"Gov. Daniels brings home the corporate bacon

Every summer, hundreds of thousands of Indiana residents make their way to the State Fair, a ritual that includes midway rides, epicurean delights and forays into the world of agriculture. Most of the visitors are not from the rural areas of the state; they are, in fact, city dwellers who also incorporate walks through the various livestock barns for glimpses of animals they would rarely, if ever, see.

The swine barn at the fair sits just across from the grandstand and often is just as crowded as the tractor pulls and country music concerts across the street. And while the barn houses hundreds of prize-winning pigs brought to the fair for audiences and auctions, its most congested area is typically around the two large pens reserved for sows and their newborn piglets.

Mothers and fathers in the swine barn encourage their young children to put their tiny hands through the chain link to pet the pink little piggies, resulting in squeals of delight from the human parents and their offspring. Inevitably, some cynical adult standing near the pen makes a crack about bacon, ham or pork chops, rattling those who know how the food chain works out of a romanticized Charlotte’s Web appreciation of the pigs, bringing them back into reality. Wilbur might have been a “terrific” pig, but he was always bound for someone’s table.

Charlotte’s Web was published in 1952, during a time when the majority of hogs did come from small family farms. While talking pigs and miracle-working spiders have always been fictitious, the quaint farm life depicted by E.B. White is rapidly being relegated to fiction as well. The overwhelming majority of American pork now comes from what are called “factory farms”: large and usually corporate operations that house between 1,000 and 20,000 pigs at a time and that are rapidly ensuring the demise of the family farm throughout the Midwest. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the total number of farms raising hogs shrinks by one-third every five years, while the actual number of hogs produced remains virtually unchanged.

In the past 15 years, hog farms in the U.S. decreased from 600,000 to 157,000. Factory farming has resulted in just 3 percent of U.S. hog farms producing more than 50 percent of the hogs. The hog production and processing models and standards that have come about with the industrialization of recent years present a foreboding picture for the traditional family farm concept of Indiana hog production. The standards set by the largest hog producers now suggest that some 50 producers could account for all the hogs needed in the U.S within 10 years.

The take-over of agriculture in the U.S. by large factory farming corporations has allowed a larger number of animals to be produced more quickly and for less money. Agribusiness has reaped great profits while keeping consumer prices low. But the real costs of factory farming — in terms of the loss of family farms, damage to the environment and human and animal illness — are tremendous.

Factory farms pollute the air and water supplies, endanger human and animal health and drive responsible family farms out of business. And while states like Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and North Carolina are now attempting to reduce the number of factory farms as a result of the large-scale problems they create, Indiana is opening its doors to these large agribusinesses and encouraging what amounts to a corporate take-over of local farming. The consequences of Indiana’s factory farming future could not only be devastating, but deadly as well.

Daniels doubles down

During his gubernatorial campaign, Mitch Daniels laid out his economic development plans for the state of Indiana, including a call to double hog production. Since his election, Daniels has not wavered from this commitment. In fact, what was once his 10-year plan to double hog farming is now a five-year plan, according to the Indiana Department of Agriculture.

The governor has proposed a number of initiatives to increase farm income and income from agriculture-related businesses as part of his “Roadmap to an Indiana Comeback,” including the overhaul of an environmental regulatory system that he claims creates “unnecessary obstacles for livestock production and has driven livestock production out of state.” He also signed a law limiting citizens’ ability to file nuisance lawsuits against factory farms and is discouraging counties from adopting regulations more stringent than those at the state level.

Daniels and the supporters of his goal to increase hog production in Indiana claim that the new trend will be of great economic benefit to the state. According to Brian Bergan, an “agribusiness development specialist” in Indiana, “Corporate farms, though often the scrutiny of some, provide a significant boost to economies through jobs, use of local vendors and property tax contributions. [Industrial farms] offer a safe, clean and humane environment for animals to prosper and grow.

“A snapshot of a farm that produces 18,000 pigs would employ about seven people with a payroll of $125,000, have $2 million invested in buildings and will pay over $23,000 in property taxes,” Bergan claims. “When last I checked I didn’t see those pigs using tax dollars for schools, libraries, sewers and safety services that we all enjoy.”

Sarcasm aside, promises of economic prosperity like those made by Daniels and Bergan are often not all they are cracked up to be. According to USDA statistics, every corporate factory farm replaces 10 family farmers; every 12,000 hogs produced at these corporate units costs 18 jobs; and corporate farms create just one job for every three created by independent hog producers. Even when jobs are created, they are seldom jobs that can sustain factory farm employees.

Using Bergan’s numbers, $125,000 divided by seven employees is less than $18,000 per employee — below poverty level. And while some large corporations do pay property taxes, the majority receive so many tax exemptions, abatements and credits that it is impossible to know when, if ever, they will produce tax income at the local or state level.

But it’s not only the employees and local tax base that suffer when factory farms come into rural communities. Once these large-scale operations, and the pollution they produce, move into a community, property values for area residents often plummet. Residents in Iowa, Mississippi and North Carolina have filed class action lawsuits against corporate farms as a result of the loss of their property value, and in DeWitt County, Ill., property value assessments have been lowered by the Board of Review by 30 percent for homes within 1.5 miles of a large-scale hog unit. Homes within 2 miles of a 7,400 hog farm received a 10 percent reduction in value.

Since Daniels took office in January 2005, 21 applications in three counties have been filed with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to build or expand factory farms to create new capacity for more than 100,000 swine. The 21 applications are the most in any year since Indiana began requiring these types of permits for factory farms in 1996. More than half of these applications are from large corporate agribusinesses that plan to raise as many as 19,500 pigs in fewer than five buildings.

 

A lot of manure

According to a study by Gary L. Benjamin, economic advisor and vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, “The environmental concerns that have surfaced with large-scale livestock production facilities are probably the biggest issue confronting the Midwest and its dominance in hog production … even with the best practices and management, the odor and waste concerns associated with large livestock operations seem to be under constant agitation, much like similar quality-of-life concerns that exist in communities adjacent to major airports or industrial centers.”

By housing more and more livestock in tightly confined spaces, the meat industry is also generating billions of pounds of animal waste. In 2006, U.S. factory farms generated 291 million pounds of manure daily. In that year, Americans produced approximately one-sixth of that amount. The animals raised on large-scale farms in the U.S. produce millions of gallons of manure and wastewater daily that is collected and stored in pits, tanks, lagoons and other storage devices. A single factory farm with 8,000 head of hogs produces 3 million gallons of manure waste annually — roughly the equivalent of a city with a human population of 50,000.

In order to deal with these vast amounts of manure, animal factories generally use open pits, known as lagoons, to store liquefied manure. In most cases, the waste is ultimately disposed of on land through sprayers that spread the manure on open fields. According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, “When stored and applied properly, this beneficial reuse provides a natural source of nutrients for crop production. It also lessens the need for fuel and other resources that are used in the production of commercial fertilizer. [Industrial farming] operations, however, can also pose environmental concerns … Manure can leak or spill from storage pits, lagoons or tanks, [and] improper application of manure to the land can impair surface or ground water quality.”

While the odor from factory hog farms is so pungent that residents within a 5-mile radius often report they are unable to open windows or spend any time out of doors without becoming ill, the big stink is often the least of the problems factory farms produce.

Unfortunately for nearby communities and local water sources, manure stored in lagoons or sprayed on open fields often runs off into nearby streams or seeps into underground water supplies. The contents of this waste, including ammonia, pathogens, pesticides, antibiotics and hormones, ends up in human drinking water, causing untold damage to the environment and, in many cases, human life.

Two Ohio EPA water-quality studies on the rivers, creeks and streams that feed the Wabash River reveal why small-mouth bass have virtually disappeared from the river. EPA researchers tested for fish quality, bacteria and other contaminants during 18 months in 1999 and 2000. The study found the poorest water quality in the two counties that house 71 of Ohio’s 139 factory farms.

“The water in those areas is not in good shape and the primary cause of the pollution is not septic tanks, treatment plants or fertilizer — it’s manure, mainly from large farms,” according to Robert Miltner, an aquatic biologist for the Ohio EPA who helped conduct the studies. “The problems with manure and farms have been building for many years, and this confirmed what we believed all along. We didn’t find a single small-mouth bass in the Wabash River.”

The findings in Ohio about the real and potential dangers of manure run-off into water supplies are not unique. California officials identify manure from large-scale farms as the major source of nitrate pollution in more than 100,000 square miles of polluted groundwater. In Oklahoma, nitrates from one corporate hog farm contaminated drinking water wells, prompting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue an emergency order in June 2001 requiring the company to provide safe drinking water to area residents. In May 2000, 1,300 cases of gastroenteritis were reported and six people died as the result of E. coli contaminating drinking water in Walkerton, Ontario. Health authorities determined that the most likely source was manure runoff.

Doomed to repeat the past

Farmers and veterinarians have known for years that high levels of nitrate, the primary ingredient in fertilizer as well as human sewage, can trigger miscarriage in hogs, and scientists recognized two decades ago that infants can suffer “blue baby syndrome” when high levels of nitrate impair their blood’s ability to carry oxygen. Concerns about that risk led the federal government to set a standard for city water systems of no more than 10 milligrams of nitrate per liter of water.

Those regulations, though, don’t cover private wells. In 1994, when Indiana health officials realized that four women who had suffered repeated miscarriages all drank well water and all lived downstream from a hog farm’s leaky septic system, they began to suspect that nitrate might endanger a developing fetus as well as an infant. The women, who miscarried between 1991 and 1993, lived within a few miles of one another in LaGrange County, a farming community in Northeastern Indiana. One 35-year-old woman miscarried four times, all in the first 11 weeks of pregnancy. Sure enough, when Indiana authorities checked each woman’s well, they found nitrate levels near 20 ml per liter — six times higher than nearby wells of women who had delivered healthy babies during the same two-year period.

Officials checked area wells after a resident alerted them to high nitrate levels in her water. Nineteen families were interviewed, including five women who had given birth without trouble. “We found the women who had miscarriages had wells closer to the hog farm than the women in the area who had term deliveries,” according to the final report of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health. All four women changed their drinking water and have since given birth to healthy babies.

There are many other examples of water contamination by factory farms in Indiana. According to the DNR database, there have been over 300 documented manure spills from livestock-feeding operations in Indiana, mostly hog farms, between 1992 and 2002 into Indiana water sources, killing an estimated 2.6 million fish.

In 2003 the state of Indiana settled a lawsuit against Pohlmann Farms, located near Crawfordsville, for two manure spills in March and April of that year. The March spill, in which improperly discharged manure entered Little Sugar Creek, resulted in the death of more than 3,000 fish. The April spill occurred just days after the state successfully petitioned the county court to order Pohlmann to cease hog operations.

Between November 1989 and April 2003, Pohlmann Farms improperly discharged hog manure into the creek in nine separate incidents, harming water quality and killing more than 56,000 fish. In the first seven violations, Pohlmann paid a total of $41,000 in civil penalties and more than $51,000 in restitution to DNR for the destruction of natural resources. In the 2003 settlement, Pohlmann farms permanently ceased operation of any confined feeding operation, ownership of livestock and involvement in any manure management operations in the state. Total fines and restitution total"

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