Challenging Indiana’s Unjust Right to Farm Laws

Within the last several decades, the United States went from producing food on traditional farms owned by farm families, to producing food from highly mechanized, industrial operations controlled by a handful of giant corporations. Now, instead of raising animals for food in pastures, the standard method is to intensively confine animals, sometimes by the hundreds of thousands, in livestock production factories known as concentrated animal feeding operations or confined feeding operations (collectively “CAFOs”).

Like many other rural residents in Indiana, two families in Hendricks County are feeling the adverse impacts of this dramatic transformation. Richard and Janet Himsel and Robert and Susan Lannon, who have lived in Hendricks County for decades, have a new neighbor – a CAFO with 8,000 hogs. These hogs produce over 38,000 gallons of manure every day – as much raw sewage as a small town would produce — and emit thousands of pounds of noxious gases, including ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane, and nitrous oxide, as well as carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds. These gases are released at the facility upwind of the properties of the Himsels and Lannons and predictably invade their homes and properties. The constant invasion  of these gases and the accompanying stench have made their homes unlivable at times, have devalued their properties, and have destroyed their rural way of life. In fact, Janet Himsel has now moved in with her daughter to escape the  daily nausea, headaches and sore throats  that come with living in such close proximity to a factory farm.Himsel CAFO Location

Unfortunately, there is little protection for families in these situations. Federal and state regulations only restrict water pollution discharges from CAFOs and do not impose limits on air pollution and odors.  Making matters worse, Indiana has two “Right to Farm” laws that, despite the name, serve only to protect the interests of corporate conglomerates, not farmers. The Right to Farm Act (“RTFA”) provides livestock operations that harm their neighbors with legal immunity when the neighbors seek relief in court. In turn, Senate Enrolled Act 186 (“SEA 186”) enacted in 2014 requires regulators and courts to “construe” state law so as not to interfere with the industry’s “right” to use its preferred “livestock production practices,” which include the use of CAFOs, regardless of the harm those practices cause. No other industry or economic sector enjoys the privilege of knowing state government agencies and courts must interpret the law to serve and protect that industry’s special interests.

But the Himsels and Lannons have decided to do something about their dilemma. They partnered with the Hoosier Environmental Council to challenge the constitutionality of Indiana’s unjust Right to Farm laws which violate their equal protection and due process rights, and amount to an unconstitutional taking of their property rights. Since filing the Complaint in Hendricks County, we have retained an air pollution expert who conducted air testing at the Himsels’ and Lannons’ properties and confirmed what we expected — that they are being exposed to elevated and unhealthy levels of ammonia and volatile fatty acids from the hog factory. We also had an expert property value assessment conducted confirming that the Himsels’ and Lannons’ properties have dropped in value by 50% and 60%, respectively. We have taken depositions, survived numerous procedural hurdles, and briefed the court on why Indiana’s right to farm laws violate the Himsels’ and Lannons’ equal protection and due process rights, and amount to an unconstitutional taking of their property rights.

Winning this case will not only help the Himsels and Lannons but will also restore the ability of all rural Hoosiers to hold polluting factory farms accountable. However, we are up against powerful, well-funded interests and the cost of litigation is high, so we need your help.

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Read our press statement here.

Several news articles have also been posted regarding this story. Read more in the IndyStar, USAToday, Indiana Business Journal, WTHR, Fox 59, and WFYI.

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