A determined coalition is up against the big boys here in Missouri on the issue of factory farms. People near Arrow Rock, Roaring River, and Battle of Athens are pitting themselves against, for starters, the Missouri Farm Bureau, a powerful organization indeed. When it tells the governor and Republican legislative leaders to jump, don’t look for them to be squatting in place. They know which side their campaign coffers are buttered on.
The Farm Bureau basically sells insurance to 100,000 Missourians, the majority of them farmers. It holds itself out as an advocate for family farms and claims to limit itself to agricultural issues. Neither is true. It speaks on many issues, and on none of them more adamantly than on CAFOs. There, it employs the stick–fear that if we overregulate CAFOs, Missouri’s hog and chicken raising industry will “move to Brazil”–and the carrot–CAFOs bring jobs to economically depressed areas. That jobs claim is hokum. A few people get to be hog janitors, others get to work in a processing factory, and everything about the industry is so integrated vertically by big ag that the peons are no better off than they ever were.
Whitney Kerr, a member of the coalition that is planning legal action to stop the CAFO near Arrow Rock, points out that the Bureau has never asked him or other ordinary members what stands it should take on any issue. Kerr feels that the Bureau is in cahoots with the industrial/agricultural giants and is carrying water for Tyson, Cargill, Smithfield, and MoArk, among others.
He objects to the Bureau’s claim that factory farms are the future of agriculture in Missouri. Twenty years ago, before CAFOs appeared in this state, hogs were raised in open fields and the manure was spread over a large area. Under those conditions, the streams and water table were safe.
But about 1994 CAFOs began appearing in Missouri. They often brought environmental depradation. Not only are the clean water supplies of any given area threatened by the concentrated application of feces, but those feces come from animals who have been given antibiotics all their lives. Furthermore recent studies show that many crops grown on ground where this “fertilizer” has been spread, soak up those antibiotics. That’s some fertilizer. The predominance of CAFOs means that we are eating antibiotics, so city dwellers, whether they know it or not, have a stake in this issue. As The League of Women Voters points out, “If you eat, you are involved in agriculture.”
Now if those hogs had been raised like those in the picture, with some room to breathe and move, instead of being crammed in so tight they can’t even turn, those antibiotics wouldn’t be necessary.
Furthermore, the CAFOs have put those who raised hogs in a humane, environmentally safe manner out of business. Today, 85 percent of small hog raisers are no more. Those few who still raise hogs on family farms are hard pressed to find buyers for their hogs because the big ag companies have contracted with CAFOs.
This sea change in Missouri agriculture has occurred in less than fifteen years. As the evils of the new system have dawned on those living in the middle of it, some have decided to resist. A group of resolute rural Missourians is fighting to preserve their homes as well as our state parks and historic landmarks against odor, against the threat of water pollution. They are taking to the field on behalf of small farmers being driven out of business by invading corporations.
The first two postings in this series were billed as part of a three-part series. I had barely an inkling then of how many facets the CAFO topic has. When I get to part Twenty of this three part series, that resolute band of Davids will still be contending with CAFOliath–not as if they can slay him but in the well grounded hope of exerting reasonable control. The Davids will work for smaller CAFOs with more humane treatment and no antibiotics, and for better waste management and watershed management. They’ll be pushing for legislation to keep CAFOs away from state parks and historic sites. More counties will enact health ordinances to protect themselves. CAFOliath won’t lie lifeless on the ground, but he might be tamed.