Union City resident Wendy McCarter-Read knows first-hand the harmful effects of living near a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO). Her home on the far east side of Randolph County, near the Ohio border, is just a few miles from one of them, with its thousands of hogs and all the smell that comes with it.
"Before, we didn't have too much of an issue until they switched to liquid manure," McCarter-Read said. "Since the first of May, when they first spread the liquid manure, the smell has been so bad my kids can hardly go outside."
Since then, the Read family has experienced health issues like sore throats and streptococcus infections.
State Line Agri, which owns Kremer Family Farms, the CAFO near the Read property, was fined $68,000 for 17 violations by Ohio's Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency in May of 2010, according to an article in The Daily Standard, a newspaper in western Ohio.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture's Livestock Environmental Permitting Program has said in local press reports that State Line Agri has made improvements since the state first sued the operation.But McCarter-Read said the fines did not help the day-to-day frustrations of living by a CAFO.
"I'm not anti-agricultural," McCarter-Read said. "I love bacon, but I just want healthy air, healthy food and healthy water."
Last year, State Line Agri, owned by Rick Kremer, applied to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) for a permit to expand one of its Ohio farms into Indiana, but was rejected because of a 2008 liquid manure spill by another of the company's farms — a spill that killed thousands of fish in the Little Mississinewa River, which runs near the Read home.
A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture Livestock Environmental Permitting Program, said State Line had newly applied for the expansion permit under Kremer's son's name. The application is still under review.
McCarter-Read believes Kremer applied in his son's name to circumvent any stigma from the 2008 spill.
"My biggest frustration is, of course, the odor, but more so the fact that someone can pollute and pollute in Ohio then come to Indiana and pollute some more and still be able to expand their operations," she said.
A growing stench
Indiana's pork industry is the fifth largest in the United States, comprising roughly 3,000 producers, according to Indiana Pork, a trade association. According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, in 2007 there were 625 CAFOs in Indiana, producing 80 percent of farm animals in the state,creating problems for residents such as bacteria in local waterways, manure odor from miles away, and diseased animals and waste. In Randolph County alone there are 47 large-scale CAFOs.
When Governor Mitch Daniels took office in 2005, increasing Indiana swine production was among the goals articulated by his administration. The bar Daniels set was nothing if not high: double hog production within 10 years.
So far, the initiative is succeeding, if not quite as rapidly as the Daniels administration had hoped. According to the Indiana Department of Agriculture, the state's total swine production has risen by eight percent since Daniels took office.
But grassroots resistance appears to be mounting – on display last week when farmers, residents and concerned citizens attended the 2010 Indiana CAFO Watch Conference in Muncie, sponsored by the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project (SRAP).
During speeches and question-and-answer sessions, community members, guest speakers and local legislators discussed ways Hoosiers could protect themselves from the harmful health and environmental effects of the farms. The conference was also held, in part, to educate the public on how to approach local, state and federal officials through tight grassroots organizations.
Brandon Pitcher, winner of the Lugar Energy Patriot award, said he came to the conference to learn about the state of CAFOs in Indiana and to understand what groups like SRAP and the Sierra Club are doing to create policy and influence government.
"It's a public health issue, environmental issue and social issue, and politicians need to grasp this so they can help draft legislation, rules and policy to make Indiana a better place to live," Pitcher said. "It's bad right now, but we can change it."
Though Pitcher, a Kokomo resident, does not live close to a CAFO, he emphasized that the harmful effects of CAFOs affect city-dwellers like him as well, and extend far beyond the foul odors they produce.
"We in the city have the responsibility to demand our products not come from these types of operations, or at least non-polluting operations," Pitcher said. "The public has the ability to change everything if they say they want to."
State Sen. Sue Errington (D-Muncie), a member of the state's Energy and Environmental Affairs Committee, said she hoped there could be reconciliation between farmers, residents and government, noting that meetings like the conference were good for bringing together key groups to discuss everyone's options.
"We are all personally interested in this because it's about what we eat," she said. "If something gets into the drinking water, that affects every one of us. So we need to be sure we have clean air and water."
The Energy and Environmental Affairs Committee addressed CAFOs during a 2007 meeting, but has not discussed them since, Errington said. She added that she hoped the committee will tackle the problem in the future but, at the moment, there was nothing planned.
'Crimes against nature'
While Indiana's commitment to reducing CAFOs and their adverse effects remains dubious, other states are scaling down the harmful animal factories.
In California, for example, a recent voter referendum mandated that certain animals, like pregnant pigs and veal calves, must have room to lie down, stand up and move their extremities. Farming operators have until 2015 to make arrangements to meet space requirements.
In Ohio, the state Livestock Board and the Humane Society of the United States struck a compromise last month that outlawed the transportation of cows that are severely injured or too sick to stand, and banned all new use of battery cages among poultry farmers – cages so small they prevent chickens from spreading their wings.
Rick Dove is a leading expert on environmental degradation caused by industrial hog farms and a field representative for the Waterkeeper Alliance, a non-profit group founded by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. He has seen first-hand the harmful effects CAFOs have had on people in other states.
As a fisherman on the Neuse River in North Carolina, Dove began noticing changes in the river in the late 1990s. After suffering memory loss and strange body sores, which Dove today attributes to pollution exposure, he became a spokesman for the river, in attempts to keep the water as clean and safe as possible.
But keeping the river clean wasn't easy. Among the biggest problems plaguing the river was the 2,500 industrial swine facilities that are raising 10 million swine on the coastal plain of North Carolina.
At the conference, Dove called the harmful effects of CAFOs "crimes against nature." He noted that the CAFO business began small in North Carolina, then expanded quickly, just like he has witnessed in Indiana.
"Building a CAFO is like planting a weed," Dove said. "It keeps growing and spreading."
Cattle farmer Terry Spence spoke about the worst parts of living near these large farms. With 77 CAFOs near his farm, Spence recalled seeing one semi truck after another barrel down Main Street in Unionville, Mo., loaded with the dead and diseased carcasses of animals taken from the farms for disposal. The "leftovers" are sometimes turned back into food for surviving animals.
"There is no value in our land and there is no value in our animals when we treat them like that," Spence said. "I'm a farmer myself, but I do raise my animals humanely. I would never do what's been done to those animals."