A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mega-livestock farms stranger than fiction, still a threat

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, Sept. 22, 23 or 24

The pipeline protests near North Dakota’s Standing Rock reservation are finally getting media attention for efforts to prevent the Missouri River, as well as sacred sites, from being spoiled. There and in more than 100 demonstrations nationwide, people are objecting to Dakota Access’s $3.8 billion, 30-inch pipeline planned to run 1,100 miles from North Dakota through Illinois to link up with pipelines carrying the oil to Texas refineries to ship overseas.

But in Illinois, a different “spoilage” threatens residents, the environment, and the future: huge livestock farms.

This month, the issue was made more real at the 2016 Factory Farm Summit: “Demanding Accountability in Animal Agriculture.” Held in Green Bay, Wis., the get-together reinforced those working to conserve land and property, to protect rural areas and a way of life at risk, and to encourage the thousands of people affected by factory farms to resist unwelcome intruders.
The issue isn’t new. Eighteen years ago I edited and wrote a chapter for the round-robin murder mystery “Naked Came the Farmer,” a group novel that touched on the troubling trend. Author Bill Brashler (“The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings”) commented, “treachery, debauchery and sly innuendo ooze through the narrative like waste from a hog farm.”

And through the years, disputes have continued throughout the state.

“Unfortunately, Big Ag – which includes Big Hog, Big Chicken and Big Cattle – would have you believe that despoiling our land, air and water with animal waste is just another part of country living,” commented radio host Mike Nowak, who covered the two-day event. “They just don’t understand why regular folks can’t stand the stench or the dead fish in the rivers or the plummeting property values of those homes unfortunate enough to be in the way of a factory farm.”

Illinois’ law covering these mega-farms is a joke. The Livestock Management Facilities Act is one of the nation’s worst, failing to address what was explained to an aide in Gov. Jim Edgar’s office in the 1990s: S.W.I.N.E.

That acronym stood for factory farms’ Smell, Water in jeopardy, Indemnification making polluters pay for damages their mega-farms cause, Nutrient overloading dangers from animal waste damaging soil and acreage, and Enforcement of whatever regulations the legislature can muster.

Citizen groups such as the Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water (ICCAW) are demanding reforms like these:

* Require all concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to register with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency so IEPA has an accurate location database. Now, the agency has little idea how many mega-farms exist or here they are.

* Require large CAFOs to get permits from the IEPA to operate – and prevent pollution. (Today, little happens until after pollution has occurred.)

* Close the loophole in the state Department of Agriculture’s regulations letting facilities more than double their size every two years – with no public informational meetings.

* Allow county boards to convene public hearings and issue binding recommendations to the Illinois Department of Ag about siting and construction of large-scale livestock confinement operations. Currently, an elected county board can reject a proposed CAFO, but the Ag department can override local decisions.

* Give adjoining landowners, neighbors and others affected by proposed or expanding mega-farms the legal standing to call for public hearings on applications – and the right to appeal decisions by the Ag department.

* Create setbacks from surface waters and increase setbacks from homes and towns for large facilities.

* Require all such livestock facilities to submit waste-management plans with spill controls and prevention plans to be approved by the state before siting and construction approvals, and mandate such plans be subject to public review and comment as part of the application process.

The dangers from factory farms are horrific, but they aren’t fiction. As “Naked Came the Farmer” noted in its 1998 disclaimer, “Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. [But] the mega-farm trend [is] real. Very real.”

[PICTURED: 'Naked Came the Farmer' cover, by Roland Millington.]

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