For the week of February 24, 1999  thru March 2, 1999  

Idaho: Famous potatoes, pigs and pollution

Commentary by DICK DORWORTH

Consider the pig. Consider Porky Pig, the cartoon character. Consider the children’s fairy tale of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf. And consider the little piggy that went to market.

Then, consider, say, the reality of more than a quarter-million not-so-little piggies from your neighborhood that went to market in the form of pork chops, bacon and all the other marketable forms of the pig, over and over and over.

Consider the, ah, feces and attendant slime, muck, foulness and, you know, odor, from a quarter-million piggies who, though they go to market never to be seen again in toto, are instantly replaced by their progeny, who are also on their way to market, over and over and over. Their feces and attendant mire, of course, don’t go to market.

They stay in the neighborhood, about which, remember, the market and the people who profit from that market in little piggies, care nothing. In fact, the neighborhood of large-scale factory little piggy facilities becomes undesirable, unhealthy and, in the long run, uninhabitable.

The biggest, foulest, most polluting factory piggy facilities are in North Carolina, and they have befouled groundwater, rivers, air, the landscape and the health of the people who work and live near them. They have been a major contributor to devastating fisheries along the Atlantic seaboard.

In this event, however, the neighborhood is Idaho, a state that, at least in its official public relations and tourist advertisements, prides itself on the pristine quality of its environment. It should not need mentioning, but just to accent the obvious, corporate hog facilities and pristine environments do not exist together.

Actually, corporate hog facilities and livable environments do not exist together. A quarter-million hogs permanently residing in any confined area is a concept that staggers the imagination, not to mention what the reality does to the senses, the local biotic community and the very land on which it resides.

Recently, the Twin Falls County Commissioners had the good sense to reject a proposed 3,600 ‘hog processing facility’ within the county. The corporate interests in charge of this facility simply moved their efforts a bit east to Cassia County, where the elected officials, a bit easier to influence, approved it.

A 250,000 hog corporate facility has been proposed for Owyhee County. This abomination to the environment of Idaho is being proposed by a corporate group called Sawtooth Farms, though it is an out-of-state corporation and has nothing to do with farming, and nothing at all to do with the lovely Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho from which it filched its name.

One of its owners lives in Ketchum and, though he doesn’t mind bringing a quarter-million hogs to someone else’s neighborhood, was an active and vocal opponent of affordable housing for working people in his neighborhood of Ketchum.

Corporate hog facilities are industrial pig factories, not farm operations, and the distinction is vast in reality but not in law.

One of the reasons Idaho is attractive to the corporate industrial pig set is that Idaho has no current laws or regulations governing corporate hog operations. This means there are no regulations to govern what 250,000 pigs might do to the air and water quality, property values and independent family farmers of Idaho.

This makes a bill currently before the Idaho State House of Representatives more interesting than it might be without corporate pig operations on the horizon.

House Bill 242 is listed under Agriculture Affairs. It reads: "Makes government enforcement the sole remedy for nuisances caused by agriculture operations under government permit."

If the Idaho Legislature is misguided enough to pass HB242, it means, among other things, that there is no recourse for an Idaho citizen or group of citizens to address the inescapable (not possible) degradation of air quality, water quality, quality of life, value of land and other health issues and ‘nuisances’ caused by corporate pig factories. Government enforcement would be the sole remedy, and there are no laws to enforce.

Catch 22.

The National Resource Defense Council’s Hog Report for 1998 reports, "The increase in factory farming, inadequate pollution control technology and lax regulation have resulted in serious pollution problems around the country," and, "U.S. EPA data shows that groundwater in 17 states is impaired by feedlot manure, and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates 60,000 miles of streams in the U.S. are contaminated by manure runoff."

Pigs produce 2 to 5 times as much waste as humans. This means that the proposed Sawtooth Farms pig factory would produce the equivalent sewage of a town with a population somewhere between half a million and a million and a quarter people. Hog manure emits hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and methane, which generates an odor that is, to say the least, offensive and causes tension, depression, fatigue, headaches, dizziness and nausea in people unfortunate enough to breathe it.

The Associated Press reports that 19 people nationwide have died in accidents involving hydrogen sulfide releases from manure pits. And a large percentage of people working in industrial hog factories are affected by respiratory problems, including chronic bronchitis, occupational asthma, chronic sinusitis, and organic dust syndrome.

Hog manure contains dangerously high concentrations of bacteria, as well as excess nutrients and heavy metals from feed. The nutrients cause algal blooms in water bodies that consume the oxygen fish depend on. This leads to massive fish kills. Corporate hog factories feed their product specially formulated grain that includes trace elements of copper, zinc and magnesium. Small amounts of these heavy metals are passed into the manure and applied to the soil. The accumulation of heavy metals in the soil after enough years of hog manure permanently damages the land’s ability to support crops. There is no technology available that can remove heavy metals from soil, so corporate hog factories are the rural equivalent of the abandoned industrial lots of urban areas.

Idaho doesn’t need any more pork, either on the hoof or of the political kind. Idaho does not need corporate hog factories anywhere in the state. They are a disaster everywhere they have been allowed. They should not be allowed in Idaho.

Governor Dirk Kempthorne needs to hear that pig factories and HB242 stink. His phone number is (208) 334-2100.


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