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To Market, To Market, To Buy A Fat Pig

In Monroe Township, Bedford County, a new hog farm is planned. It plans to house thousands of hogs in one facility, called a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). This factory farm is the latest addition in a national trend away from family farms and into large-scale corporate farming.

It began in the 1970ís when family farmers were told to "get big or get out" and urged to purchase expensive high-tech equipment to expand their operations. In the 1980ís, those same farmers saw foreclosure and bankruptcy, with many of them being forced to leave the farms their family had owned and operated for generations.

The same refrain is being sung in the Ď90s, with mega-corporations setting up factory farms in rural farming communities. The long-term implications of this move away from family farms and toward a small number of mega-corporations controlling food production are just beginning to surface.

The citizens of Bedford County have researched those implications. They have looked at the track record of these factory farms in such places as Missouri, North Carolina, Minnesota, and Iowa. Among the issues they have uncovered:

ECONOMIC IMPLICATIONS

While factory farms promise new job creation, increasing tax revenues, expanding markets for family farmers, and efficient hi-tech production for consumers, the facts do not support the rhetoric.

The jobs created are low-wage, poor condition, non-skilled labor. Industrial producers take advantage of regulatory allowances meant for family farmers to elude minimum wage laws and safety standards. One worker in an existing factory farm in Bedford County was employed solely to kill the runts of every litter, so he killed baby pigs all day, every day. Such employment leads to incredibly high turnover in workers. In the three counties in Missouri which are home to the factory farms, there has been a 20% increase in food stamp recipients since the factory farms opened.

According to a 1994 study by University of Missouri economist John Ikerd, factory farms create 9 jobs for every 12,000 hogs produced, but simultaneously displace 28 already existing local jobs. The corporate producers buy most of their supplies out of town. This is a marked contrast to family farms who buy feed, seed, farm machinery, and hardware from local outlets Ė recirculating dollars into the local economy.

A Minnesota study found that operations with less than $400,000 a year in gross sales made 79% of their business expenditures within 20 miles of their farms. Larger operations made just half of their purchases within 20 miles. The overall effect was documented in a Virginia study comparing the addition of 5,000 sows by independent producers (multiple family farms) versus corporate producers. The independent producers created:

The corporations claim that the harm to local economies is the price for efficient production of food. However, the independent producers again outperform their corporate competitors. An Iowa State University study showed that between 1989 and 1993, small herds in Iowa earned $12.93 per hundred pounds, while large herds earned only $12.32 per hundred pounds. A Kansas State University study found that the most efficient farm had about 75 sows.

MONOPOLIZING THE MARKET

The newest trend in food production is called "vertical integration," where the same entity owns the packers and the producers. So the same corporation that owns the factory farms either owns the only packing plants around or has staked out most of the available processing capacity with exclusive contracts. The effect is to freeze the independent producer (family farmer) out of the market. A 1993 report in Hogs Today showed that corporate producers in North Carolina (with the largest factory hog farm system in the country) were being paid $51 per hundred pounds sold directly to the processing plant while the independents received only $39 per hundred pounds on the "open" market.

As Ron Perry, an independent hog farmer from Missouri, explains, "It used to be that within 10 miles, you could go to five or six places every week to sell your hogs. Now, you have to take them 50 miles to one place, one day of the month and take whatever the one corporate buyer will give you."

So, efficiency is not driving the market. The corporate giants are forcing local independent producers out of business by controlling prices and access.

THE NEW SERFDOM

As independents face ever-shrinking markets and profits, many of them are driven into becoming "contract growers" for the corporations. The arrangement forces the former independent to purchase capital-intensive buildings, equipment, and waste lagoons. According to A Farmerís Legal Guide to Production Contracts, contract farmers typically borrow from $150,000 to $750,000 for initial capital costs. They bear the entire cost of that mortgage. By contract, the corporation supplies the hogs, feed, medicine, and supplies Ė at corporate determined quality and expense. The corporation controls how the farmerís land is used. The corporation is also the ONLY market for the farmer, so it controls the price the farmer will receive for his hogs and the weight for which he will be paid. And if there is a disease or an environmental problem Ė the farmer bears the entire cost.

The farmer typically nets about $8.00 an hour under such an arrangement. And, in return, he loses control of his land.

WASTE

In factory-farms, the hogs are housed in large confinement buildings with slatted floors. The waste is hosed through the slats through troughs into large waste lagoons. A typical lagoon may contain up to 25-million gallons of hog waste.

One hog excretes about 3 gallons of waste a day, which is 2.5 times the average human total. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources reported that in 1995, the large hog factory farms in northern Missouri generated 5 times as much sewage as Kansas City.

But factory farms do not have to treat this enormous amount of waste. While rural communities must install and update municipal treatment plants to handle the waste from a few hundred human residents, factory farms use the regulatory exemptions written for small family farms to avoid treating the waste.

Waste management plans (euphemistically called nutrient management plans) for factory farms only call for spraying waste on farmlands. While such a system is viable for family farms with diverse crops and small herds, the enormous amounts of sludge generated by the factory farms are often more than the surrounding farmland can handle.

And if the factory farm goes out of business? A Cherokee County, Iowa operation that went out of business in 1980 left behind three leaky lagoons. The largest pit is 17 acres with four to eight feet of solid manure at the bottom that the county sanitarian estimates will cost at least $500,000 to clean up.

ODOR

Hog manure generates more than just smell. It creates a mist containing poisonous gases such as hydrogen, sulfide, ammonia, and methane. The mist is blown by the wind, sinking into human tissue, clothing, and furnishings. The gases cause nausea, headaches, vomiting, blackouts, and respiratory complications.

A study conducted by the Missouri-based Family Farms for the Future found that over half the people living within 2 miles of mega-hog farms reported an increase in allergies, sinus infections, and nasal blockage. The American Lung Association, with the University of Iowa, found that nearly 70% of those working in the swine facilities experience respiratory illness or irritation, with 58% suffering chronic bronchitis.

Property values are affected by such conditions. Jeff and Julie Jansen and their six children, live in Olivia, Minnesota. Two hog factories were built within 1 mile of their 8-acre farm in 1994. Julie reports: "In May, we began smelling unbelievable hog odors...We all started to experience health problems...Everybodyís been sick...The kids wonít go outside and play when the stink is bad. We canít barbecue, hang clothes on the line, sit outside and enjoy the garden. We keep the windows and doors shut, the air conditioning running, but the smell gets in the carpet, the curtains, the furniture. When it gets really bad, we spend the night in a motel. Iíve had to close my day-care business because nobody wants to bring their children here. Weíd like to sell the house and move, but who would buy it?"

A 1995 study of property values conducted by researchers at North Carolina State University concluded that housing values can drop by nearly 8% when hog farms are built nearby. The exact amount of value depends on the closeness and size of the hog farm and the number of hog farms already in the area.

WATER/SOIL

Hog factories channel their enormous amounts of waste into lagoons. But they must also empty those lagoons so they donít overflow. The factories spray liquid manure onto the farmland as nutrient. The problem arises when the surrounding farmland canít handle the amount of waste. Then the manure is not a nutrient, it is a toxin.

Hog waste contains heavy metals like copper, nickel and manganese. Once these metals are over-used on farmland, they destroy it. Soil scientist Fred Cox of North Carolina State University states, "Once thereís a toxicity, you canít remove it. Plants wonít grow there. The soil damage is permanent."

Fields overspread with manure create run-off, which flushes the heavy metals into waterways and drinking supply watersheds. A North Carolina State University study found "evidence of contamination almost everywhere" in the sandy soils beneath the spray fields. Local wells have been found to be affected, with sometimes tragic results. Indiana papers reported on three women who miscarried a total of six times as a result of nitrate pollution from a nearby hog farm.

The lagoons themselves leak and spill. On June 21, 1995, the 12,000 hog Oceanview Farms in North Carolina had a lagoon spill. The 8-acre waste lagoon burst and dumped 25,000,000 gallons of feces and urine in a two-hour, knee-deep stream that destroyed the cotton and tobacco crops of a neighborís fields, crossed the highway, and drained into the New River, where it killed all aquatic life for 17 miles. (This spill is double the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.)

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Spills and leaks are commonplace. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency estimates the average rate of leakage is 500 gallons per lagoon per day.

WATER USE

Hog factories are water hogs. In Missouri, one 80,000-head finishing unit consumes over 200,000 gallons of water per day, or over 73,000,000 gallons per year. Thatís for one complex. Well level drops of 125 feet have been confirmed, causing some wells to dry up, and residents to have to drill deeper to keep water available.

DRUGS

Because hog factories raise enormous numbers of animals in closely packed, totally confined condition, disease is a constant problem. The animals are therefore routinely and constantly given antibiotics throughout their growth. This poses significant health concerns for consumers. Both in the growth of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria to which humans are also susceptible (like swine flu), and in the residue which may be present in the meat. Neither problem has been addressed.

PENNSYLVANIA

The residents of Bedford County have unearthed a mountain of information. But Pennsylvania has, in its own words, "no system in place to regulate these things." Yet the state is moving ahead.

Once again, local citizens and communities are being ignored by state bureaucracies; and once again, it is the local folks who will bear the burden for irresponsible government policies. North Carolina has placed a moratorium on the establishment of any new factory farms. Pennsylvania should do the same.

The family farms of our state are worth protecting. The local farming communities are the backbone of Pennsylvania. They are fighting to preserve their independence. They need, and deserve, our support.

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