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Hog Wars: Part 3

The Corporate Grab for Control of the Hog Industry
and How Citizens Are Fighting Back

by Patty Cantrell, Rhonda Perry & Paul Sturtz
Columbia, Missouri

Democracy from the state government
and responsibility from the mega-corps

The group and supporters rallied en masse at the Capitol and met with legislators who were beginning to understand the force of the broad-based coalition's numbers and convictions. The task force also picked apart the 'Hot-air Hog-factory bill' to show how its meaningless clauses pre-empted any genuine regulation. The sponsor of the bill, Phil Tate (D-Gallatin) had helped shepherd PSF into the state and sponsored the three-county exemption. Tate also makes $22,000 a year as a consultant for the electric supplier for PSF.

The task force exposed: that the bill affected only three companies in the state, ignoring all operations with less than 17,500 hogs; a sham indemnity fund that would take 405 years to just clean up PSF's 150 manure lagoons; waste management measures that already had been agreed to by PSF and Continental Grain in a settlement with DNR over their fall 1995 fish kills; and stepped-up DNR inspections at taxpayer, not industry expense.

The task force did its homework and continued its call for a moratorium on new CAFO construction until meaningful legislation was passed.

In late February, Sen. James Mathewson (D-Sedalia), the Senate president pro tem, responded to the public outcry and pushed through a temporary moratorium on hog facilities, 2,500 hogs and more, until June 15. The task force declared victory but knew it needed to press even harder for its proposals.

Still, the House of Representatives majority clung to its industrial agriculture myths and listened as the bill's sponsor explained the dangers of public input on CAFOs. "Public comment would be devastating to communities. It would cause an incredible amount of friction," Tate said. "The polarization and division it would bring is not healthy. It's not good."

The bill went from bad to worse. On the House floor, the bill stripped local communities of any regulatory authority; denied public hearings and air quality standards; and hamstrung the state in its protection of drinking water supplies.

The disinformation campaign that kept Missouri representatives in the dark about the industry's "get big or get out" policy can be seen in legislative alerts sent out at the time by the Missouri Pork Producers Association (MPPA) and the Missouri Cattlemen's Association. The MPPA, for example, blamed "over-regulation" for "accelerating" consolidation and driving smaller producers out of business.

The Cattlemen appealed to the state's beef farmers to stop "short-sighted radical groups like MRCC and the Sierra Club and their efforts to undermine the fundamental rights of every landowner in the state of Missouri.'' Big Cattle went to bat for Big Pigs to ensure the success of the industrialization of livestock.

But farmers experiencing destruction of property values and rural economies see this "takings" issue differently. As Terry Spence of Lincoln Township told national media and the U.S. Congress during 1996 property rights debates: "It really boils down to who's taking from who here. (Corporate executives) don't live down the road; they don't have to drink the water or breathe the air. They are not good neighbors. Only strong laws and strong enforcement will make them become good neighbors."

Steve Smith of Concerned Citizens for Pettis County, which has been fighting Tyson hog expansion into their county, sees a need to regulate companies that have no sense of responsibility. "Tyson management said, 'We may have problems here, but we're not breaking any laws.' "They're here,'' Smith says, "because the state and counties lack common-sense safeguards.''

"If they don't care about the streams and my children and the families around here, then we have to make the laws stricter. Ever since my Mom said I couldn't jump on the bed, I haven't liked rules and regulations. But I learned there's a place and a time for them. This is the place and this is the time."

Tyson's plans in early 1996 to add hog factories to its 300 chicken factories in Pettis County was the impetus for the citizens to band together. They held meetings and began drafting an ordinance to set health standards for their community.

The fight for local control was also central to Macon, Missouri's involvement in the task force and legislative fight. Macon learned during the session of a hog factory to be constructed in its area. The president of a local savings and loan, John Neer, was among Macon's grassroots lobbyists. He brought representatives of the Missouri Savings and Loan Association with him to the Capitol with these words for the governor: "It's come to the point where financial institutions cannot sit idly by as these factories compromise property values and other established sectors of our local economies." Local control is vital, Neer says, "for counties to have the right to plan their own destinies."

Still, the Missouri House of Representatives voted to put all regulatory authority over CAFOs in the hands of the state. Needless to say, community groups and the supporters they were gaining every day were mad. "No, we were furious," says Margot McMillen of Callaway County. Polite pressure gave way to indignation.

It worked, she says. "At our second rally, (coordinated with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and the Sierra Club), on the day the House bill went to the Senate Agriculture Committee - we were ready. We were yelling, chanting, unfurling petitions.

"We then went immediately to the Senate hearing, sat down and took it over. We didn't break any rules but it was real obvious where we stood." When the centerpiece of the House bill, the "99 % spill-proof" plumbing valve, was unveiled, it became a laughter-provoking symbol of the bill's absurdity.

Between the House vote and the Senate Ag hearing, a heightening press strategy zeroed in on the fact that the House bill stepped all over county rights while doing nothing to protect communities besides mandating a few plumbing changes. MRCC members plastered the state with flyers featuring the telling words of Phil Tate - "public comment would be devastating" - and of Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Sydney Johnson - "waste lagoons are no different than lakes once you pump the solids from the bottom." A St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial cartoon of a corporate hog wallowing in hog factory runoff and spills boosted the task force.

Prior to the final May 17 vote, another CAFO invasion popped up and added fuel to the task force's cause. Residents of the suburban Kansas City area of Platte County learned in mid-April of a hog factory (a 6,000-sow operation) to be constructed on a flood plain near Camden Point. For the first time, a hog factory was planned near a major city. Sally Radmacher says she and her neighbors lost no time organizing themselves and making the state Senate aware of their situation. "We really got on the telephones and started working with the Missouri Rural Crisis Center. From the floor of our first meeting, we were calling on (Senate Agriculture chairman) Sydney Johnson. We were especially concerned about keeping local control."

The widespread public outcry and wholesale arrogance of mega corporations finally paid off on the floor of the Senate when legislators voted to get rid of the House bill's prohibition of local zoning authority. Senators also made sure a provision for public comment was included in the bill along with public notification. And they gave the state DNR more leeway to regulate CAFOs.

The final Senate vote was a success for all those who had dedicated their time and spirit to pushing back the corporate threat to their lives. The bill safeguarded fundamental basic rights by maintaining local authority and developing a public notification and hearing process. No longer would CAFOs be allowed to sneak in and put up factory walls overnight. For the first time ever, setbacks were established to put buffer zones between factories and people. Its 1,000-3,000 foot mandate was clearly insufficient, yet a precedent was born. Many of the task force's main objectives were not included: bonding of CAFOs beyond the do-nothing indemnity fund, sewage treatment facilities, and compliance with air quality laws. Yet it was a major victory over the myths, the public relations machines and the encroachment of industry into rural areas.

Now, MRCC members are building on the hard-earned public protections. Pettis County, for example, was able to pass in June its health ordinance regulating CAFOs. "It's a far cry from what it should be, but it's a starting point," says Steve Smith. Without his work at the Capitol and that of dozens of others who stepped up to provide leadership and community voices, Pettis County may have never won a chance to test its new ordinance in court, which is where Smith expects Tyson will take it.

Other communities, too, are building on the broad base of supporters that came together to demand democracy from their state government and responsibility from the mega-corps.

"This is a story about cooperation, not conflict," Radmacher says. Neighbors, new and old, are building a united front against economic deception, environmental degradation and community destruction. They are joining forces with all kinds of people across the state and country who are struggling to protect their families and futures. This coalition of communities was successful in 1996 in Missouri, says MRCC president Bill Christison, "because we simply organized and did the work. We coordinated a state campaign and were able to shake things up a little."

It started with local people seeing through the mega myths. And it continues in Missouri and the nation as more and more people stand up together for good sense and good government.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

This article is taken from the Missouri Rural Crisis Center publication Hog Wars - The Corporate Grab for Control of the Hog Industry and How Citizens are Fighting Back

Published in In Motion Magazine - December 6, 2001