The West's lax rules draw hog factories

  • Penned pigs at a production pig factory

    National Pork Producers Council
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories.

Factory hog farms have followed the same trail blazed more than a century ago by American pioneers. The farms started nearly a decade ago in the heart of pig country - Iowa - and in the heart of chicken country - North Carolina. Now they have moved west into Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

The hogs are on the move, according to Melissa Elliot of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, because of two words: lax regulations.

"When the corporations ran into resistance from citizens in the Midwest, they said, 'Heck, we'll move somewhere where there's less people, less regulations and still an ample supply of corn,' " says Elliot.

In Colorado, running a hog farm doesn't even require a state permit. Elliot says state regulators don't do any monitoring of the sites to ensure that waste doesn't contaminate groundwater.

"It's a complaint-driven system," says Elliot. "If you called the state water-quality people, they would tell you, 'we don't know where the hog farms are, but we regulate them.' That doesn't give the public any confidence at all."

Elliot says her group is pushing the Water Quality Control Commission to revise rules for hog farms, much as Wyoming has done. Her group wants several changes, including the institution of a permit system and bonding requirement for any clean-ups.

"Every other industry - whether it's mining or home construction - has to post a bond. Hog farms should, too," says Elliot. "This isn't agriculture, it's industry."

No doubt, a 10,000 sow corporate hog operation owned by a distant corporation is a far different creature than the mom-and-pop farms that rely on the reproductive abilities of several dozen to a hundred sows. Pigs that once lived outdoors spend their entire lives in giant buildings standing on concrete grates that allow their waste to drop into giant vats below. With these bigger operations comes more of everything: more uniformity of meat, more pounds to sell and more waste.

Small-scale pig farms can use waste in their fields as manure. But torrents of waste pose major problems, threatening ground and surface waters. Most companies flush the pig houses out with water, creating a slurry that increases the volume of waste but also makes it easier to manage. The slurry is held in open earthen tanks, such as the one Wyoming Premium Farms has dug in Wheatland. The industry calls them lagoons; critics call them cesspools.

A series of ugly spills brought national attention to the environmental and health hazards of these lagoons. When it rains long and hard, the large, open containers can crack, leak or overflow, releasing thousands of gallons of slurry into nearby streams and potentially contaminating the groundwater. That's what happened two years ago in North Carolina, when 25 million gallons of waste spilled and killed a 17-mile stretch of river.

No one really knows what effect such a large concentration of nitrogen would have on a groundwater source, but they do know it would be awfully hard to fix. As one opponent puts it: "You don't need a Ph.D. to know that massive swine operations represent a tremendous risk to groundwater."

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNITY OUTREACH MANAGER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Outreach Manager to reach and forge new relationships with individuals and groups who represent communities historically...
  • NEW BOOK:
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz
  • CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER
    with Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Apply here: https://www.marcumllp.com/executive-search/chief-operations-officer-rcac
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Wild Rockies Field Institute is seeking a visionary Executive Director to lead the organization in Missoula, Montana. Individuals with a proven track record in...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • ARIZONA PROGRAM MANAGER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks an Arizona Program Manager. The Arizona Program Manager works...
  • CROWN OF THE CONTINENT COMMUNITY CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY is seeking a Community Conservation Specialist, for the Crown of the Continent DEPARTMENT: Conservation CLASSIFICATION: Grade 6 Specialist/Representative (Low of $54K) REPORTS...
  • ASSISTANT FARM DIRECTOR
    About The Organization Building community through fresh vegetables is at the heart of the Sisters-based non-profit, Seed to Table Oregon. Based on a four-acre diversified...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.