Thursday, August 04, 2016

Illinois fails to protect rural communities from massive hog farms that exploit laws, Tribune says

An investigative report by the Chicago Tribune found that Illinois, the nation's fourth-largest seller of pigs, fails to protect rural communities from massive hog farms that take advantage of weak state expansion laws, David Jackson reports for the Tribune. The report also found that hog farms are creating environmental hazards and decreasing real estate property values because of foul odors.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture, "which is charged with promoting livestock production as well as regulating it, often brushed aside opposition from local officials to issue about 900 swine confinement permits in the last 20 years," Jackson writes. "Pig waste flowing into rural waterways from leaks and spills destroyed more than 490,000 fish in 67 miles of rivers over a 10-year span. No other industry came close to causing that amount of damage, the Tribune found. Many operators faced only minor consequences; some multimillion-dollar confinements paid small penalties while polluting repeatedly." (Tribune graphic)
"The state also does little to investigate allegations of animal cruelty submitted by whistleblowing employees who work for some of Illinois' most prominent pork producers," Jackson notes. "Inspectors dismissed one complaint, state files show, after simply telephoning executives to ask if it was true that their workers were beating pigs with metal bars."

"Some of the sharpest opposition to hog confinements in Illinois comes not from animal welfare activists or environmental groups but from lifelong farmers, small-town residents and rural township commissioners," Jackson writes. Their only outlet to question pork producers and government authorities about proposed operations are county-level hearings overseen by the state Agriculture Department. "To trigger a hearing, the new confinement must house more than 2,500 hogs weighing more than 55 pounds or at least 10,000 piglets below that weight. Hearings are held if the local county board requests it or if at least 75 citizens petition." Many who attended meetings told the Tribune they felt their concerns were ignored or ridiculed.

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