Hog farm threatens Buffalo
In January the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality denied issuing a new permit for the controversial industrial hog facility in the Buffalo River watershed because the application did not include critical information such as a groundwater flow study and emergency action plan. The hog facility has appealed that decision through the appropriate legal process at the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission. The hearing is scheduled for Aug. 6-8. But now some lawmakers a considering legislation for the upcoming special session that would undermine that process and force the state to issue the hog facility a permit despite the evidence that it threatens the river. Stay tuned! This is a national river — the first national river in the country — that belongs to all.
This ill-considered confined animal feeding operation should never have been permitted in the sensitive watershed in the first place. Now it’s clear that proponents of corporate agriculture are determined to see that it remains there and no doubt they hope to see operations expanded. The argument that this is the “only way to feed the world” has been undermined by rising rates of pollution that threaten clean water all over our country. Can we “feed the world” and at the same time kill the planet?
For centuries farmers have cared for their land and animals in sustainable ways. Farmers are the original environmentalists because they understood that if they took care of the earth, it would provide all they needed. For decades now, corporations have been shutting down the marketplace for independent farmers, forcing them into contract farming where they own the land and buildings but not the animals they raise. Contractors also have sole responsibility for the waste that’s produced. Importing feed from other areas and converting it into tons of manure in one place puts the system out of kilter. Nutrients in the waste exceed the ability of the land to absorb them. Excess phosphorus and nitrogen run off into creeks, streams and ultimately rivers. Rivers run into oceans, where massive dead zones are already impacting sea life.
The real driving force for industrial agriculture is less about producing cheap food and more about greed. By turning farmers into contractors, corporations can claim a larger share of the profits and at the same time, take no responsibility for the volumes of waste produced.
I am embarrassed to admit that I was unaware of all this until our state’s treasure, the Buffalo National River, was suddenly in danger of the same degradation that is being seen all over our country, wherever too many animals are being raised in one place.
Now I understand that corporate greed threatens not just our rivers and environment, but is degrading our county in similar ways by making it increasingly difficult for independent American farmers to make a decent living. There are laws on our books to protect open markets, but they are not being enforced. The result is that rural America is falling behind in income and quality of life. Special interests are calling the shots and it will eventually hurt us all, because we are all in this together.
— Lin Wellford