what they do. We don't feel the need to declare a special right for the steel industry to make steel or for autoworkers to make cars. Why should farmers be a special case?

Especially when they already are a special case. According to Indiana's Right to Farm Act, it is considered state policy, "to conserve, protect, and encourage the development and improvement of its agricultural land for the production of food and other agricultural products... by limiting the circumstances under which agricultural operations may be deemed a nuisance."

In other words, if the stench from your "neighbor's" industrial-scale hog farm makes you sick, you are going to find it awfully difficult to get anybody to intervene on your behalf.

And when it gets so bad you really can't stand it any more, good luck trying to sell your place.

What's going on here?

It appears that corporate agribusiness, in cahoots with the lobbying clout of the Indiana Farm Bureau, is interested in making Indiana's countryside safe for development. Never mind that the growth of factory-style farms, also known as CAFOs (Combined Animal Feeding Operations), have a way of driving small and medium-size farmers off the land. When it comes to their rights, the mantra is "get big or get out."

What adds insult to the real injury SB 186 will do to Indiana is that it comes at a time when this state is in the midst of a burgeoning agricultural renaissance. Small and medium-size producers - the very farmers CAFOs put at risk - are beginning to rebrand Indiana food in terms of its health benefits and high quality.

At the same time, Hoosiers, like consumers everywhere, are becoming more and more attuned to where their food comes from and how it is raised. The potential to turn Indiana into a national destination, known for agricultural best practices, is palpable. That's because it's not just a theory or some strategy dreamt up at the Purdue Ag School; it's actually happening. But money talks. In this case, the voices being heard around the Statehouse may claim to be from Indiana, but their loyalties are really with the likes of Monsanto, Swift and Tyson.

You'd think our legislators would be trying to find ways to make locally grown, environmentally responsible foods available to more people at affordable prices. Instead, they're trying to make Indiana the capitol of mystery meat.

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David Hoppe

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