“Right to Harm,” a new documentary exposing the environmental horrors of factory farms, tells the stories of activists who are standing up to corporate agribusiness.
Now, for a limited time (until June 4), you can watch a free streaming of the full “Right to Harm” by clicking on this link.
Organic Consumer Association will be hosting a panel discussion June 4th at 7pm.
“Right to Harm” exposes the crippling impact factory farming has on public health, and how mostly rural and low-income communities suffer the most.
The film features five families exposed to millions of gallons of untreated waste from neighboring Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), and how they banded together to demand justice.
During our panel discussion, experts will explore the impacts of Big Ag and Big Meat on a range of social justice issues, and how by working together, we can achieve a just transition to Regenerative Agriculture.
Panelists will include:
• Matt Wechsler, director of “Right to Harm”
• John Ikerd, an agricultural economist who is featured in film
• Francis Thicke, a regenerative dairy farmer
• Ronnie Cummins, co-founder of Organic Consumers Association
• Sherri Duggar, Executive Director of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project
• Monica Brooks, Socially Responsible Agricultural Project.
Watch the film here (before June 4)
Sign up here to join the online panel discussion
Legislators seek to give state agency the power to decide where new livestock facilities are located. By Greg Seitz
A bill quickly making its way through the Wisconsin legislature would take away the authority of local officials to approve or reject proposals for large new livestock operations in their towns, cities, and counties.
Such confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) do not resemble traditional farms, and are actually believed to be responsible for low prices and excess supply of milk and other products that are driving many Wisconsin farmers out of business.
There are only a few operating CAFOs in the parts of Wisconsin that drain to the St. Croix River, so far. More are proposed in the region, worrying neighbors and environmental advocates.
At a dairy cow CAFO near Baldwin last November, thousands of gallons of manure flowed off a field and into a designated trout stream, killing fish in the tributary of the Willow River.
Two counties and some municipalities in the region have enacted moratoriums while they study zoning laws and other regulations they can use to protect themselves.
AB894/SB808 would essentially take away any remaining power by such local boards to decide on CAFO applications. It would also limit public input on where and how such large-scale livestock production facilities could operate. The new legislation was first introduced by a group of Republicans on Monday, with a hearing already yesterday.
“The expedited process associated with this bill is preventing meaningful review, discussion and comments from the public and interested parties,” said Adam Voskuil of the Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA). “Since this hearing was announced, MEA has been inundated with citizen comments and concerns regarding the process and substance of this legislation.”
At the hearing yesterday, another MEA staffer, a former Wisconsin farmer, told the committee that the bill would actually hurt small farmers at the expense of big industrial agriculture companies.
She told the story of a farmer friend who now lived next to a 6,000-head dairy CAFO, and had to flee her home with her children when manure gasses made it dangerous to stay.
“I strongly disagree with attempts to frame this as a conversation that puts farmers on one side and everybody else on the other,” Peg Sheaffer of MEA testified. “The organizations that were given the opportunity to weigh in—the Dairy Business Association, the Dairy Alliance and others—represent only a small subset of farmers—those with enough money and power to have full time lobbyists at the capitol.”
The proposed legislation would:
It would also force the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protections to oversee the entire application process, without any funding to pay staff to do the work.
“We do not have the position and work power required to begin to administer this program,” Angela James, assistant deputy secretary at DATCP, told the committee yesterday, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
The Wisconsin Assembly is planning to adjourn for the year on Feb. 20, with the Senate working until sometime in March.
People with comments or concerns on the legislation are encouraged to contact their state elected officials. Find contact information on MyVote Wisconsin, provided by the Wisconsin Elections Commission. Contact Governor Tony Evers through the official website.
By Abby Ford for the Kirksville Daily Express
Aged red theater seating and a mixed crowd sat above Take Root Cafe on a Tuesday evening and viewed “Right to Harm.” The new documentary examines the devastating public health impact factory farming has on many disadvantaged citizens. Locals and college students, farmers and cityfolk alike all booed and cheered along with the heart-rending true stories played out on screen.
The villain of the movie? Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, also known as CAFOs. The film described a CAFO as an industrial-sized farming operation usually producing cows, hogs, or chickens. These animals spend days confined in an area without vegetation, crowded in steel boxes. The extreme amount of waste (369 million gallons nationwide) these animals produce is often overwhelming to the local environment and its citizens.
The audience nodded along and scoffed in sympathy as the film depicted story after story of loss and civil rights violations. In Wisconsin, dairy mega farms contaminate local well water with pathogens like salmonella. In North Carolina, citizens were misted with liquid manure from hog farm spray fields built right beside their properties. In almost every state in the continental U.S., the film depicts, there are people unable to breathe, eat, and work in a safe manner because of a local CAFO.
In the film, Sonia Lopez recalls the awful stench surrounding her home after a local CAFO, Hickman Farms, built near her property. The smell and water pollution overwhelmed her family. Her son became violently ill and her daughters quickly followed. Vomiting, rashes, headaches, and more all detrimental to her children’s growth and way of life.
“I wanted to stay here. That was my dream,” Sonia Lopez said, tears in her eyes. “I guess it was just a dream.”
The crowd was infuriated and sympathetic. A woman in the back row of the small theater furiously knitted a scarf as the film showed family after family suffering under this strain.
The film also depicted communities who banded together to successfully fend off CAFOs. In North Carolina, citizens have filed a lawsuit against Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, the local mega farm in their area. According to “Right to Harm,” community organization and local involvement is key to saving towns from this civil rights threat.
The film commented, “Democracy, voting, is not a part time gig...it shows what can be done when you show up.”
The end of the film was met with enthusiastic applause. A panel then convened including local farmers, an elected official, activists and members of the organizations who brought this event to the community, including Truman States College Democrats, College Republicans, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, and Missouri Rural Crisis Center.
The panel discussed the effect that CAFOs have on local people and what can happen if communities remain passive. Toxic smell, unsafe drinking water and contaminated land all could contribute to forcing people out of their homes, their communities.
“A CAFO could be built right outside the city limits,” Adair County Commissioner Mark Thompson said.
Senate Bill 391, known as the CAFO bill, was also discussed along with the pending lawsuit against it. If passed as is, 391 could nullify existing local ordinances surrounding factory farming. In Iowa, there exists few CAFO regulations and, originally, a lack of local pushback. Presently, the panel said, there are over 10,000 CAFOs in the state. Comparatively, Missouri has a little over 500. Regulations and local involvement are the difference.
The panel stressed the importance of political involvement and raising awareness as a means to fend off advancing factory farms.
Jeff Jones, an eighth-generation farmer and activist, said, “We will not be beat off our land.”
Audience members were encouraged to ask questions and some asked, as non-farmers, what they can do to help. Ed Smith, from Missouri Coalition for the Environment, gave this advice:
“Know where your food comes from and know where your elected officials stand on the issues,” he said.
by Sacoby Wilson, Assistant Professor of Applied Environmental Health , University of Maryland
Sacoby Wilson received funding for research on hog CAFOs from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National institutes of Health from 1998-2005. As U.S. livestock farming becomes more industrial, it is changing rural life. Many people now live near Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) – large facilities that can house thousands of animals in close quarters. Neighbors have to contend with noxious odors, toxic emissions and swarms of insects, and have had little success in obtaining relief – but this could be changing. On April 26, Murphy Brown LLC, a division of Smithfield Foods, was required to pay US
$75,000 in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages in a nuisance lawsuit
filed by ten residents of Bladen County, North Carolina over impacts from a nearby hog farm.
On June 29, another North Carolina jury awarded $25 million to a couple in Duplin County in a similar lawsuit against Smithfield Foods. Other cases are pending in North Carolina and Iowa. Smithfield Foods is the largest hog processor and producer in the world, so these verdicts are major victories for people organizing against industrialized animal agriculture. Based on my experience studying environmental health at the community level, I see them as breakthroughs after decades of government failure to protect rural communities from negative impacts of CAFOs.
Threats to health and the environment
Iowa and North Carolina are the largest pork-producing states in the nation. Hog farms generated US$6.8 billion in sales in Iowa in 2012 and $2.9 billion in North Carolina. They also produce massive quantities of waste. Unlike human biosolids, which must meet regulatory standards for pathogen levels, vector attraction reduction and metal content, no such standards are required for CAFO waste. Studies have linked exposure to hog farm emissions, such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, to symptoms including increased stress, anxiety, fatigue, mucous membrane irritation, respiratory conditions, reduced lung function and elevated blood pressure.
Hog waste can contaminate ground and surface water reserves through runoff, leaching and rupturing of storage facilities. High quantities of nitrates and phosphates, from both animal waste and fertilizers used to grow feed, can also contaminate rivers and streams.
Bacteria and residual antibiotics present in hog waste have the potential to cause acute illness and infection, as well as antibiotic resistance. Rural communities are especially vulnerable to water contamination because many rely on private well water, which is not regulated by government agencies.
Impacts beyond the farm
The Bladen County lawsuit charged that waste management techniques employed by Kinlaw Farm, a local hog producer for Murphy Brown LLC, put neighbors’ health at risk and severely lowered their quality of life. The farm stored liquid manure in on-site lagoons and sprayed it on local fields as fertilizer.
High volumes of waste and frequent mishandling exposed nearby residents to noxious odors. The lagoons attracted swarms of insects onto neighboring properties, and plaintiffs complained in the lawsuit that trucks packed with dead animals drove through the neighborhood at all hours of the day.
Such conditions characterize the lives of people who live close to CAFOs. People who cherish the freedom of rural life are anguished when pollution and overpowering smells make it impossible to perform everyday tasks and engage with their community. Many feel imprisoned within their own homes.
In May 2018 Shane Rogers, a former EPA and USDA environmental engineer, published an air quality investigation that provided evidence to support the nuisance lawsuit. Using samples collected from the air and exteriors of homes neighboring Kinlaw Farm, Rogers was able to isolate hog feces DNA at 14 of the 17 homes tested. All six of the dust samples collected from the air contained “tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of hog feces DNA particles.”
Based on such high concentrations, Rogers deemed it highly likely that these contaminants could enter the houses. The presence of fecal matter in homes may provide grounds for a trespassing claim, as it falls under the definition of a physical invasion of another person’s property. In this 2016 report, North Carolina residents suing Smithfield Foods describe conflicts with adjoining hog farms over waste disposal.
Pork producers respond
Although the North Carolina settlement is a major step forward for rural communities, the industry is pushing back. Smithfield Foods has condemned such lawsuits as “nothing more than a money grab by a big litigation machine.” The company asserts that because Kinlaw Farm fully complied with all federal, state and local laws and regulations, such lawsuits only threaten the livelihoods and economic prosperity of thousands of North Carolinians employed by the industry.
A few weeks after the April verdict, the judge reduced the settlement from $50.75 million to $3.25 million, pursuant to a North Carolina law which caps punitive damages at either three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded or $250,000. This allotment does not address community members’ suffering, and jurors were unaware of the law limiting punitive damages when they reached their decision.
In response to 23 nuisance cases filed by over 500 residents, the North Carolina legislature recently voted to expand its right-to-farm law, overriding Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto. These laws were originally designed to protect farms from people who moved in nearby and then complained about noise and odors. However, industries in some agricultural states have pushed legislatures to expand the statutes to make it harder to sue CAFOs.
An under-regulated industry
In my view, current measures in place to protect rural communities from factory farms are grossly insufficient. CAFOs have been defined as point sources of pollution under the Clean Water Act for over 40 years. This means they should have to obtain permits to discharge waste into river, streams or surface waters. But due to industry pushback, lobbying and privacy concerns, it is estimated that only 33 percent of CAFOs operated with such permits as of 2017.
Environmental advocates also contend that CAFOs qualify as stationary pollution source under the Clean Air Act. Instead, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has pursued a voluntary approach for more than a decade that centers on studying how to monitor CAFO air emissions.
In sum, I see governmental agencies as complicit within a system of production that prioritizes private interests rather than the well-being of communities and the environment. Research has shown that these operations disproportionately burden communities of color in rural North Carolina, so this is a major environmental justice issue.
In order for CAFOs and communities to coexist harmoniously, the entire structure of the present food system must change. In addition to strengthening regulations on factory farm emissions and discharges, I think regulators should provide incentives for CAFOs to invest in sustainable technologies and alternative waste management systems.
These farms should also be offered incentives to publicly report quality and safety data and expected impacts on host and nearby communities. This kind of information would increase rural residents’ negotiating power.
Given the Trump administration’s anti-regulatory slant and proposed budget cuts, the federal government is unlikely to lead in this area. However, the North Carolina verdicts and pending cases in Iowa could lead to greater industry transparency and empower more rural citizens to take action against CAFOs in their communities.
Crystal Mehdizadeh, a bachelor’s degree candidate in public health science at the University of Maryland-College Park, contributed to this article.