Daniels' plan for rural IndianaDavid Hoppe

Michigan City, located on Northwest Indiana's Lake Michigan shore, has one of the most beautiful harbors found on any of the Great Lakes. Photographs of its lighthouse are frequently reproduced for postcards and tourist materials. Back in the 1920s, the harbor was a regular destination for excursion boats that brought tourists from Chicago and St. Joseph, Mich. Indiana produces 5.6 million hogs a year. If he were governor, Mitch Daniels would have us producing almost twice that number, 10.5 million. This would put Indiana in a league with the largest hog producing states in the country.

All that changed when the city bosses agreed to let NIPSCO, the regional power company, build a huge, coal burning plant right at the harbor's mouth. What was once a great attraction became an eyesore. The problem was compounded when, in the 1970s, NIPSCO added a Three Mile Island-style cooling tower. It's not unusual to hear newcomers say they had no idea there was a nuclear plant in Michigan City.

If you visit Michigan City and see the harbor - and the power plant looming over it - you're bound to wonder how the city could let its most valuable resource be wrecked like that.

I was reminded of Michigan City while reading a press release from the Mitch Daniels for Governor Campaign Committee. The Daniels campaign, it said, is "aiming higher." It cited Daniels' proposal "to bolster the agricultural sector in Indiana." Daniels was quoted, "Some act as though agriculture is destined to be a diminishing part of the Indiana economy ... " Not him.

Today Indiana produces 5.6 million hogs a year. If he were governor, Mitch Daniels would have us producing almost twice that number, 10.5 million. This would put Indiana in a league with the largest hog producing states in the country, North Carolina and Iowa. "We have lost new opportunities with numerous livestock operations for no other reason than the hostility or incompetence of state agencies," Daniels said.

The press release went on to state that Daniels' plan would "overhaul Indiana's environmental regulatory system to provide the livestock production sector with transparent and predictable regulations under which to operate, with a goal of doubling livestock production during this decade."

Daniels, of course, was careful to add that all this livestock production would be "consistent with solid environmental protection and rural quality of life."

The only trouble is that reports from the places Daniels would have us copy - North Carolina and Iowa - suggest that "environmental protection and rural quality of life" are the two things most likely to be degraded by the industrial hog farming Daniels favors.

In North Carolina, where the state's hog production has increased 270 percent since 1990, scientists have found that the techniques used to handle the enormous amount of waste account for significant amounts of nitrogen pollution, groundwater contamination and odors that are simply described as "horrible." When officials in Iowa began testing air quality a year ago at six neighborhood locations around hog farms, preliminary data showed that gases exceeded the state's recommended air standards of 15 parts per billion of hydrogen sulfide and 150 parts per billion of ammonia 22 times in the month of April alone. The highest level recorded for hydrogen sulfide was 70 parts per billion.

What does this mean for people who live near industrial hog farms? It's not unusual for the folks downwind of these places to complain of headaches and asthma attacks, diarrhea, nosebleeds, earaches and lung burns. Some people develop seizures, others experience frequent vomiting, psychological stress and flu-like symptoms that never seem to go away. The air, they say, stinks.

Hog producers, predictably, dispute any connections between what they do and the experiences of people who have the misfortune of living within a half mile of where they do it. They can get away with this because there is little hard scientific evidence directly linking hog farms to human disease. What's more, people have tended to focus on the run-off problems associated with hog waste but, incredibly, have done practically nothing to monitor the effects of waste gases on air quality. This has resulted in a regulatory situation that's weighted in the hog producers' favor. It doesn't matter what these factory farms smell like - and it doesn't matter how they make people feel. Common sense, in other words, doesn't count when it comes to making money.

Mitch Daniels is right to be concerned about the quality of life in rural Indiana. But his proposal to turn the Indiana landscape over to factory hog and poultry interests is designed to save our agriculture by destroying it. "Current state policy tilts toward the jobs we've known, not the jobs we need," Daniels says. Well, factory hog farming doesn't count as innovation.

People are more concerned about the quality of what they eat than ever before. If Daniels wants to revitalize Indiana agriculture, he should be encouraging farmers to find new and healthier ways of bringing their products to market - ways that can make the Indiana brand synonymous with the best practices associated with environmental stewardship and husbandry. As it stands, his plan for agricultural development is like that power plant by the harbor in Michigan City. If it comes to pass we'll all wonder how something so ugly could ever be allowed.


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