By Ken Midkiff
In addition to cramming thousands of chickens and hogs into confined feeding
operations, agri- business organizations like Prestage Farms and Smithfield Foods have
also packed Washington, D.C., with persuasive lobbyists. And campaign contributions. The
U.S. Congress and federal agencies have mostly turned a deaf ear to the problems of those
communities that are drowning - figuratively - in seas of chicken and hog manure.
So communities are increasingly turning to local decision-makers to get relief - and
County-level officials are closer to the local problems. Yet their authority varies
widely from state to state. In some states they have broad legal authority to regulate
almost any type of industry, including agri-industry. Idaho counties have such authority,
and three of them have banned CAFOs or adopted restrictive ordinances.
In Kansas, the state gave counties a deadline by which to determine whether CAFOs were
welcome within their boundaries. In counties where the decision was put to a vote of the
residents, 20 of the 21 opted to keep them out.
Nebraska counties can adopt planning and zoning ordinances for agricultural operations
and many have done so. Yet in Missouri, most rural counties don't have planning and zoning
ability or authority. Even if they did, state statutes don't let them do so for
"agricultural operations" - though it should be obvious that an 80,000-hog
operation is more of a factory than a farm. However, seven counties in Missouri have
passed public-health ordinances that restrict where CAFOs can be located.
The Sierra Club's Clean Water/CAFO Campaign helps rural communities fight these
operations at the local level. Rural organizer Scott Dye, whose own family farm in
Missouri spans several generations, is a secret weapon of sorts and has been the primary
point-of-contact. In several states, the Club has also provided funding for chapters to
conduct community-level campaigns.
We also send a detailed "CAFO Activist Toolkit" to community leaders upon
request. It contains technical reports on health and antibiotic studies, general
information on air and water-quality impacts, and sample county health ordinances.
Sooner or later, the U.S. Congress and the regulatory agencies will notice the
groundswell of opposition to the corporate swine, chicken and mega-dairy operations. Then
it will be up to them to provide national standards. It can't happen soon enough.
Ken Midkiff is the coordinator of the Clean Water/CAFO Campaign. He may be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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