Trouble on the Farm
Scum and foam were piled so high on the surface of streams and ponds in the rural Illinois area neighboring the Inwood Dairy that it looked like snow. According to Karen Hudson, a local family farmer and activist with FARM (Families Against Rural Messes), "The air pollution was so severe the neighbors were forced to tear their carpet out, and burn candles to keep the stench at bay--at night they had to spray perfume in their bedrooms.... The odor was not merely a manure odor," Hudson added. "It had a septic and the decaying smell of a dead body. It could be smelled several miles away--I know because I live 4.5 miles from it. That is why we renamed our state from Illinois, Land of Lincoln, to Illinois, Land of Stinkin'."
Despite an aversion to flying, Karen Hudson rounded up two colleagues from FARM, and convinced a friend to fly his small aircraft over the lagoon they had reason to believe was overflowing with animal waste emanating from the dairy. FARM invited several local news crews aboard subsequent flights, and documented what Hudson now calls the "Big Spill." The deliberate manure release of the dairy caused "enormous damage to our community," Hudson said.
The photos and videotape taken by FARM and reporters aired on a number of local television stations, and FARM's photos were later used by the Illinois Attorney General's office. "All the things we warned about regarding this corporate dairy came to light," Hudson told me via several e-mail exchanges.
A year after the flyovers, FARM's action paid off--well, sort of. In early May, the Peoria Journal Star reported that the Inwood Dairy agreed to pay a $50,000 fine "under an agreement between the dairy and the state's Attorney General, who sued it when a seven-acre lagoon containing an estimated 40 million gallons of livestock waste nearly overflowed last year." Since Inwood was ordered to drain, clean up and refill the lagoon, neighbors report that the smell has improved.
However, Hudson worries that the fine will not stop the factory and hundreds of other similar operations from haphazardly dumping their waste when no one is watching. Inwood Dairy is just one CAFO--as concentrated animal feeding operations are called--that "uses agricultural land as a septic system, or an open sewer, to dispose of the waste that's produced in massive quantities daily," Hudson said. It is sometimes less costly for companies to pay the fine than to clean up their mess, she pointed out.
If the corporate owners of factory farms like the Inwood Dairy have their way, Hudson's next flyover could land her in jail. In April, the Illinois House passed House Bill 5793, by a 118-to-0 vote, making it illegal to photograph or videotape the animals at a factory farm.
The legislation, which is currently stalled in the State Senate, "makes it a crime to be on a farm (or other 'animal facility') and photograph or videotape pigs or any other animals without the consent of the owner if one's intent is to 'damage the enterprise,'" reports the Chicago Tribune. The bill defines "animal facilities" as "anywhere an animal is 'kept, housed, handled, exhibited, bred, raised, or offered for sale or purchase.' " The Peoria Journal Star, arguing against the need for such a bill, observed that it "would prohibit state inspectors from taking pictures to document their investigations of these farms."
Corporate attacks on family farm activists have increased since the Seattle anti-World Trade Organization demonstrations. Shortly after Seattle, the Des Moines-based Truth About Trade and Technology (TATT) set about tracking organizations participating in the fair trade movement. Two years ago, TATT published Who Props Up the Protesters, a 331-page report focusing on the history, goals, financial strength and level of activism of a number of groups active in the fair trade movement. Among them was the Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE) Factory Farm Project (http://www.factoryfarm.org), one of a number of groups listed by TATT that actively support family farming.
Since September 11, some industry spokespersons have taken to insinuating that anticorporate activists have something in common with the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center. Jimmy Neuhoff, president of the North Carolina Pork Council and owner of a large pork-producing farm, complained that family farm activists were unfairly targeting the pork industry.
In a letter to Pork Council members, published in the Winter 2002 issue of the NC Pork Report, Neuhoff wrote that, like the victims of 9/11, "the pork industry is also under attack.... [Through] a well coordinated propaganda campaign [that] began to change the public perception of agriculture, in particular pork production....
"While I am not suggesting activists are terrorists, it is interesting to note the parallels in their methods of operation. Both groups distort the truth to further their agendas. Both groups have no regard for the damage levied on innocent victims," Neuhoff wrote.
"Corporate lobbyists and the spokesperson from the Illinois Farm Bureau contended from the start that we were exaggerating about the problems at Inwood," Hudson pointed out. The spokesman "has been unusually silent since the disaster. We do hear that he is currently lobbying for another new megadairy that will use a twenty-six-acre lagoon and house approximately 7,000 dairy cattle. That operator allegedly has violations in Wisconsin and was cited in California for selling products with too much antibiotic residue."
This may be another job for the FARM air corps!