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November 2000 Planet Main
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The Planet
Sneaking Under Big Pig's Snout

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 winning.

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

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