In his Jan. 15 State of the State address, Governor Mitch Daniels acknowledged that Hoosiers have property tax relief foremost on their minds. But here at the tail end of the Chinese Year of the Pig, he was silent about his plan to double hog production through factory farms, which many citizens say is a threat to their property and their health. They’re counting on the General Assembly to control the downside of large-scale animal facilities: airborne pathogens, waterborne pollutants, wear and tear on rural infrastructure and decreased property values.
Several bills have been introduced in the House and Senate.
SB 61 calls for a three-year moratorium on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). SB 25 would preempt new local ordinances; SB 44 asks for “good character” references for applicants. HB 1044 promotes the use of livestock waste as a renewable energy source, while HB 1168 proposes comprehensive regulation, including annual inspections.
HB 1168 passed the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee on Jan. 15. In this short session, it needs to pass the full House by Jan. 30 in order to be considered by the Senate. During public testimony on the bill, legislators heard about the numerous problems factory farms can pose.
Wabash Riverkeeper Rae Schnapp, of Lafayette, told the committee that Indiana has 3,000 confined feeding operations (CFOs), of which 625 are large enough to be CAFOs.
Current Indiana law defines a CFO as any animal feeding operation engaged in the confined feeding of at least 300 cattle, or 600 swine or sheep, or 30,000 fowl, such as chickens, turkeys or other poultry.
A CAFO has a greater number of animals: 700 mature dairy cows, 2,500 swine above 55 pounds, 10,000 swine less than 55 pounds. Because such operations might release contaminants into the state waterways, they are required to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
“Since CAFOs must have an NPDES permit, it is presumed that these are ‘zero discharge’ operations, so there is very little oversight of land application of manure, even though that’s the stage where an accidental spill is most likely to occur,” Schnapp said.
While nitrogen levels are regulated, she added, phosphorus levels are not. “Phosphorus is a big problem in the Wabash River. That’s largely the reason the river appears brown. It’s not just sediment being carried by the water, it’s actually brown algae growing in the river.”
A lot of animals in one place equals a lot of manure. For example, Indiana Pork (www.indianapork.com) reports that Indiana marketed 6.3 million pigs in 2006. According to statistics compiled by the University of Iowa, each hog produces 190 gallons of manure per year. (Do the math.) Where does it all go? Much of it is stored in open cesspits (agribusinesses and regulators prefer the euphemism lagoon) before being sprayed onto Hoosier soil.
anure has traditionally been valued for its nutrient levels, but CAFO manures contain growth hormones and antibiotics, and that has many citizens worried about the public health implications.
Indianapolis pathologist Indra Frank told the House committee about numerous studies that found between 10 and 50 percent of agricultural animals excrete one or more human pathogens, including Cryptosporidium listeria, Salmonella and E. coli. “It is important to public health that the animal wastes are handled appropriately and not allowed to contaminate water or food crops,” she said.
Antibiotics are used in part to limit the spread of disease among animals housed in such close quarters. Dr. Frank said research from the past three decades has documented the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in large-scale animal feeding operations. To safeguard public health, she called for passage of HB 1168, which calls for annual inspections. IDEM currently inspects large-scale animal operations an average of once every five years but does not include inspection of manure land application.
Why all this effort to regulate CAFOs? At one point, IDEM required CAFO operators to establish Soil Conservation Practice Plans (SCPPs) that consisted of five mandatory and three optional practices, including a map of the soil where manure would be applied, a description of the soil, the slope of land at application sites, identification of practices to reduce erosion and control runoff, and identification of methods to minimize nutrient leaching.
But in May 2006 the Indiana Water Pollution Control Board scrapped the requirement for SCPPs and extended the compliance deadline for filing soil conservation plans another three years.
Asked about the extension, Indiana Department of Environmental Management commissioner Thomas Easterly wrote via e-mail, “In 2005, Indiana incorporated federal deadlines into our state rule for large operations. Later when the federal government extended its deadlines in response to a pending lawsuit, Indiana adjusted the state rule until the matter is settled. EPA has since established February 27, 2009, as the new date for CAFOs to submit their SCPPs, and we will hold Indiana operations to that deadline.”
Testifying in favor of HB 1168, retired Delaware County farmer and real estate appraiser Gary Alexander said rural residents have a problem living next to CAFOs. “The easiest way to co-exist is if we know that a regulatory organization in charge of inspecting CAFOs is in fact inspecting them on a regular basis to prevent problems from happening in our neighborhoods,” he said.
Alexander cited a 2001 study published in The Appraisal Journal that found 50 to 90 percent devaluation in property located within a mile of a CAFO. “A University of Missouri–Columbia study found that within a half-mile proximity to a CAFO you lose all improvement value, so the land reverts to agricultural value only,” he added.
Rep. Dave Cheatham (D-North Vernon), who authored HB 1168, said he is trying to achieve a balance between farming operations and the people who live near them. “People living in those areas have the smell, pathogens and decreased property values,” he said. “We want to find ways to ensure it doesn’t get any worse.”