Archive for January, 2007

What is a CAFO, and why should you care?

cafoIf you aren’t sure what exactly a CAFO is, or wonder what all the fuss about factory-scale farms is about, take a few minutes to read this new piece in Rolling Stone called “Pork’s Dirty Secret: The nation’s top hog producer is also one of America’s worst polluters”:

“Smithfield’s holding ponds — the company calls them lagoons — cover as much as 120,000 square feet. The area around a single slaughterhouse can contain hundreds of lagoons, some of which run thirty feet deep. The liquid in them is not brown. The interactions between the bacteria and blood and afterbirths and stillborn piglets and urine and excrement and chemicals and drugs turn the lagoons pink.”

The article goes into graphic detail, focusing on what the factory pork industry has done to the people of North Carolina:

“It was the biggest environmental spill in United States history, more than twice as big as the Exxon Valdez oil spill six years earlier. The sludge was so toxic it burned your skin if you touched it, and so dense it took almost two months to make its way sixteen miles downstream to the ocean. From the headwaters to the sea, every creature living in the river was killed. Fish died by the millions.”

Some of the most descriptive passages focus on the unique, toxic stench associated with large operations:

“I’ve probably smelled stronger odors in my life, but nothing so insidiously and instantaneously nauseating. It takes my mind a second or two to get through the odor’s first coat. The smell at its core has a frightening, uniquely enriched putridity, both deep-sweet and high-sour. I back away from it and walk back to the car but I remain sick — it’s a shivery, retchy kind of nausea — for a good five minutes.”

It’s important to recognize that the stench, pollution, and runoff from CAFO’s and similar industrial livestock operations are not the normal “farm smells” that most Hoosiers are very familiar with:

“We are used to farm odors,” says one local farmer. “These are not farm odors.” Sometimes the stink literally knocks people down: They walk out of the house to get something in the yard and become so nauseous they collapse. When they retain consciousness, they crawl back into the house.”

Governor Daniels has made development of factory farms in Indiana the centerpiece of his agricultural policy, and many communities across the state are struggling to cope with the science and politics of permitting new operations seeking to locate in their backyards.

The Indiana Department of Agriculture, with the Indiana Land Resouces Council, is currently conducting “listening sessions”to develop model local ordinances regarding land use and zoning to apply to factory farm operations, but the Department of Agriculture’s announcement of these meetings specifically points out that the “Indiana Land Resources Council will not consider a farmland preservation program or environmental regulations” as part of their recommendations.

Several bills dealing with CAFO’s have been filed this session (inculding HB1197 and SB447 ), and the topic was raised with IDEM Commissioner Easterly at our last Environmental Affairs committee meeting. The Commissioner said IDEM would support a policy of requiring local approval of CAFOs before IDEM issues its permits. However, he also felt it was currently too difficult to discern what exactly would constitute official “local approval.” That may be an area we are able to do some work on this session.

For more information, see:
Kemplog - day-to-day coverage of CAFO issues in Indiana
Grace Factory Farm Project - anti-CAFO
Farm Bureau - generally pro-CAFO, or anti-regulation
Journal of Extension - generally neutral research into all sorts of agricultural issues

12 comments January 21st, 2007

First week finished, and a Committee update

The first week of session has ended after a typically slow start. The filing deadline for legislation in the House is next Tuesday, and many bills are still stuck in drafting or having fiscal impact statements prepared. The most up-to-date list of filed bills in both the House and Senate can be accessed here.

Since many bills have yet to be assigned to committees, legislators typically use the first week seeking co-sponsors for their bills and working to shore up support for their proposals. Once all the bills have been published, the committee schedules will rapidly fill up.

I have scheduled an organizational meeting for the Environmental Affairs Committee next Wednesday. Commissioner Tom Easterly of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management has agreed to appear and update the committee members on current IDEM projects, rulemaking, and legislative requests. The meeting will be broadcast live on the internet on Wednesday, January 17, 2006 at 10:30am. You will be able to access the webcast here (click on “Watch video from House Committee Room 156c”).

Let me know if you have any questions you would like the Committee to ask Commissioner Easterly.

2 comments January 11th, 2007

Back in the saddle - the 115th General Assembly

The 115th General Assembly is now officially underway.

I know I have been bad about updating here over the interim, but will try to get back into regular posting during the session.

The first few days of session are mostly administrative. The bill filing deadline for the House is not until the fourth meeting day in January – which I believe is next Monday. So committee chairs do not have much to work with yet as far as scheduling goes.

The House committee chairs met today upon adjournment to discuss general committee policy for the session. The main point of agreement was in re-establishing an orderly business schedule. Last session got a little out of control – bills piled up on the calendar in a spectacular heap that resulted in massive backlogs at various deadline days. Many bills died due to lack of time, in spite of regular late-night session days.

At the committee level, we will likely implement a policy of scheduling committees several days ahead of time to avoid much of the last-minute rush. For example, I am Chairman of the House Environmental Affairs Committee, which meets on Wednesdays. I will be turning in my schedule request by the end of Thursday so members can be notified and bill packets can be prepared on Monday, and the meeting can be announced publicly at least 24 hours ahead of time on Tuesday morning.

The administrative side of the Legislature is not particularly exciting, but a well-run Legislature generally results in better legislation, so I hope some of the changes and tweaks we are making will be effective.

Feel free to leave a comment if there is anything in particular you would like me to post about as the session progresses.

1 comment January 8th, 2007


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