Trimming the Pork

Midwestern communities say that corporate hog farms stink

| March 30, 2006

Livestock producers in the Midwest have had a rough time the last few decades, to put it mildly. Facing dire economic straits, many have turned to Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) -- large-scale farms that pack thousands of hogs into impossibly small confines. While CAFOs seemed to be the only option for economic survival, communities across the Midwest are realizing that, when it comes to CAFOs' detrimental impacts, stink is just the tip of the iceberg. Now they're taking their opposition to state legislatures, pitting local communities against corporate lobbyists.

The Chicago Tribune (registration required) quotes Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon on community-based opposition to CAFOs: 'Farmers are not effete, Northeastern tailpipe sniffers. When they complain, it's real.' The farmers are taking a hard look at the spate of research that associates CAFOs with a laundry list of adverse effects on human health. Christine Schrum, reporting for The Iowa Source, rattles off the results of studies conducted across the Midwest: acute and chronic respiratory diseases, tension, depression, sore throat, excessive coughing, diarrhea, and reduced vigor, to name a few.

Meanwhile, other studies are finding that public health isn't the only argument against high-volume facilities. While corporate farming lobbyists insist that their operations bring economic gain to their host communities, the numbers indicate otherwise. In a blog post on The Rural Populist, Brian Depew cites research conducted at the University of Missouri showing that 'independent hog producers support three times more employees than industrial agribusiness producers do.' Similarly, a study in Virginia concluded that small-scale producers 'provided ten percent more jobs, a twenty percent greater increase in local retail sales, and a thirty-seven percent greater increase in per capita income for those employed by the operations.'

Local communities are taking action, fighting for countywide bans on CAFOs. The Chicago Tribune reports that, in Missouri, 14 counties have passed legislation to restrict CAFOs. But corporate livestock lobbies are firing back in the legislative front. As In These Times notes, 'factory farm interests have worked aggressively in state legislatures to restrict the ability of local government to keep CAFOs out of their communities.'

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