February 4, 2017 – On the Front Lines of the Factory Farm Fight

One of the things you discover when you fight for environmental justice is that the war is never won, and even if you think you win a battle, you will quickly find yourself embroiled in the next conflict. Today’s show is a case in point.

A few months ago, Peggy and I took our microphones north to Green Bay Wisconsin to broadcast The Mike Nowak Show from the 2016 Factory Farm Summit. That conference brought people together from all over the country to discuss factory farming issues and to network, workshop and learn new ways to stop the expansion of factory farms. The person who had encouraged us to be there was farmer and activist Karen Hudson, who I have known for several years. She is a member of Illinois Citizens for Clean Air & Water (ICCAW), the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project (SRAP). and Illinois Farm Bureau, which will come up in a moment.

I had already known that Hudson was involved in a contempt of court finding issued in 2014 by the 7th Circuit Court. Click the link to read in more detail, but long story short, Hudson was accused of trying to influence a jury in a nuisance suit filed against a factory farm in Scott County. Ultimately, the contempt finding was reversed by The Fourth District Appellate Court in a highly unusual determination from the bench, which underscored the speciousness of the charge.

However, it cost Hudson two and a half years of her life and untold distress.

That’s one of lessons to be learned when you get into a fight with the factory farm industry: you might find yourself blindsided by a legal maneuver that has no basis in fact. Why did the judge in this case go out of his way to pursue a contempt citation for two and a half years for which he had no evidence to back it up? After a brief presentation from the attorney for Hudson, the Fourth District Appellate Court smacked it down. Could it simply be the power of Big Ag in a downstate court? Just asking.

That takes us to 2017, and a kerfuffle in Fulton County. As I wrote on a Facebook post,

It seems that Fulton County Farm Bureau called a private meeting to discuss a proposed CAFO in Lewistown. Only selected people were notified. However, the local TV station, 25 News got wind of it, so to speak, and tried to cover the meeting as a news story. They were turned away, but got the story of how FB board member Matt Howe turned in his resignation. He said, “I simply cannot continue to offer my time and resources to an organization which supports the installation of these CAFO’s without regard to the effect on residences and family farms to which so many people have devoted their time and constant attention, some for generations.”

25 News reported that story with the headline, Proposed hog farm in Fulton County causing an uproar, as it indeed did. It was such an imbroglio that suddenly, the company that wanted to build the factory farm announced that it was backing out of the deal.

The Chicago Tribune reported that

Facing opposition from local farmers, one of the state’s largest pork producers has pulled its application to build a hog confinement in downstate Fulton County, handing opponents a rare victory in their efforts to slow the growth of the massive livestock facilities in the state.

The hog producer, an affiliate of Professional Swine Management, formally withdrew its notice of intent to construct from the Illinois Department of Agriculture last week after sustained protests from neighbors who feared that waste from the proposed 20,000-hog confinement could foul rivers and creeks, and that the operation might ruin roads and jeopardize their rural way of life.

With the headline Carthage based company withdraws intent to build hog plant, the Press Mentor wrote,

Craig Porter is not only a farmer in Fulton County, he is also on the Isabel Township Board of Trustees.

Porter said there were a lot of concerns with the prospect of having this Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation or CAFO move into Fulton County,”There were a lot of discrepancies with their application. A big discrepancy was it started out as Cleer Farm, but Cleer Farm was already there. Mid-stream they changed it to Memory Lane Acres. Technically, they would have had to start the permitting process over. They didn’t.”

With that, Porter put his finger on what was really happening. Within days, “Memory Lane Acres, LLC (fka Cleer Farm, LLC)” had filed a Notice of Intent to Construct with the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which, notably, does not seem to have a record of ever having turned down the siting of a factory farm.

Where does that put the good citizens of Fulton County? Apparently, back to square one. You might want to re-read the first sentence of this piece.

That’s not to say, however, that there is no way to fight these monstrous operations. As the Trib reported in December,

Their efforts paid off at a Dec. 13 meeting at the Fulton County Courthouse when county commissioners passed a resolution urging the state to halt action on Runway Ridge and all new large confinements in Fulton County until “there is meaningful reform” to the state law that governs the construction and oversight of the massive livestock operations.

The resolution is only symbolic because Illinois law gives local communities little if any power over the siting of new confinements. Even the Illinois Department of Agriculture lacks legal authority to deny a company’s notice of intent to construct. At most, it can send back the notice with questions.

Did you get that? In Illinois, we are held hostage to Big Ag because of something called The Illinois Livestock Management Facilities Act (LMFA). (known in certain quarters as “Leave My Factories Alone.”) Ironically, the opening sentence on that site states that

The Livestock Management Facilities Act protects your right as a citizen to a safe, clean environment as well as the right of livestock farmers to earn a living. It concludes animal agriculture is important to Illinois’ economy and should be maintained, but farmers have a responsibility to be good neighbors. (Bold added.)

So it’s not surprising that Illinois farmers and members of the ICCAW and representatives of SRAP held a press conference on January 24 to announce that they wish to amend LMFA, which they describe as “a controversial and failed pro-agribusiness law.” Among the reasons for their action:

  • The LMFA stripped away the rights of adversely impacted citizens to challenge poor facility siting decisions, as well as local county government rights of self-determination and control over livestock industry development projects
  • Widespread problems also exist with the state’s regulation of pollution from existing operations due to regulatory failures by the IEPA.
  • Despite IEPA being the subject of a citizen petition for withdrawal of the state’s authority to administer the Clean Water Act by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for nearly a decade, livestock facilities are still the leading cause of Illinois fish kills in Illinois

So, on today’s show, Peggy and I are pleased to be able to talk to both Karen Hudson and Craig Porter. They are not in studio, as they are downstate in Lewistown, Illinois for the annual meeting of ICCAW, where they will be discussing and debating all of the above. Tune in or listen to the podcast if you want to know how to protect our water, air and people in the State of Illinois.

 

 

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