Taking hogs to new heights in Pennsylvania
The national fight to curtail factory hog operations and support sustainable approaches to pork production will be spotlighted at a national Hog Summit in mid-2003.

By Greg Bowman, New Farm® editor

Factory hogs: Pigs on industrial farms are confined to metal crates so small they cannot even turn around. Unnatural conditions in the factory thwart a pig’s natural instincts. Photo courtesy of Animal Welfare Institute.

OCTOBER 21, 2002: Hog Summit 2003 -- the third summit in 3 years -- is heading for Pennsylvania. With a variety of offerings, including research reports about factory farming, workshops on alternative hog production, and activist training, the Summit draws about 1,500 people from all over the country. The date and location (late spring or early summer, 2003) will be announced soon by the lead sponsor, the Waterkeeper Alliance, based at Pace University in White Plains, N.Y.

The Alliance provides leadership and resources for nearly 100 Waterkeeper-related organizations formed to protect specific bodies of water (rives, bays, sounds, channels, coastal areas). A Waterkeeper program advocates compliance with environmental laws, responds to citizen complaints, identifies problems which affect the program’s identified body of water and devises appropriate remedies to address the problems. For more on the Waterkeepers, check out their web site: http://www.waterkeeper.org

It focuses education and litigation campaigns in three areas, including the impacts of factory hog farming. Its first two hog summits, in North Carolina and Iowa, showcased the people, problems and potential solutions involved with the host region’s hog production systems.

Hog Summits Past

Check out these two articles, which will give you a sense of what took place at previous summits:

2002 Hog Summit: A press release about the Clear Lake, Iowa summit, detailing speakers and themes (AWI web site)

2001 Hog Summit: A summary of what took place at the New Bern, NC summit. (AWI web site)

 

Some background on the rise of Big Pork: Industrial agriculture first came to dominate broiler and turkey production in the1970s and ’80s, then moved into hogs in the 1980s and ’90s. The approach is based on a vertical integrator locking in a rigidly consistent supply (in time, date and meat type) through contracted arrangements with growers for specific growth phases.

The contractor typically specifies seedstock and feed, while requiring the farmer-contractee to finance hog housing and waste-management infrastructure in return for a guaranteed market for each batch of hogs handled.

These Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) units are subject to varying amounts of state and local regulation. These standards exist because of various potential negative impacts, especially a CAFO’s capacity to cause massive pollution of surface and ground water if systems for managing millions of gallons of waste fail or are overwhelmed by floods.

Impacts range from the local (odor, property values, worker health/rights, water quality) to regional (loss of independent markets, oversupply of hogs, reduced rural farming population, and weakened farm business infrastructure). Larger CAFO owners are frequently corporations who often have not been responsive to those who bear the costs of these negative changes. Smaller CAFOs may be farm families or family corporations whose owners feel they must scale up the numbers and concentrate production to remain economically viable.

Jeff Odefey, staff attorney for Waterkeepers Alliance and part of the PIG Alliance, a Pennsylvania-based effort to support sustainable hog production, is the point man for the 2003 Hog Summit. He explains the nature and intent of these high-profile events to create long-term capacity to build community-based, environmentally sound hog-production systems.

NewFarm.Org: What does Waterkeepers want to see happen at the Pennsylvania Hog Summit?

Odefey: We would like to tailor the coming event to meet the needs of the Pennsylvania activist and farming communities. To do so, we will invite experts to provide relevant information on CAFO related topics, e.g, the latest news on the antibiotic resistance front, an update on the new EPA CAFO regulations (to be released in January 2003) and Farm Bill EQIP program, recent developments in pollution research and legal strategies. We
will also offer sessions focused on building activist skills and effectiveness, often building on the experiences of other citizens/organizations from around the country.

For the Summit to be an effective tool, it cannot take place in a vacuum. One of the main reasons for hosting it in Pennsylvania is that the event fits in as a capacity building component of an on-going, broadly based, and state-wide effort to oppose the industrialization of pig production.

NewFarm.Org: What have been the good things to come from the North Carolina (2001) and Iowa (2002) summits?

Odefey: One of the most positive outcomes of the two previous summits has been the
increased coordination between activists, concerned citizens, academics, and public interest groups. The summit provides a much-needed forum for building relationships and connecting with people or groups who can provide needed expertise or support.

Following the Iowa Summit, we were able to build partnerships with local attorneys who then offered legal advice to farmers and other Iowa residents affected by nearby CAFOs. We were able to bring the valuable work of academic researchers to a new audience, and we were able to highlight the successes of "alternative" pig farming systems.

Really, though, I would argue that confinement is the real "alternative" to good old sustainable methods.

NewFarm.Org: What is your approach to bringing CAFO production to public accountability?

Odefey: Waterkeeper Alliance has a four-prong strategy for confronting industrial
hog production and the pollution it causes.

First, we will bring lawsuits against polluting corporate factory farms to force them to clean up their act and to bring about operational changes throughout the industry. We
currently have Clean Water Act and RCRA suits pending against two Smithfield
facilities in North Carolina, with an expected trial next fall, and have just filed challenges to North Carolina's general NPDES permits for feedlots.

Secondly, we are actively engaged in developing consumer education and action programs to spread the word about the negative impacts of factory farming and the positive benefits of buying from sustainable -- even local -- farmers.

Third, we strive to provide information and resources to activists and concerned citizens. The summit is the largest and most visible of our efforts towards this end.

And finally, we are very actively advocating for improved CAFO regulations and policy, at both the national and state levels. We have worked very hard, along with our coalition partners in the Clean Water Network, to represent an environmental perspective before the EPA as it develops the new CAFO regulations, and are engaged in similar dialogues
with a number of states.

NewFarm.Org: Who are your partners for Hog Summit 2003?

Odefey: The previous summits enjoyed tremendous support from the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Niman Ranch, and a collection of very effective local activist groups in North Carolina and Iowa. We could not have succeeded without their help. The coming year gives us another chance to work with our long-time partners, such as AWI and GRACE, and to develop new friendships. Waterkeeper is honored to have as co-sponsors the PIG Alliance, PennFuture and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA).