If there's one thing you can count on for a year between elections, the state General Assembly will be hard at taking away your rights and giving them to somebody else.
Here in Missouri, the G.A. is trying to pass a bill to make it impossible for local governments -- counties, cities, towns -- to make rules about Confined Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs. Senate Bill 364 would not only repeal 193 existing regulations and laws, it would make it impossible for a citizen to sue if they have been impacted by a CAFO that moves into their neighborhood.
These CAFOs, promoted by industrial agriculture giants like Cargill, ConAgra, Tyson and Hudson, put thousands of animals into steel buildings the size of football fields. The critters can't move around much and, on high-calorie feeds, they grow obese faster than an American school kid. Chickens and turkeys get so fat they can't stand up. Hogs and beeves develop foot problems. And then they're butchered and the meat is treated with chemicals and sold at grocery chains and restaurants.
To put these CAFOs in business, the promoters find a willing farmer or wannabe-farmer and help him or her purchase a building built to industry specifications. Who are the willing farmers? Sometimes they're first-generation Americans with no experience in signing contracts and taking on debt.
Others are experienced farmers that have grown up trusting the Farm Bureau, the banks, the extension agents that tell them these CAFOs are good risks. The federal government insures the loans, so the banks love to make them. The extension agents owe the corporations for the grant money that's gone to the University. The Farm Bureau, which just ten years ago hated industry's attacks on family farmers, have decided they can make money by working with the corporations.
My neighbor that put up a CAFO found himself in $800,000 debt with a year-to-year contract to raise hogs. "Why did my lawyer let me sign up?" he asked me. But I saw the swagger in his stride when he was with the salesman. The lawyer couldn't have talked him out of it if he tried.
Once the hogs or poultry are in place, they become major users of electricity and, worse, water. And the animal waste from CAFOs goes into giant lagoons or builds up in straw on the floor. In the spring, it is spread on corn and soybean fields, or composted for use in organic industrial vegetable operations. Remember that next time you're buying something labeled "organic" in a super store.
The "organic" "nutrient" from CAFOs is full of chemicals. CAFO feeds are laced with hormones to promote fast growth and antibiotics to keep the animals alive in their sorry conditions. The antibiotics build up and new kinds of antibiotic-resistant bacteria move into the air and waterways.
States have few regulations that prescribe where these buildings should be situated and there are no federal standards. Owners put them near neighboring homes, schools, churches, historic sites and parks. With the odor problems that arise, neighbors can't use their own property. And who will buy it?
There is also no bonding, or insurance, to pay for clean-up in case a CAFO lagoon spills into the creek or when one goes out of business and the property must be rehabilitated. In fact, the industry dodges all the costs. Disposing of dead hogs is the responsibility of the property owner. Cleaning up the creeks is the responsibility of the taxpayer.
Twenty Missouri counties have passed health ordinances that prescribe setbacks for the CAFO buildings and require bonding from the operators. The industry says health ordinances are an attempt to stop CAFOs from coming into the state. They argue that all counties should have the same standards to avoid confusion.
Luckily, there's a 4-step solution to the production of animals in industrial situations. It's the usual 4-step program for cracking the chains of injustice and it goes:
1. Examine the situation. Is there injustice happening? Yes.
2. Give the injustice a name. Try "industrialization of food."
3. Get it out of your life. In other words, stop eating that industrial food.
It's easy to find meat from safe sources, probably raised within a few miles of your house. Begin by visiting a farmers' market and talking to the farmers. Ask who is raising eggs, milk, meat in a grass-based system, on pasture, without antibiotics and hormones. Call those sustainable, responsible farmers and ask about their growing system. Some sell only in quantity. Call your relatives or neighbors. This kind of food-purchasing, based on relationships with farmers, is fun. Tastes great. More importantly, it gets the industrial system out of your personal consuming system.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot the fourth step:
4. Address the persons behind the injustice and demand relief. Check the calendar of your legislature and see if there's a bill like Missouri's Senate Bill 364 on the agenda.
It's going to take time to dismantle this stupid system, but we can do it.
One four-step program at a time.
Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email email@example.com.
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