Sierra Club Home Page   Environmental Update  
chapter button
Explore, enjoy and protect the planet
Click here to visit the Member Center.         
Take Action
Get Outdoors
Join or Give
Inside Sierra Club
Press Room
Politics & Issues
Sierra Magazine
Sierra Club Books
Apparel and Other Merchandise
Contact Us

Join the Sierra ClubWhy become a member?

Planet Main
In This Section
  January/February 2002 Features:
Everything is Different; Nothing Has Changed
Navigating Rapids -- and Capitol Hill
EPEC Racks up the Wins
Law Program Delivers for Campaigns
A Car Dealer with a Passion for Clean Air
Happy 100th to Outings
Boards Adopts New Policies
Issue Updates
2001 Timeline
Sierra Club Quiz
From the Editor
Search for an Article
Free Subscription
Back Issues

The Planet
Hogs on Drugs

by Ken Midkiff

Just Say No to Hog Factories RallyWhen ranchers in Milford, Utah, were plagued a few years ago by upset stomachs and frequent trips to the "outhouse," they became concerned about the quality of their well water. So they convinced the Utah State Department of Health to test the wells for bacteria.

The agency determined that the ranchers' drinking water was contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria and -- as the ranchers had earlier -- cast an eye at the massive hog production facilities of Circle 4 as the likely culprit. Circle 4 houses 250,000 hogs, and it was assumed that the runoff from the operation's manure-storage lagoons had gotten into the groundwater. In one incident, thousands of gallons of liquified hog waste had been spilled into the subsurface.

The tests never showed the source of the contamination, but Circle 4 was ruled out when it was discovered that its fecal coliform bacteria was immune -- not merely resistant -- to antibiotics.

The industrial method of livestock production (called CAFOs, for concentrated animal feeding operations) requires massive amounts of antibiotics as appetite enhancers and growth inducers. The agency tests in Utah were the first "official" recognition that the bacteria present in animal wastes have become immune to antibiotics.

Since then, a number of health professionals have become alarmed about the situation: The antibiotics used to treat gastrointestinal and more serious health problems caused by pathogens are becoming ineffective against those very pathogens. The Union of Concerned Scientists has stated, with documentation, that about 70 percent of antibiotics produced are used in animal agriculture.

The proliferation of these warehouses, which frequently threaten waterways with leakage and spills from their manure lagoons and sprayfields, brought the Sierra Club's CAFO/Clean Water Campaign into a number of new states as local residents contacted the Club for help.

Stop Bryan FoodsOver the past year, the campaign's staff and volunteers ventured into new territory, fighting CAFOs or pushing for enforcement of regulations at hog factories in Sunray, Texas; Divide County, N.D.; Beatrice, Neb. and Ramona, Calif.; as well as dairies in Bryan, Ohio; Clovis, N.M. and Twin Falls, Idaho.

The campaign's staff and volunteer committee members -- who hail from Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, and Maryland, to Utah, California and even Canada -- have orchestrated a strategy that goes beyond organizing in the field. The campaign is also providing a significant amount of input to the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed new regulations for CAFOs. While the proposed rules are weak in terms of protecting the environment, public health and the rural quality of life, one laudable section would make the large corporations co-liable for harm caused by the farmers they pay to raise the animals, instead of leaving these farmers taking the blame alone.

The campaign also works closely with the Club's legal team, which filed lawsuits in Michigan and Oklahoma in 2001 to support ongoing efforts on the ground.

In 2002, the campaign will take on the public-health implications of antibiotic use in these factories.

New Year's Resolution: Educate consumers about this threat, and inspire them to convince the big supermarket chains to offer meat products raised without the use of antibiotics.

A very simple form of activism is requested: Ask the manager at your supermarket meat counter to provide an alternative to meat raised using antibiotics.

Ken Midkiff is director of the Sierra Club's CAFO/Clean Water Campaign. For more information, check out the Website at; or contact Midkiff at (573) 256-5707;

More on Clean Water.

Photo (top) courtesy Peggie Griffin, (bottom) Jenny Coyle.

Up to Top