Many of Indiana’s rural communities are suffering from the environmental and public health effects from the dramatic transformation of farming to big industry.
Within the last few decades, the United States went from raising livestock on traditional farms owned by farm families, to “producing” livestock in highly mechanized, industrial operations controlled by a handful of giant corporations. Indiana is home to nearly 2,000 of these industrial-scale animal factories known as concentrated animal feeding operations (“CAFOs”) and confined feeding operations (“CFOs”). CFOs warehouse at least 300 cattle, 600 swine, or 30,000 fowl whereas CAFOs, the largest factory farms, confine at least 1,000 cattle, 2,500 swine, or 100,000 fowl. Today, more than 85% of all livestock “produced” in Indiana come from CAFOs and CFOs.
CAFOs and CFOs have well-known and well-documented industrial-scale pollution impacts on our land, waterways and people from the enormous amount of biological waste they produce. Even so, our laws continue to treat CAFOs and CFOs as if they are “farms” leaving our rural communities vulnerable to serious public health and environmental threats.
FAILURE OF CURRENT LAW TO PROTECT PUBLIC HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
At HEC, we often hear from long-time rural Hoosier families that their lives have been disrupted by the proliferation of CAFOs and CFOs in their communities. A common problem they share–aside from the sickening odors, manure-laden waterways, plummeting property values, and community conflict so often caused by CAFOs–are the feelings of frustration, isolation and despair they experience when they learn that their local government officials and Indiana’s environmental agency can’t help. when they reach out to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (“IDEM”) they’re told it’s a “local problem” and when they contact their local government leaders, they’re directed back to IDEM. In other words, citizens who need help aren’t getting it and in most cases it’s because the offending CAFO is in compliance with the law. That means that something is wrong with the law. And, indeed, there are several problems.
No Limit on Animal Numbers
Although there is a minimum animal number threshold for regulation under current Indiana law, there is no maximum limit on the number of animals at a CAFO. Consequently, the size of CAFOs has dramatically increased in recent years. For example, since 2012, the average sized hog CAFO approved by IDEM went from 5,000 to more than 10,000 hogs. Similarly, the average diary CAFO went from 1,000 to more than 4,000 cattle. To put that into perspective, the average adult human generates 1 pound of feces per day whereas the average dairy cow generates 82 pounds per day. That means a 4,000 head dairy CAFO will generate the same amount of excrement every day as a city of 328,000 people.
Dangerously Inadequate Setbacks From Homes, Schools, Churches, Water Resources and Natural Areas
Under current law, the enormous amount of biological waste generated at a CAFO can be collected and stored in open air, unlined “lagoons” larger than several football fields and built just 400 feet away from where people live. That’s because current regulation imposes a mere 400-foot setback from existing homes–a distance that is measured from structure to structure, not the residential property line. Put another way, if an existing home is 300 feet from its property boundary, the CAFO–regardless of size–can be build just 100 feet from that boundary, effectively imposing a 300-foot easement on the residential property without paying for it. Similarly, current regulation imposes a mere 300-foot setback from our lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands. And, there are no specific setbacks for parks, churches, schools and other public places other than a meager 100 foot setback from property lines. In other words, regardless of the number of animals and amount of waste produced, no hog skyscraper would ever be too large, and no lake of dairy waste too vast, putrid and foul, to require a greater setback from where our children and their families live, learn, play and worship.
CAFOs Are Not “Zero Discharge”
The livestock industry claims that there is no need to strengthen current regulation because CAFOs are “zero discharge”–i.e., they do not pollute our waterways. This is a legal fiction and simply not true. Indiana’s livestock generate as much untreated excrement as that produced by 87 million people. Put another way, Indiana’s factory farms generate 14 times the amount of animal waste produced by Indiana’s human population. It is well known that animal waste (both from humans and livestock) contain high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen as well as pathogens like E.coli and parasites which is why human waste must be treated before it can ever be applied to land. Nevertheless, under current regulation, as long as the millions of gallons of untreated livestock waste produced annually by a typical CAFO is spread on land in accordance with cookie-cutter setback requirements and application requirements for nutrients (not pathogens), any runoff of that waste with rain or melting snow to waterways, or leaching into groundwater, is not considered a “discharge” subject to permitting or enforcement. And, because IDEM is required to conduct inspections only once every 5 years, whether CAFOs are complying with even the meager land disposal requirements is really anybody’s guess. As a result, the leading source of water contamination in Indiana is E.coli — contamination that is largely from livestock waste.
No Limits On Noxious Odors and Dangerous Air Emissions
Under current law, IDEM lacks authority to regulate the noxious and dangerous odorous compounds (hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, volatile fatty acids, amines, and others) that CAFOs are known to generate. Nor does USEPA, because CAFOs are exempt from regulation under the Clean Air Act. This is particularly troublesome given the findings of numerous, peer-reviewed, scientific studies over decades that have confirmed the human health effects and significant deterioration of air quality and quality of life for people who live near CAFOs due to these emissions. Furthermore, this problem more than any other is the one that is so devastating to the lives of people who through no fault of their own find themselves living next to a new CAFO where a cornfield once stood. Yet under current law, it is perfectly legal.
OTHER IMPACTS OF FACTORY FARMS
Animals raised on factory farms are routinely given antibiotics to accelerate growth and ward off disease associated with living in confined conditions. The widespread use of antibiotics has contributed to the evolution and increase of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared antibiotic resistance to be among the top five health threats facing our nation. In addition, the American Public Health Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Infectious Disease Society of America, and the World Health Organization have all issued statements calling for restrictions on the use of prophylactic antibiotics in livestock.
Typically, the four largest firms in one economic sector will control anywhere between 40-45% of the sector’s market. Many economists maintain that allowing any higher levels of market concentration can erode competitiveness. Nevertheless, in the agriculture sector, a handful of giant conglomerates control approximately 90% of all meat, dairy and poultry production. This domination of market share is due in part to state and national policies that were enacted to protect traditional farmers but now serve primarily to benefit and protect the economic interests of large corporations. Indiana’s so called “Right to Farm” laws are an example of such policies enacted under the guise of protecting farmers but in reality allow factory farm owners to escape liability for harming their neighbors, eliminate competition, and drive traditional farmers out of business. Also, factory farms are often promoted through claims that they will bring economic vitality to local communities. Yet, research shows otherwise. Loss of jobs, depressed property values, loss of income for local businesses and a huge drain on county resources often result from the proliferation of factory farms.
According to the USDA, a food desert is defined as “a census tract with a substantial share of residents who live in low-income areas [poverty rate of 20% or greater] that have low levels of access to a grocery store or healthy, affordable food retail outlet.” The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. Shockingly, Indiana is the tenth most dominant agricultural state in the country with over 14 million acres of farmland, yet we import an estimated 90% of our food from out of state and over 25% of Indiana residents live in food deserts no access to healthy food. The reason: the vast majority of crops grown in Indiana are mono-crops such as corn and soybeans that are not grown for direct human consumption, but to make feed for livestock and highly processed foods.
INDIANA’S RIGHT TO FARM LAWS
Indiana has two “Right to Farm” laws that, despite the name, serve only to protect the interests of the corporate-controlled livestock industry, not traditional farmers. The Right to Farm Act (“RTFA”) provides livestock operations that harm their neighbors with special 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. Learn more about HEC’s work to overturn these unjust and unconstitutional laws.
Indiana’s factory farms generate
times the amount of animal waste produced by Indiana’s human population.
of assessed stream miles are not suitable for recreational use because of E.coli contamination from animal waste.
The pollution strength of raw manure is
times greater than that of raw municipal sewage and is arguably more harmful than human waste.
Factory Farm Waste
Simply put, Indiana law does not adequately protect public health and the environment from factory farm waste. This is why HEC places education, citizen advocacy, and testifying in defense of rural communities as one of our top priorities! To that end, we have worked with a broad coalition of stakeholders in recent years to defeat dangerous bills that would have: further weakened Indiana’s regulation of factory farms; stripped local governments of their “Home Rule” authority to regulate factory farms; and given unprecedented special legal protections to factory farm operators to shield them from liability when they cause harm. Currently, we are working to pass CAFO Reform Legislation that would address the serious gaps in Indiana’s oversight of factory farms and restore balance and fairness to Indiana’s unjust “Right to Farm” laws so that Hoosiers’ quality of life and property rights are protected.
HEC Factory Farm Cases
When education and advocacy fail, legal action is sometimes necessary to address the serious environmental threats caused by factory farms. Below is a list of our recent factory farm cases.
- HEC Wins Major Appellate Victory in Factory Farm Case
- Challenging Indiana’s Unjust Right to Farm Laws
- Fighting to Protect a Beloved Youth Camp From Construction of Massive Dairy CAFO
- Protecting the Kankakee River Basin from CAFO Pollution
- Protecting Mississinewa River Watershed and Muncie Residents from Massive Hog CAFO
Current Regulation Failures
Simply put, Indiana’s regulation of factory farms fails to protect our health and environment. This is why HEC places education, citizen advocacy, and pursuing legal strategies in support of rural communities and independent family farmers as our top priority! To that end, we have worked with a variety of stakeholders in recent years to defeat dangerous bills that would have: further weakened Indiana’s regulation of confined feeding operations (CFOs); stripped local governments of their “Home Rule” authority to regulate CFOs; and given unprecedented special legal protections to CFO operators to shield them from liability when they cause harm. We have also introduced first-ever legislation with bipartisan support that would address the many regulatory gaps that leave our rural communities unprotected from factory farm waste.
Right to Farm Reform
Currently, we are working to pass reform legislation that would address the serious gaps in Indiana’s oversight of factory farms and restore balance and fairness to Indiana’s unjust “Right to Farm” laws so that Hoosiers’ quality of life and property rights are protected.
How to Make a Difference
Advocate for Legislation to Restore Balance and Fairness to Our Farm Laws
Given the serious gaps in regulation and special legal protections for factory farms it is clear that our laws are out of balance–providing far too much protection for the livestock industry’s special interests and not enough protection for the public interest, rights and well-being of citizens. It is imperative that we demand our elected lawmakers to pass legislation that will restore balance, provide needed protections for public health, the environment, quality of life and economic development in our communities, and promote and support sustainable food systems. Get involved and help us achieve this necessary goal.
Reduce Your Environmental "Food Print"
What we eat matters. Unfortunately, the environmental impacts of our food can be easily overlooked because those impacts are spread across many stages of a long process. From farm to plate, food production, processing and transportation can use massive amounts of fossil fuels, water, and chemicals and release global warming emissions and other pollution into the environment. Fortunately, small changes in what we eat can add up to significant environmental benefits. Learn why your food choices matter.
Educate Your Community-Host an HEC CAFO Workshop
Citizens have a central role to play in the growing movement to reduce the pollution impacts of Indiana’s factory farms. In an effort to expand that movement, HEC has been conducting educational workshops across the state to empower citizens with the information they need to be effective voices for local and state policies that are more protective of Hoosiers’ health, quality of life, and property rights and to understand citizens’ legal rights under zoning, land use, environmental, and public access laws as they relate to factory farms. Help us build this movement and host an HEC CAFO workshop in your community by contacting our Senior Staff Attorney and Director of Agricultural Policy, Kim Ferraro.