Fencing Out Factory Farms
By ROBERT BRYCE
Special to The Progressive Populist
From Kansas to Kentucky, rural residents are fencing out the pork industry.
On September 16, by a margin of more than 2 to 1, voters in Seward County,
Kansas, approved a non-binding referendum which instructs the county's commissioners
to prohibit corporate hog farms from locating in their county.
The Seward County vote is the latest salvo in the ongoing skirmish between
rural counties and the pork industry. Concerned about the putrid smell and
potential water contamination that often accompanies large pig farms --
which can contain up to 250,000 hogs -- farmers and environmentalists in
half a dozen states are working to slow or prevent the expansion of the
pork industry into their areas.
Resistance to the industry has been particularly strong in the High Plains
region of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, a region that has seen explosive growth
in pork production. Over the past three years, Osaka, Japan-based Nippon
Meat Packers, which had revenues last year of $4.9 billion, Murphy Family
Farms, (America's largest pork producer), Premium Standard Farms (America's
fourth largest pork producer), Vall, Inc. (a Spanish company) and Seaboard
Farms, (the eighth largest pork producer), have all moved into the region
and are now producing more than two million porkers per year.
One of the biggest players in the region is Nippon, which is investing $200
million here in Ochiltree County, a county on the north edge of the Texas
Panhandle long known for its wheat, cattle and sorghum production. But with
the entry of Nippon, this county of 9,000 residents has suddenly become
one of the biggest players in the hog business. Within 30 months, the company
plans to be producing one million pigs per year in the county, with almost
all of the pork headed for Japan.
If Nippon succeeds -- and there's no reason to believe it won't -- Ochiltree
County will be the fourth largest pork-producing county in the United States.
But not all Ochiltree County residents are celebrating. Sixteen months ago,
Barbara and Bernhard Philipp, whose family has owned land in southern Ochiltree
County since 1907, watched as Nippon's local subsidiary, Texas Farm, opened
a hog breeding facility -- permitted to contain up to 11,000 pigs -- a half
mile east of their front door. The smell is not an everyday problem. Some
days they don't get any odor. Other days, they say, the smell is overwhelming.
"You either have to stay in the house with all the windows closed,
or leave the house altogether," says Barbara Philipp, who, along with
Bernhard, has been raising wheat and milo on their land for more than two
And it appears that the Philipps are stuck with the stench. Under current
Texas law, they cannot sue Texas Farm for being a public nuisance, because
confined animal feeding operations like the one run by Texas Farm are exempt
from nuisance laws. And state regulations did not allow them to get a public
hearing in which they could have opposed the permit granted to Texas Farm
by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC).
To fight the pork industry the Philipps and more than 100 other farmers
and landowners in Ochiltree and Lipscomb counties, organized as Active Citizens
Concerned Over Resource Development (ACCORD), have filed a lawsuit against
the TNRCC, challenging the legality of the state agency's permitting system.
But the underlying issue is one of property rights: Do the Philipps have
the right to enjoy their property today in the same way they enjoyed it
before Texas Farm became their neighbor?
Put another way, is Texas Farm, because of the odors that it emits, denying
the Philipps their property rights?
The ACCORD case presents what would seem to be a good case for Texas Attorney
General Dan Morales, a conservative Democrat who has been beating the drum
on property rights for several years. In Ochiltree County, a decision made
by a governmental agency -- the TNRCC -- is preventing landowners from enjoying
their property. But in March, Morales' staff attorneys sided with TNRCC
and the hog producers, writing that "Freedom from the possible migration
of pollution -- from land owned or occupied by plaintiff -- is not a life,
liberty or property interest of plaintiff recognized under the Fifth or
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution." In other words,
Morales is saying, Texas landowners don't have a right to keep their land
free of pollution.
NIPPON AND THE OTHER pork producers are expanding in order to feed
the sizzling export market and gain market share. Thanks to GATT and the
North American Free Trade Agreement, American has become a net exporter
In 1995, the U.S. exported more pork than it imported for the first time
in 44 years. And the top 10 producers, all of them major corporations, increased
production from 20 million pigs in 1994 to 23 million pigs in 1995 to meet
the demand for pork in Japan, Mexico, Canada and the Pacific Rim.
Since NAFTA went into effect, Canadian consumption of American pork has
doubled, according to figures from the US Department of Agriculture. Exports
to Mexico during the first six months of 1997 are up 36 percent.
Last year, the Cleveland Plain Dealer quoted Al Tank, a lobbyist
for the National Pork Producers Council as saying, "The U.S. pork industry
may have been the single largest beneficiary of the trade agreements."
While feeding the export market, the big pork producers are also rushing
to increase their share of the market, which has resulted in thousands of
small pork producers being pushed out of the business.
The small producers are being replaced by a few companies focused on vertical
integration, meaning the companies own the pigs from birth to bacon. The
slaughterhouse, finishing barns, nursery barns and parent sows are all owned
by one company, which, by virtue of its size, is able to lower costs and
have greater leverage.
The U.S. pork industry is now a $30-billion-a-year business, and the 12
largest hog producers own 1.2 million sows, or about 20 percent of all the
sows in the country. And their share of the market is growing. A report
issued earlier this year by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said the
trend presents a "foreboding picture for the typical family farm concept
of Midwest 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 United States." The report, written by Gary Benjamin, a vice
president at the Fed in Chicago, says, "As incredible as it may seem,
the number of U.S. farms with hogs shrinks by one-third every five years."
Perception or Reality?
Pork industry supporters insist that their opponents are either misinformed
or have a cultural bias against hogs. John Sweeten, an agricultural engineer
at Texas A&M University, asks "Have you ever watched a western
movie? How many favorable images have people seen about the pork industry?
There's just not any. There's lots of cattle barons but how many hog barons
Sweeten, who has worked around the swine industry for years, has a point.
The pig farmer has often been viewed unfavorably in Western movies and in
American culture generally. But cultural perceptions alone cannot explain
the groundswell of opposition the American pork industry is currently facing.
Authorities at the county, state and federal level have taken action to
limit the influx and impact of the giant pig farms. For instance:
(ogonek) With their vote last month, Seward County became the 18th Kansas
county to prohibit the entry of large hog farms. According to figures from
the Kansas Rural Center, a Whiting, Kansas-based non-profit that promotes
family farming, 20 counties in the state have now held referenda on the
hog industry and only two have voted to allow more hog farms. Of all the
votes cast in the 20 referenda, 72 percent have been against the pork industry.
(ogonek) On September 10, officials in Holt County, Nebraska, approved a
moratorium on construction or expansion of confined animal feeding facilities
for two years or until zoning regulations can be enacted.
(ogonek) On September 8, officials in Hopkins County, Kentucky, asked Vall,
Inc., not to build a $7 million hog farm in their county. "I'm opposed
to the large hog factories," explains Danny Woodward, the county judge-executive,
in Hopkins County. "And that's what they are, factories. The industry
hasn't been honest and upfront with any location they've located in. And
they have created havoc with the environment, the water and the air. I just
don't want an operation like that in our county."
(ogonek) On August 8, the Environmental Protection Agency fined Smithfield
Foods, a giant pork producer and processor, $12.8 million for several thousand
violations of the Clean Water Act. The fines -- the highest ever levied
for a water pollution case -- were made because the company's Virginia slaughterhouse
operation repeatedly dumped untreated waste into rivers that flow into the
(ogonek) On July 25, Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton issued a 90-day moratorium
on new permits for hog farms while the state strengthens its regulations
on manure disposal. A few days before that, the state's attorney general
ruled that counties in the state could regulate large-scale hog farms.
(ogonek) In April, the Richland County, Wisconsin Board of Supervisors voted
by a margin of 18 to 2 to require large animal feedlot facilities to obtain
special permits before they can locate in their county. The vote occurred
after citizens learned that a Belgian company was planning to put 7,800
pigs in the county. Several other Wisconsin counties are planning to follow
Nancy Thompson of the Center for Rural Affairs, says the votes reflect a
widely held sentiment. "Any time you go to the people and ask them
what they want, in every instance they say they don't want corporate farming,"
says Thompson. "It says people understand better than a lot of policy
makers what kind of impacts corporate farming has on the community, independent
producers and the quality of life in the area."
Jim Shantz, a spokesman for North Carolina-based Murphy Family Farms, which
is currently expanding its operations into Texas and Oklahoma, downplays
the significance of the Seward County vote. Shantz says the pork industry
is working to reduce odor and the potential for water contamination and
he said the Seward County referendum will not have a long-term impact. "It's
an isolated case," said Shantz. "There are other communities where
corporate farming is being welcomed."
But the Seward County vote was a sharp blow to Seaboard Farms, which had
been planning to produce up to 400,000 hogs per year in the county. Mark
Campbell, a vice president of development for the Shawnee Mission, Kansas-based
company, refused to comment directly on the referendum. "Seaboard is
concerned about the environment and how it interacts with communities,"
said Campbell. "We are cognizant of our responsibilities, and we want
to be sure that clean water and clean air can be balanced in the equation
of animal production and economic development."
For Seward County resident Kathy Bloom, the vote against Seaboard was a
"huge victory." Bloom, the vice president of Citizens for a Healthy
Environment, the Seward County citizens group that led the fight against
the hog farms, said her county already has about 80,000 hogs and voters
didn't want to add 400,000 more. "A pig excretes two to five times
the waste of a human," said Bloom, who along with her husband Fred,
grows wheat, corn and milo. "That translates into a city of two million
with no sewage treatment. That was appalling to us. Who would want that
in their backyard?"
Robert Bryce is a writer in Austin, Texas.
Iowa runs scared
The top hog-producing state in the nation -- Iowa -- made sure that neighbors
can't complain. A couple years ago the Iowa Legislature passed a law banning
nuisance suits against livestock operations, as long as they are meeting
all other laws.
from pork regulation
The Iowa Supreme Court, meanwhile, has held that livestock operations are
considered agricultural in nature and not industrial. Therefore, they are
not subject to local county zoning.
In other words, neighbors can't do a thing about stench factories except
The Iowa Legislature is understandably protective of its backbone industry
-- pork. North Carolina and Missouri are chasing The Tall Corn State for
its top position in pork by offering lax environmental regulations. Producers,
and thus meatpackers, are leaving Iowa. IBP, starved for hogs as independents
are driven from the business, plans to start raising its own or contracting
with other corporate producers.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, in response, offered legislation setting minimum
federal environmental standards for livestock waste. His hope is to create
a national discussion of this increasingly threatening environmental problem,
and to create a level playing field among states.
Pork-related sites on the Internet
The Missouri Rural Crisis Center operates an extensive web site with an
entire section devoted to rural affairs and the influx of large hog farms.
Go to: www.inmotionmagazine.com/rural.html
Successful Farming magazine publishes an annual survey of the biggest
pork producers in America. The magazine's survey is considered the best
gauge of the growth of the mega-pork producers. Go to:
The National Pork Producers Council offers their views on issues ranging
from odor control to manure management. Contains a wealth of production
statistics. Go to: www.nppc.org
The Raleigh News & Observer won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for its
coverage of the pork industry in North Carolina. This site contains the
paper's five-part series on the pork industry as well as numerous follow-up
stories that have run since the Pulitzer winning stories ran in February
1995. Go to: www4.nando.net/sproject/hogs/hoghome.html
The Iowa Hog Confinement Home Page is run by a group of Iowans fighting
the pork industry. Contains numerous links to other sites and news of the
various fights in Iowa at the county level including news of the financial
responsibility ordinance passed in Humboldt County, Iowa. Go to: www.salamander.com/~manyhogs/homepage.html
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